Rams optimistic Finnegan will return

INDIANAPOLIS -- It has become a sort of conventional wisdom that the St. Louis Rams will not bring cornerback Cortland Finnegan back at his scheduled $10 million cap cost in 2014, if they bring him back at all.

Finnegan struggled mightily in 2013 before suffering a fractured orbital bone on Sept. 26 against San Francisco. He attempted to play through it but ultimately landed on injured reserve after playing in seven games.

The Rams aren't exactly flush with salary-cap space. Do the simple math, and Finnegan would appear a logical candidate for release or restructure.

Although Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead didn't tip their hand on exactly how they plan to get there, they indicated Friday at the NFL combine that Finnegan would be back in some shape, form or fashion.

"He overcame a difficult situation," Fisher said. "I understand he's healthy now. And so we expect him back in the offseason program."

The question then becomes which scenario brings Finnegan back to the Rams. Finnegan signed a five-year, $50 million contract with the team in 2012, a deal that still has three years remaining. Keeping in line with how many of their contracts are structured, the bulk of the guaranteed money due Finnegan has already been paid.

Finnegan has a $3 million roster bonus which is guaranteed coming three days into the new league year but other than that, the only remaining potential dead money on his deal would be the remaining amortization of his signing bonus. That amounts to another $3 million, which is currently scheduled to count on the cap in $1 million installments each of the next three seasons.

If the Rams want Finnegan to return as they say, it still seems unlikely they'd want to pay $10 million for a cornerback who fell well short of earning such a windfall in 2013. There are plenty of ways they could work a restructure with Finnegan, give him a chance to bounce back and bring him back at a reduced cap number.

"What we want to do is get the cap where we don’t have to make a non-football decision," Snead said. "I think that’s where we’re at. He had an injured eye last year, really a broken eye. I don’t know if you can break your eye so he continued to play through that and it was causing him some issues and headaches and vision.

"First of all, get him healthy and then with [defensive coordinator] Gregg [Williams] coming in figure out where we all fit. In this league, like pass-rushers, corners that can go inside and play nickel, you can’t have enough of those people."

The Rams aren't prone to tipping their hand on any of their offseason plans, so plenty of salt should be taken with any discussion of contracts or signings. But it wouldn't surprise if Fisher did want to retain Finnegan, who is viewed as a key part of the locker room and leader for the team's young defensive backs. What remains up for debate is the circumstances under which that return would occur.