ST. LOUIS, Mo. (AP) — Cortland Finnegan’s transition to the St. Louis Rams has gone smoothly so far.
Finnegan was one of the most sought-after cornerbacks in the free-agent market this past offseason and had several teams interested in him.
Maybe the least likely place for a top-tier player to end up is on a bottom-tier team, which the Rams have been over the past five years with a total of 15 victories.
“I just wanted to be that little piece, that sparkplug, to really get this thing remodeled,” he said.
Finnegan signed a five-year, $50 million free-agent deal in March after spending his first six years with Tennessee.
Five other teams offered him similar contracts, but Finnegan said that coming to St. Louis was a relatively easy decision.
He thinks the Rams have done a good job with the draft and other free agents to put in place the pieces for a good season.
The bigger draw though was his relationship with Jeff Fisher, who coached Finnegan for his first five years in the league. Fisher took a year off from coaching last year before becoming the Rams coach prior to this season.
“Fish is a big part of it,” he said. “Just for what he stands for, for what he’s done thus far in the NFL and for who he is as a coach. All of those things were big in my decision.”
Fisher has enjoyed having Finnegan in camp and his presence has already paid great dividends.
He is often one of the first on the practice field and one of the last off it. His experience is also key to the integration of two of the Rams top draft picks this year.
St. Louis selected Janoris Jenkins with its second pick in the second round and Trumaine Johnson in the third. Both are expected to see significant time, with Jenkins angling for a starting spot.
“Cort knows what’s expected not only of his position, but all of the other positions as far as dedication, work and preparations,” Fisher said. “As he learned the system, he also understands the position very well so he’s been able to spend quite a bit of time with the younger guys.”
Finnegan has 14 career interceptions, including season highs of five in both 2008 and 2009. He made his only Pro Bowl in 2008 and teams have thrown less in his direction the past few years. He had two interceptions in 2010 and one last season.
The Rams needed some help at the position. Only Bradley Fletcher returns from last season’s group and he had a knee injury that cost him much of the season.
“You know what he brings to the table every week,” said defensive end William Hayes, who also signed as a free agent prior to this year after spending the past four years with the Titans.
“He’s just going to bring a tenacity. He’s always willing to learn and get better. He just brings the best out of his teammates.”
Finnegan insists he is just one piece for the rebuilding Rams.
The atmosphere under Fisher, his coaching staff, and the front office offers a belief in winning. Finnegan said the coach gets most of the credit for that, but other newcomers are also part of the hoped-for change.
“There’s just a new breath of fresh air here. Maybe that’s what they’ve needed all along,” he said. “There are so many guys, free-agent guys that came that are a big part of that, that definitely are going to help try and rebuild and turn around this program.”