Despite slip in play, Cortland Finnegan’s leadership helped mold these young Rams

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There was a time not too long ago (the 2011 season, actually), where the St. Louis Rams were a black hole for talent. Sure, individual players were able to put up decent stats. But the team as a whole struggled to a 2-14 record and got smacked around by the rest of the NFL.

Upon hiring head coach Jeff Fisher following the season, the Rams looked to instill some toughness into the team. The first player targeted to do so: Cortland Finnegan.

Fisher had known Finnegan since the duo’s days with the Tennessee Titans. Fisher looked for guys who played with an edge, and Finnegan had a reputation for being… chippy. Finnegan’s signing on the opening day of free agency in 2012 helped usher in a new, feistier personality for the Rams.

At first, he didn’t disappoint. In his first game with the Rams, Finnegan returned a Matthew Stafford interception for a touchdown. He followed that with interceptions in the next two games against the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears respectively.

Not only was Finnegan valued for his play on the field, but for his mentorship ability as well. It’s no coincidence that after the Rams selected cornerback Janoris Jenkins – talented yet troubled in college – in the 2012 NFL Draft, Finnegan took the rookie under his wing. Finnegan brought a tougher attitude to Rams Park, but he was also a positive influence on the younger players breaking into the league.

But alas, the NFL is not personal. It’s strictly business. And for that reason, the Rams parted ways with their veteran cornerback. Even before fracturing his orbital bone in a September 26 contest against the San Francisco 49ers, Finnegan’s play had deteriorated. Pro Football Focus rated him one of the worst cornerbacks in the league. Finnegan’s season ended after seven games, only the second time in his eight-year career that he didn’t play in all 16 games.

From a financial perspective, cutting Finnegan saves the Rams $4 million in cap space for 2014. For that reason alone, the severance should hardly come as a surprise to anyone.

Thanks to the raised salary cap (up from $120.6 million to $123 million) and the release of Finnegan, the Rams now enter the new league year with more than $13.5 million in cap space. It allows the team greater flexibility in signing their draft picks, resigning their own free agents (Rodger Saffold, anyone?), or pursuing outside free agents.

And in spite all of this, a reunion between Finnegan and the Rams might be in the cards, albeit at a discounted rate from the five-year $50 million contract he initially signed.

During his two-year tenure in St. Louis, Finnegan provided highlights and leadership, and ultimately faced his share of struggles in 2013. But he brought a toughness to the team that had been lacking for years. His aggressive, feisty style was a positive addition to a team that had been lacking any sort of bite for much too long. Finnegan may be gone (for now), but he was an important piece to the Rams rebuilding effort.

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