With the release of cornerback Cortland Finnegan, the St. Louis Rams should be on the lookout for more help at the position in 2014. Even if they managed to keep Finnegan on the team, St. Louis would still likely be on the lookout for help, but now depth at cornerback becomes one of the more important positions to address this offseason.
St. Louis was supposed to make strides in 2013, but it was the Arizona Cardinals who kept up with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, not the Rams. Everyone knew it would be a three-team race in that stacked division, but the Rams were supposed to be the young, aggressive team making its first move in a long time.
It wasn't all on the pass defense, but it was definitely the weak link on that side of the ball. While the Rams managed to boast the No. 9 rush defense in the NFL, they fielded a below-average secondary, allowing 242.1 passing yards per game on average, which ranks No. 19 in the league.
Finnegan was signed to be the teams No. 1 corner, and when they took Janoris Jenkins in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft (No. 39 overall), he was supposed to grow and become part of a very strong group of corners. But Finnegan disappointed out of the gate, and never quite played like the $50 million corner he was signed to be.
Instead, Finnegan was one of the worst corners in football before sustaining serious injuries in 2013. That forced Jenkins into the No. 1 role, and forced Trumaine Johnson, a third-round pick in the aforementioned 2012 NFL Draft, into a starting role.
Unfortunately, both Johnson and Jenkins have been plagued by inconsistency throughout their short careers. In two seasons, the pair have combined for 10 interceptions. Both have been productive off and on though, as Jenkins has accounted for 28 passes defensed and Johnson has put up 20 of his own in the same time frame.
St. Louis can get by with Jenkins and Johnson if they need to in 2014, and of course, the team is hoping that Johnson will emerge given more time as a starter. Jenkins has started two full seasons at this point, so it's unclear what the Rams expect of him, but it's hard to call him anything other than "starting caliber." Johnson, though, can be replaced.
After Jenkins and Johnson, there's not a whole lot outside of Brandon McGee. A fifth-round pick last season, McGee was elevated to a starting nickel role when Finnegan sustained his injury. He played decent football for much of the season, but he did come up short in big situations. In other words: McGee played like a rookie.
At this point, McGee is still relatively unknown, and it's hard to imagine the Rams to simply head into the 2014 season with him locked in as the unquestioned nickel corner. There's an awful lot of youth in the secondary already, so it's hard to imagine they'll spend a top pick on a cornerback, but a veteran is sorely needed at this point.
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In free agency, there are guys such as Alterraun Verner hitting the open market, but Verner will come with pretty sizable contract demands. After getting burned on that expensive contract for Finnegan, the Rams will be hesitant to give out any big deals to free agents. Finnegan returning is a possibility, of course, at a severely-reduced rate. Many have already floated that as a possibility, and it would seem to make sense, though he doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence.
Instead, the Rams will likely be after someone in the vein of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown or the Oakland Raiders' Tracy Porter. They need someone who has starting experience, but who won't break the bank, and both of the players above represent that. Whatever way they go, it's clear that the Rams need to add one or two bodies to the cornerback depth, one of whom can start.