EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For Los Angeles Rams tight end/fullback Cory Harkey, the prospect of free agency comes with plenty of conflicting feelings.
It was the Rams who took a chance on Harkey as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA in 2012 and gave him the opportunity to make the team. Four years later, Harkey was a key contributor in his dual role and one of the team's emotional leaders, often delivering fiery pregame pep talks.
But Harkey, the son of former major league pitcher Mike Harkey, also understands the realities of free agency in modern sports.
"Obviously, I love this organization," Harkey said. "That would be awesome to be back here, but it’s just the nature of the business. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you want to. But I felt like I put some good tape out there. We’ll see what happens these next couple months. Hopefully I’m here and I can stay a Ram. That would be awesome. I love coach [Jeff] Fish[er], I love the guy to death. So we’ll see what happens."
Before last season, there were plenty of indications the Rams wanted to keep Harkey in the fold, but the sides were unable to agree on a contract. Then, as the season played out, Harkey's playing time began to decrease.
Harkey played 281 snaps in 2015, a dip from the 318 and 349 he played in the previous two seasons. Likewise, his production in the passing game declined. He finished with five catches for 26 yards and didn't score a touchdown last year. It was his lowest output in all three categories since his rookie season.
Of course, Harkey's value is not to be judged by how many passes he's catching. His primary role is as a lead blocker at fullback or to help open holes as a tight end attached to the line of scrimmage. And at 6-foot-4 and 259 pounds, Harkey has shown strength and toughness in the running game.
Whether that's enough to keep him with the team as it moves to his old college stomping grounds remains to be seen, though it's worth noting that presumptive offensive coordinator Rob Boras is a fan of Harkey's work from his time as tight-ends coach. Still, Harkey wished the 2015 season would have been better.
"Obviously it’s tough, man, a tough season for us," Harkey said. "Obviously it didn’t end like we wanted it to. But obviously there’s going to be a lot of stuff for us to build on, a lot of stuff we need to get better at. Really, every year, you are just putting a resume out there, you know, for all the other teams to see? It’s tough. It’s crazy how fast it goes by, honestly. Even though it wasn’t as good as you may have thought, I thought there was a lot of good things this year. A lot of guys played really well, played really hard this year, I was really proud of [them]. Especially some of these younger guys. It’s tough, there’s a lot of negative you can point out, but you have got to find some of the positives, too. That’s just what I tried to do and the type of person I am."
Harkey said he did have some discussions with the Rams about a contract extension but made it clear there was "nothing substantial" in those conversations. At tight end, the Rams re-signed Lance Kendricks last offseason and Jared Cook remains under contract. But there's a possibility the team will move on from Cook before free agency opens, and if that happens, some of that money could be used to bring Harkey back, even though he doesn't solve the team's need for a consistent playmaker at the position.
That's why Harkey seems to be heading into this offseason with his eyes wide open and acknowledging that nothing is guaranteed.
"It’s just so hard," Harkey said. "I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go in this business. Sometimes you have just got to be realistic about things, and as much or how bad I want to be here, I just know some things don’t work out that way. Like I said, I’m going to try to stay positive about it and hopefully I’m going to be a Ram a couple more years, so we’ll see what happens."