ST. LOUIS--The St. Louis Rams showed their hand quickly in free agency Tuesday, and if things go the Rams' way, it could prove to be an impressive hand at that. Less than three hours into the free agency period, the Rams had landed tight end Jared Cook of Tennessee and had visits lined up with offensive tackle Jake Long of Miami and safety Louis Delmas of Detroit.
Cook, widely considered the best tight end on the market, agreed to a five-year deal with the Rams, who won a tug-of-war for his services with free-spending Miami. It didn't look like the Rams had much of a chance to land Cook in the days leading up to the start of free agency and even Tuesday morning.
But the Rams closed strong, adding a speed element to their receiving corps. Cook was a third-round draft choice by the Titans in 2009, so spending his first two seasons with Jeff Fisher as his head coach in Nashville obviously helped the Rams' chances.
Cook, 25, has wide receiver speed (4.49 in the 40) at 6-5, 248. He's not much of a blocker and spent a lot of time in Tennessee lining up in the slot. Cook's statistics in the NFL have yet to match his athletic ability, but the Titans have hardly gotten stellar quarterback play lately. His best season was 2011 when he caught 49 passes for 759 yards -- 15.5 yards per catch, which is a good average for a tight end.
One of the main focuses of the Rams' offseason game plan is to get faster and more explosive on offense. Adding Cook to the mix helps that cause. If the Rams add a speedster such as Cordarrelle Patterson or Tavon Austin in the draft at wide receiver, they would have a young corps of pass-catchers with plenty of potential: Cook and Lance Kendricks at tight end with Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis back at wide receiver.
Long and Delmas are scheduled to arrive at Rams Park Wednesday for visits and physicals. In today's free agency, the team that gets the first visit usually gets the player. But there are no guarantees, and money aside, the Rams have to be sure that Long and Delmas are physically right.
Long, 27, was the NFL's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008, taken just ahead of Chris Long (no relation). Jake Long made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league but by most accounts didn't play as well last season. He missed the last four games in 2012 with a torn triceps and missed two games in 2011 with a torn biceps. If Long ends up a Ram, Rodger Saffold almost certainly will be moved to right tackle.
Delmas, 25, is considered one of the league's better safeties when healthy but has missed 13 games combined over the past two seasons because of knee injuries. As a rookie in 2009, he became the second player in NFL history to score a touchdown on an interception and a TD on a returned fumble recovery, as well as recording a safety in the same season.
Delmas had 38 tackles and an interception last season, playing for secondary coach Tim Walton, now the Rams' defensive coordinator.
Not to be overlooked in Tuesday's activity was the fact that defensive end Williams Hayes agreed to terms with the Rams less than an hour before the start of the free agency period. It's a three-year contract for Hayes, who was one of the Rams' surprise performers in 2012.
Hayes, 27, had seven sacks last season and was equally strong against the run in a super-sub role off the bench. He was third on the team in sacks (seven) and registered 38 tackles, 13 quarterback hurries and five quarterback hits. Hayes did all that in a modest 369 defensive plays -- or 36.1 percent of the Rams' defensive play time. Besides spelling Chris Long at left end, Hayes also played defensive tackle on passing downs.
Pass rushers always are in demand, be it free agency or the draft, and just a few days ago it looked like Hayes might be heading elsewhere because he was drawing considerable interest around the league. But the Rams were able to keep Hayes off the market. As a result, they return all four of their ends from a defense that tied for the league lead in sacks last year.
Of the Rams' 13 unrestricted free agents -- 14 if you count Steven Jackson voiding the final year of his contract -- only one ended up with another team Tuesday. Surprisingly, it was cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who agreed to terms with Philadelphia. A third-round draft choice in 2009, Fletcher started 26 games in four seasons in St. Louis, with two of those seasons ending early because of knee injuries.
After being flagged for three coverage penalties against New England in Game 8, Fletcher barely played the rest of the 2012 season. He had to play in Game 9 at San Francisco because of the Janoris Jenkins suspension. But over the final seven games, he was on the field for only 17 defensive plays.
Wide receiver Brandon Gibson is scheduled to visit the New York Jets today, and as anticipated, could be signed quickly. As for wide receiver Danny Amendola, there were reports linking him to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New England, but so far no known visits or contract offers.
In varying degrees, Atlanta, Denver and Green Bay have all displayed interest in Jackson. Atlanta still seems like the most logical landing spot, although as of Tuesday evening nothing seemed imminent for the three-time Pro Bowler.
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