NFC West: St. Louis Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There's a battle brewing for the services of defensive lineman Darnell Dockett in the NFC West division.

According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, all four teams, including the St. Louis Rams have showed interest in the recently released Arizona Cardinal.


Schefter's report makes clear that Dockett is going to decide soon and all signs point to that decision coming down to a return to Arizona or a move to San Francisco to play for the 49ers. The Seattle Seahawks and the Rams have apparently "shown interest" in Dockett but that interest hasn't manifested into any sort of visits.

Dockett paid a visit to San Francisco on Monday night with the Niners' interest coming in part because of the uncertain future of defensive lineman Justin Smith. Arizona released Dockett in order to save $6.8 million in salary-cap space but did so with hopes of bringing him back at a reduced cost.

In 158 games with the Cardinals, the 6-foot-4, 293-pound Dockett had 459 tackles, 40.5 sacks and four interceptions. The 33-year old Dockett missed all of last season with an ACL injury but had been extremely durable before that, missing only two games in the previous 10 years.

Even though it sounds unlikely that the Rams will be major players in the Dockett sweepstakes, that they have some interest in Dockett should be telling for what they are looking for on their defensive line.

The Rams released defensive tackle Kendall Langford last week in a cost-cutting move and though they left the door open for Langford's return, he has begun taking free-agent visits in search of a starting job. Langford wrapped up a visit to Detroit and is scheduled to head to New York to meet with the Jets before a stop in New Orleans.

Sans Langford, the Rams are down to just two defensive tackles -- Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers -- under contract for 2015. Much like last year, it means the Rams will again be scouring the free-agent market for depth. In 2014, that resulted in the addition of Alex Carrington, who didn't offer much in his one season with the team.

An older veteran like Dockett would make sense for what the Rams need because whoever they bring in will probably only be needed for 25 or so snaps a game. Although it appears the Rams aren't going to be Dockett's destination, the Rams' potential interest should be instructive in the types of defensive tackles the team will be vetting as free agency begins.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- One way or another, the St. Louis Rams are going to add a young quarterback at some point this offseason. With that in mind, coach Jeff Fisher wanted to talk to former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke.

"There's going to be a time whether its here in two months or three months or whenever that we're going to have a young quarterback," Fisher said at last week's combine. "I don't think there is anybody better qualified to coach a young quarterback than him."

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsChris Weinke will likely be working with Sam Bradford and a rookie from this year's draft.
So it was that Weinke arrived in Indianapolis as the director of the football program at IMG Academy and left as the Rams quarterbacks coach. In some ways, it's entirely possible that adding Weinke to the mix might be one of the best moves the Rams will make this offseason.

Although this is Weinke's first foray into coaching at the NFL level, the type of experience he does have might be more beneficial than if he had been working in the league for the past five years. Working at IMG afforded Weinke the chance to come to St. Louis with perhaps the most diversified portfolio of any quarterbacks coach in the league.

"At the end of the day, I've been able to touch a lot of different guys with a lot of different skill sets coming from a lot of different backgrounds," Weinke said. "You have to adapt and you've got to be able to understand the importance of every quarterback as an individual. You may be able to understand something visually or you may have to write it down. I need to know what my quarterbacks can handle. So I will coach every quarterback with certain fundamentals, let them have some flexibility within that but then understand how they learn because that's the most important thing."

Along the way, Weinke worked with Carolina's Cam Newton, who came from a system that asked very little in terms of regurgitation and playing under center. For eight weeks in 2011, while the NFL was in a lockout, Weinke spent his mornings teaching Newton the finer points of taking snaps and basics like how to take a play call and spit it out in a huddle rather than look to the sideline for a number or a signal.

When those sessions were done, Weinke would turn his attention to working with another incoming rookie, Christian Ponder. He helped both essentially install their new offenses while their pro coaches weren't allowed to even have contact with their rookie quarterbacks.

The list of quarterbacks to work with Weinke also includes Seattle's Russell Wilson, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Miami's Ryan Tannehill, among others. The detailed Weinke draws on his many years as a quarterback -- he's kept every note and game plan he's ever taken from Pop Warner to now -- to adapt to whatever style of quarterback he's working with.

The key, according to Weinke, isn't trying to reinvent the wheel so much as tweak it to become more efficient.

"I think when you look at all the different styles I've seen, what i do is not try to create a robot," Weinke said. "That's not what I'm trying to do. I want these guys to be able to play with confidence. I'm not going to try to change somebody's throwing motion. That's not what I'm in the business of doing. I'm going to take it and maybe tweak it a little so we can maximize whatever the good Lord gave him. So at the end of the day, I always said when you were a kid and picked up a rock and threw it in the lake, that's your natural throwing motion and you've been doing that your whole life. So who am I to think now at 20, 21, 22 years old that I'm going to change that? That's not a very smart move."

Instead, Weinke's focus is on fundamentals, starting with footwork and building from there up.

"It's hard for a one-legged man to be in a kickboxing fight, right?" Weinke said. "So understand you have got to have balance. How do we throw the football with maximum power from a good platform and be consistent and throw with accuracy? At the end of the day, we all understand that you must throw the football with anticipation in the National Football League."

In St. Louis, most signs point to Weinke working with Sam Bradford. Bradford is the only quarterback under contract and though his agent Tom Condon is in a serious game of chicken with the Rams at the moment, it still seems likely he'll be in St. Louis when all is said and done. Weinke and Bradford had dinner before Weinke was hired and Weinke has nothing but good things to say about Bradford.

"Love him," Weinke said. "I look back and every guy that I've evaluated coming out of college, a few years ago when Andrew Luck came out, they said who would you compare him to? And the closest I would see is Sam Bradford."

But even if Bradford is on board, the likelihood remains that the Rams will spend a relatively high pick on a new quarterback. Before Weinke, it was fair to wonder whether they had the coaching staff in place to take on a project from a spread system like UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty and develop him into a functional NFL quarterback.

With Weinke in place, you'd be hard-pressed to find a quarterback bringing something to the table he hasn't already seen.

About those daily Sam Bradford rumors

February, 25, 2015
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the latest churn of the Sam Bradford rumor mill, reports surfaced Tuesday that the Buffalo Bills are considering making a trade offer for the St. Louis Rams quarterback.

As is becoming increasingly common in this age of social media, those reports were summarily shot down with reports that no team has actually really pursued a trade for Bradford. The Buffalo rumors came on the heels of rumors that the Cleveland Browns had similar interest in Bradford. And those rumors followed speculation that Bradford had been given permission to seek a trade.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford
Tom Gannam/AP ImagesUnder Jeff Fisher, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has shined against NFC West foes.
In addition to all of that, there have been other reports that Bradford does not want to take a pay cut and instead of being traded would prefer to be outright released.

For what it's worth, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have dismissed most of those rumors. Fisher went so far as to call the trade permission rumor as "inaccurate" at last week's NFL scouting combine.

"When we've had him, he's 5-2-1 in our division," Fisher said. "And we weren't very good when we got here, so we're counting on him. I'm betting on him and if that doesn't happen, then we'll win games with somebody else."

So what do we make of all this? It's not unusual at this time of year and in these situations for these types of rumors to run rampant.

We do know the Rams would like to bring Bradford back at a cap number below his projected $16.58 million and a base salary less than his expected $12.985 million. We also know there isn't an agent in the league -- especially one representing a high-priced quarterback -- that would like to take a pay cut for a client.

That means it's in the best interest of Tom Condon, Bradford's agent, to do all he can to get the best deal possible out of the Rams. Rumors of other teams willing to trade or sign Bradford to big-money deals theoretically only drives the price up. It also doesn't mean any of those possibilities are real or an agreement won't eventually be reached.

If, indeed, some of those rumors materialized into legitimate offers then perhaps the Rams could consider it. While the Rams have repeatedly made it clear they are committed to having Bradford in 2015, it doesn't mean that a big offer wouldn't change their mind. Any player can be had for the right price, especially one coming off two consecutive torn ACLs.

But it's also worth noting if these teams were legitimately interested in Bradford, it stands to reason the Rams would have similar interest in keeping him. It's not like the Rams have a better option waiting in the wings and the list of available quarterbacks in free agency or ones they could realistically get in the draft don't offer a clear upgrade, either.

Simply put, Bradford is every bit as valuable to the Rams, probably more so, than he would be to other teams. It's Condon's job to figure out what that happy medium is. So even if at this very moment Condon would prefer not to take a pay cut for his client, it doesn't mean he won't after he gets a chance to gauge what Bradford might get if he were to come available.

And from a Rams' perspective, there's not necessarily a pressing need to get something done with Bradford. They need cap space but have other ways to obtain it by releasing players like tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and/or defensive tackle Kendall Langford or converting some of end Robert Quinn's base salary to signing bonus.

People close to Bradford insist he wants to stay in St. Louis in 2015. The Rams insist they want to keep him. What shape that takes will reveal itself in time but in the meantime, don't be surprised if the rumors persist.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Like quarterback Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long is currently in the process of coming back from a second torn anterior cruciate ligament in as many seasons. Also like Bradford, Long is due a large salary cap number in 2015 and cutting him would provide the Rams with much-needed wiggle room heading into free agency.

Unlike Bradford, however, there haven't been as many open votes of confidence that Long will return to the Rams in 2015. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Long is due to count $10.5 million against the cap next season with a base salary of $9.25 million.

[+] EnlargeJake Long
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Rams are discussing options with tackle Jake Long if he's healthy enough to return.
Releasing Long outright would save the Rams $8 million against the cap or as much as $9.25 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut. Considering Long's recent injury history, releasing him seems like an obvious choice.

But at the NFL scouting combine, Rams general manager Les Snead acknowledged that dialogue with Long is also open and coach Jeff Fisher said that the Rams are discussing other options.

"There are possibillities, yes," Fisher said. "They've been discussed."

Fisher has already made it clear that Greg Robinson will stay at left tackle moving forward, meaning the options for Long are three-pronged.

First and foremost, Long's return would seem dependent on coming back at a reduced rate. The Rams figure to be up close to the salary cap, though they have ways to create space by releasing some players, Long included. It's unlikely, though, that Long would be able to come anywhere near his current salary if he hit the open market because of his injury history.

Which brings us to the next piece of the puzzle: where Long might fit in. Fisher has previously said Long could potentially move inside to guard but he could also become a candidate to flip to right tackle depending on what happens with unrestricted free agent Joe Barksdale. Barksdale will likely test the market and figures to draw his share of interest.

Of course, neither of those issues matters if Long doesn't return to health. There was a time when it wasn't even certain Long wanted to go through another rehab but he's been progressing recently.

"Jake's doing well," Fisher said. "You know he spent all the way up to a few weeks ago at the facility rehabbing. He's out in California working out and is doing well. I don't know what it looks like. If he comes back and is 100 percent then he'll have a chance to be a part and contribute to what we're doing. But there's some time between now and then."

Snead echoed those sentiments, saying that Long has "turned a corner" in the past month or so. Bringing Long back at a reduced rate wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- preclude the Rams from drafting a tackle this year if there was one they liked.

In two seasons in St. Louis, Long has been a valuable locker room guy and was helpful for Robinson in his first year. Even if he can't start, if he could be brought back to provide some veteran depth (assuming he's willing), it would give the Rams something they lacked in 2014. Last year, the Rams offensive line started the regular season without a backup with any meaningful experience.

"I can say this about Jake Long: you want that human being on the football team," Snead said. "He’s a football player, he makes you a lot better. As he rehabs, if he can get back to Jake Long previous knee, he can help the team win."

There are plenty of options for the Rams when it comes to Long's future with the team but it's a decision they'll have to make sooner than later.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As rumors, speculation and everything in between continue to pile up on the possibility of the St. Louis Rams and/or the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles, it can be difficult not to get caught up in any of it.

Barring a surprising (though not shocking) shift change in which Rams owner Stan Kroenke or one of the other owners attempts to go rogue and move to Los Angeles in 2015, nothing figures to be settled until next year. Which means it's best for all involved to focus on what they can control in the meantime.

Fisher
That includes Rams coach Jeff Fisher. After reports surfaced Thursday night that the Chargers and Raiders are planning to team up for a new stadium in Carson, California, should efforts for new stadiums in their current markets fail in 2015, Fisher was asked about what he's been hearing on the possibility of the Rams relocating.

"If I don't know anything, then when someone asks me and I say I don't know anything, then I'm telling the truth," Fisher said. "So, my focus, and of course this is coach-speak, is on this year and our football team in St. Louis. And as things come up, nearly on a daily basis right now, they're going to continue to change and whatever happens, happens. But I love St. Louis, we've got a great fan base. We've got some work to do as we go through this process, however it ends up, but our focus is on 2015."

In theory, that's probably the best approach for everyone to take, but it's much harder in practice because, as Fisher said, there will be new developments and rumors popping up all the time. But Fisher has no reason to say anything but what he said given the situation he's entering in 2015.

This is the fourth year of the Fisher regime in St. Louis, and so far that hasn't yielded so much as a winning season. There needs to be progress on the field for the future of the team to even matter much to Fisher and Co. So taking the pragmatic approach while also offering praise for the fans of St. Louis is a logical response.

"Those that came out saw some really good football games," Fisher said. "The true fans that know what we're doing see improvement."
INDIANAPOLIS -- In searching for a new quarterbacks coach, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher wanted experience. But not necessarily coaching experience so much as playing experience.

So it was that Fisher interviewed three candidates who all played quarterback in the NFL for varying lengths of time and with a different range of success. Fisher spent time with Jeff Garcia, Steve Walsh and Chris Weinke in searching for a replacement for Frank Cignetti, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.

"Those were the three," Fisher said. "What do they have in common? They're all former players. My decision, or our decision, to go that direction stems from the fact that Cigs was the quarterback coach. He has a great understanding of the position. He's outstanding, so why not get somebody in that's played the game? The respect level from a player standpoint for those that have played the game is very high, especially right now."

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford
Tom Gannam/AP ImagesNew Rams quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke has already developed a relationship with presumed starter Sam Bradford.
Fisher said he was impressed with all three candidates, but in the end it was Weinke who won him over. During the interview process, Fisher even set up a meeting between Weinke and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The duo went to dinner and hit it off right away.

"Sam is very, very excited about, at that time, the possibility of Chris becoming our quarterback coach," Fisher said. "I was very, very impressed with Jeff, as well as with Steve. I think both of those guys, I hope that they end up in this league at that position because they are very, very talented."

In Weinke, the Rams are getting a young coach widely regarded as one of the emerging quarterback minds in the game. Although he's never coached in the NFL, he's been the Director of Football at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, since 2010. There, Weinke worked with quarterbacks of all shapes, sizes and styles. The list includes names like Seattle's Russell Wilson, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Carolina's Cam Newton.

And the quarterbacks who go through IMG to train for the NFL draft often were so pleased with what Weinke did to help them that they'd regularly go back for more.

“It was a huge factor,” Fisher said. “What he’s done over the last four, five years, not only with preparing quarterbacks for the draft but also a lot of guys have gone back. A lot of the (NFL) veterans are going back down there and working with him.”

What they get with Weinke is a former player who has a deep understanding of what it means to play the league's toughest position. Weinke won a Heisman Trophy at Florida State and went on to seven NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. In Weinke's final season in 2007, he actually worked with Cignetti, who was then the 49ers quarterbacks coach.

Unlike other position coaches, Fisher believes the connection between the quarterback and the coach has to be extremely close. While the NFL requires all players to put in plenty of work during the week, the quarterback is the one who keeps the longest hours, watches the most film and has the most responsibility on Sundays.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the quarterback position itself over the years is very, very difficult to play,” Fisher said. “And the pressure on that position is extraordinary. It’s not Sundays. It’s Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And it can become crippling if you don’t approach it that way. Chris understands that.”

It's an understanding that, sooner than later, Weinke is going to have to pass on to some new quarterbacks to enter the building. He's already established a relationship with Bradford, who will be the starter this season barring a shocking turn of events or another injury, but the Rams are likely to bring in another young quarterback at some point as well.

Weinke's history of working with pocket-style passers, scramblers and all things in between just might open up some new possibilities for how the Rams address the position. He has also spent time working with a couple interesting free-agent quarterbacks like Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.

"There's going to be a time, whether it's here in two months or three months or whenever, that we're going to have a young quarterback," Fisher said. "I don't think there is anybody better qualified to coach a young quarterback than him. It was a great fit. He did an outstanding job. He's got a really good thing going, and this is a leap of faith for him to leave IMG and to leave the high school program, but I think it's a perfect fit for us."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Jeff Fisher met with the media Friday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the St. Louis Rams:

Bradford
Bradford
1. Bradford is staying. Seriously: As if it weren't already clear from Fisher's comments last week and the words of general manager Les Snead on Wednesday, Fisher again reiterated that Sam Bradford is going to be his quarterback in 2015. Much like with the hiring of Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator, Fisher turned to Bradford for his opinion on hiring Chris Weinke as the quarterbacks coach. Bradford and Weinke dined together last week and Bradford's positive review helped pave the way for his hire.

Fisher called reports that Bradford was free to seek a trade "inaccurate." It's hard to imagine that Fisher would continue asking for Bradford's input on the hiring of staff members if he wasn't going to be in place in 2015.

Long
2. Options for Jake Long: Offensive tackle Jake Long is also coming back from a second consecutive ACL surgery and also in line for a potential pay cut. In Long's case, a reduction from his $10.5-million salary cap number is all but a certainty but it's also not out of the question that he, too, could be brought back.

The Rams have already committed to Greg Robinson as the left tackle moving forward, which means Long would have to change positions. Those are discussions the Rams are already having. It's possible that could involve guard, but keep an eye on right tackle. If Joe Barksdale departs in free agency, Long might represent a cheaper, veteran option.

"I don't know what it looks like," Fisher said. "If he comes back and he's 100 percent, then he'll have a chance to be a part and contribute to what we're doing. There are possibilities that we've discussed."

3. Why Weinke fits: Fisher officially acknowledged Weinke's hiring Friday and appeared to be pretty excited about it. He said he spoke to three candidates: Weinke, Jeff Garcia and Steve Walsh. See a pattern there? All three were former NFL quarterbacks, something Fisher valued in whoever was going to take over the job.

In the end, Fisher said he wanted to have a quarterbacks coach who had played the game but also had some experience developing quarterbacks. Weinke had the most experience in his time at IMG Academy, where he worked with players such as Russell Wilson and Cam Newton.

"His experience at IMG was a huge factor, what he's done over the last four or five years," Fisher said. "Not only preparing guys for the draft but also a lot of guys have gone back. The veterans have gone back down to work with him. There's going to be a time whether it's two or three months from now where we're going to have a young quarterback. ... It's a good fit."

4. Plan B for Bradford?: As Fisher alluded to, the Rams plan to add at the quarterback position, probably in the form of a drafted rookie but the specific plan for the options that come in behind him has yet to reveal itself. Fisher made it clear that is a fluid situation.

"We don't know what that looks like right now, but I'll let you know," Fisher said. "That could be a veteran, it could be a draft choice, it could be a combination, it could be Austin [Davis], it could be Shaun [Hill]."

Also worth filing away, Weinke has worked with a pair of free-agent veteran quarterbacks in Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder. And the Rams have made it clear they're going to add at the position.

5. Robinson's surgery: Fisher revealed that Robinson had toe surgery earlier in the offseason but doesn't expect it to be much of an issue moving forward.

"He had some offseason surgery, so he's in the building every day," Fisher said. "And he comes to the building every day not worrying about going on the practice field and making a mistake. He comes in the building every day learning how to be a pro.

"He's had to take a deep breath, rehab and learn. I think you'll see significant improvement."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Finding options to solve the St. Louis Rams' quarterback question isn't hard. Finding a realistic, legitimate answer is.

"Let's be real," general manager Les Snead said. "The pool of quarterbacks for anybody, that's usually the slimmest of pools of any of the players."

It's the hardest position to project, which is exactly what the Rams and nearly every team in the NFL are forced to do. In the past decade or so, the college and professional games have moved in opposite directions.

College quarterbacks ring up video-game numbers playing in wide-open, spread offenses that ask them to make one read and get rid of the ball. The production is eye-popping, but it leaves a clear void in terms of NFL readiness.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesBryce Petty had a prolific career at Baylor, but never called a play in a huddle.
Meanwhile, the NFL has become a quarterback-driven league in which signal-callers capable of making pre-snap reads and going through multiple progressions has become not only preferred, but mandatory. Because fewer college quarterbacks are coming from pro-style offenses, the type of quarterback prepared to contribute right away is becoming an endangered species.

Without a deep pool of refined candidates to choose from, teams often find themselves selecting prospects and hoping they develop. Problem is, teams have become less and less committed to actually doing the developing. More often than not, those young quarterbacks are thrown into the fire. When they fail, teams move on to the next one.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

"It’s a cycle that needs to be broken," Snead said. "Here’s how it’s got to happen. You take a guy from one of those systems, you’ve got to take him and then you’ve got to tell [everyone], ‘Guys, we’re not playing him this year.’ But it’s OK. I don’t care what happens. You need to unwind the system because he’s been speaking French to where I speak Spanish. He can do it, it’s just I think it’s a lot easier transition to let him unwind first and then start rewinding his brain."

From the Rams' perspective, that's a process that probably would have been best implemented in 2014. Had the Rams used a higher pick on a quarterback last year, they could have one who has spent a year in the system and would be closer to ready than just about any they can reasonably get this time around.

The Rams now find themselves in a position where they are searching for a young quarterback who can contribute in the event Sam Bradford can't stay healthy. If they choose to do that in the draft, it's all but certain anyone they add won't be able to play right away.

This year's draft features Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, whom many consider the top two in the draft. There's a perceived drop-off after the pair, but even Winston and Mariota come with question marks. In Mariota's case, it's those same questions about transitioning from a wide-open college system to playing in the NFL.

Neither Winston nor Mariota figures to be available to the Rams at No. 10 overall, which means they're going to have to find help elsewhere. UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty, both of whom had formal interviews with the Rams scheduled this week, are considered next in line, but also face endless questions about their ability to make a transition into the NFL.

Petty might offer the best example of a system quarterback attempting to make that move. Until last month's Senior Bowl, Petty had never even had a play call relayed to him over a headset, having to spit it back out in a huddle.

"Honestly, it’s got to be hard for them to diagnose and project anybody, really," Petty said. "You really got to just get in there and be with them and talk X's and O’s with them. For me, it’s a great opportunity being here, being able to talk to them now."

Hundley's learning curve won't be quite as steep, but he will still be asked to do more than make one read and take off running.

"I think going over film with them is huge," Hundley said. "I think these formal interviews that we get to do and get to sit in the classroom and talk to them, that’s when we get the opportunity to express our reads, our thoughts, and go over it with them in detail. I think that’s a big time to show what you’re looking at, you know your stuff."

But the reality is there simply aren't enough quarterbacks who do know their stuff or, more to the point, have proved capable of executing it. That is why the Rams are all but certain to again hand the reins over to Bradford. Snead and the Rams envision adding plenty of insurance at the position in hopes that they can strike gold. But in this, the fourth year of the Snead and Jeff Fisher regime, they don't have much time to see that through.

"There’s a lot of stones to turn over," Snead said. "What you’re alluding to, people don’t want to give you really good QBs, so a lot of times you’ve got to go find them.

"There’s stones out there, but when you turn them over, there’s nothing under them."
INDIANAPOLIS -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher offered strong support for quarterback Sam Bradford last Friday as he introduced Frank Cignetti as the team's offensive coordinator. On Wednesday, general manager Les Snead did the same at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Bradford
Bradford
Amidst reports that the Rams gave Bradford permission to seek a trade, Snead was asked repeatedly where he sees Bradford in the team's future. And each time, his answer was clear.

"I did say deleting him is not our answer," Snead said. "I don't know that that (trading him) solves our riddle. ... He's a good player. If some team was interested I certainly don't blame them. But I'll stick to what I said earlier, deleting him is not the answer."

If indeed the Rams believe that to be true -- and everything they've said and done this offseason would indicate it is -- then reports of a trade have little to do with actually trying to trade Bradford and everything to do with helping to gauge what his price tag will be for 2015.

As it stands, Bradford is scheduled to count $16.58 million against the cap. The Rams have made it clear that's a number they would like to reduce. And though in-person discussions with agent Tom Condon might not happen this week, the line of communication between the two sides is open.

"We’ve had dialogue with Sam and his people so you might need to talk to his people about that," Snead said.

So, what then, does either side have to gain by allowing Condon to see Bradford's value in potential trades? Well, the Rams wouldn't say no if a team came and blew them away with an offer but the more likely outcome is that Condon's side can use the time to figure out what a realistic price for Bradford would be if he were to hit the open market.

Once that's established, the two sides could then use that number to come to a fair agreement to keep Bradford in St. Louis. In short, there's still some work to be done in terms of bringing Bradford back at an agreeable price but the fact remains that barring a major upset, he'll remain in St. Louis with plenty of other options behind him.

"So let's don't delete him," Snead said. "I don't think that's the answer. I think the answer is providing insurance in case we do go through more bad luck. Let's rehab (Bradford). Let's see if he can reach his potential. But let's do insure the position."
A closer look at the areas the St. Louis Rams could address in the draft. We'll wrap it up today with a look at the interior offensive linemen, which are scheduled to work out Thursday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Interior offensive line. At minimum, the Rams are going to need at least one new starter on the interior of the line with veteran Davin Joseph set to hit free agency after another rough season. They could also look to replace veteran Scott Wells, who struggled mightily in 2014. And some depth wouldn't hurt either given the injury history of the only player on the interior with a settled situation moving forward, Rodger Saffold. The Rams gave up a sack on 8.7 percent of drop backs against four or fewer pass-rushers last season, the highest percentage in the NFL. They also allowed pressure (sack or duress) on 33 percent of their drop backs last season, third highest in the NFL.

Three players the Rams could target in the draft:

Cameron Erving, Florida State: One of the most intriguing prospects in the entire class, Erving will remind Rams fans of Barrett Jones in terms of his extensive history of versatility. Erving actually started his career as a defensive tackle before moving to left tackle in 2012 and 2013. He moved to center in 2014 and looked his most comfortable in the middle. At a shade over 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, Erving probably projects best as a center or guard in the NFL but figuring out his fit will be a mission for any team, including the Rams this week. Likewise, they'll need to do some further medical research on Erving, who sat out in 2010 because of a back injury.

Laken Tomlinson, Duke: Tomlinson was one of the brightest spots of the Senior Bowl and has inched his way toward being one of the better true guards in the draft. A team captain who is a sturdy 6-3, 323 pounds, Tomlinson started all 52 games in his career and comes with no questions about his durability or injury history. Looks to have all the tools to be a dominant run-blocker but scouts wonder why he wasn't more consistent in that area. That's a question he'll have to answer in Indy but if he does that and performs well in the workouts, he could solidify his spot as one of the top guards in the draft and be a potentially appealing option for the Rams.

A.J. Cann, South Carolina: Depending on which position you peg for LSU's La'el Collins, Cann is generally regarded as the best true guard in the draft. He's 6'3, 315 pounds and comes with a nearly impeccable record of production and intangibles. Not a mauler, per se, but proved a solid run-blocker with his footwork and understanding of angles. Keep an eye on how he measures and how he fares in the bench press because teams have some questions about his power and size.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- During his annual pre-scouting combine teleconference with reporters all over the country, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock completed a marathon of questions about various players and team needs.

Asked a question about which direction the Oakland Raiders should look with the No. 4 pick, Mayock made a reference to the St. Louis Rams in discussing the need for the Raiders to add at the wide receiver position.

Specifically, Mayock sees a lot of Rams legend Torry Holt in Alabama wideout Amari Cooper.

"I think Cooper from Alabama has got the highest score," Mayock said. "In other words, I think he's the safest pick of that group. Really good route runner, had over 100 catches last year, reminds me of some of those wide outs that played on the Greatest Show on Turf with Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, Torry Holt, for example, that type of wide receiver, whereas the other two, Kevin White and Devante Parker, are bigger bodied guys where you can throw it up and they can win jump balls. I would imagine that one of those three guys are going to be their pick, and I think any one of the three could be highly productive."

In many ways, the comparison between Cooper and Holt is easy to see. Cooper is listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. Holt was listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds. Last spring, Cooper purportedly ran multiple 40-yard dash times just a shade under 4.4 seconds (unofficially). Holt clocked his 40-yard dash at 4.38 seconds.

Of course, Cooper has a lot of proving to do in the NFL to live up to the lofty standards Holt set in his time with the Rams. Holt was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, was first team All Pro in 2003 and second team in 2006. For his career, Holt finished with 920 catches for 13,382 yards and 74 touchdowns. He also holds the NFL records for most consecutive seasons with 90 catches and 1,300 receiving yards, marks he hit six straight times in the early 2000s. He's one of only three receivers, along with Marvin Harrison and Calvin Johnson to have two or more seasons with 1,600 receiving yards. He also holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a decade, posting 12,594 from 2000 to 2009. His career average of 77.4 receiving yards per game is sixth all-time but No. 1 amongst players who aren't still active.

Considering the Rams haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver (or even one to exceed Kenny Britt's 748 this year) since Holt in 2008, it's understandable if some would like to see them use the No. 10 overall pick on a player like Cooper. It's unlikely the Rams will target another receiver, however, especially if they re-sign Britt, because they have more pressing needs.

Cooper would have to be a tempting option if he did somehow manage to slip to No. 10 and appealing offensive line and quarterback options are off the board. But if Cooper really does compare favorably to Holt in the eyes of NFL teams, it's unlikely that option will materialize.

Rams unlikely to use tags

February, 17, 2015
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams haven't used the franchise or transition tag on a player since safety Oshiomogho Atogwe back in 2009. Barring a major, unforeseen surprise, it's a streak that will continue for another year.

As of Monday, NFL teams are officially free and clear to ensure they keep one key free agent by using the franchise or transition tag.

Barksdale
For a quick refresher, the franchise tag is the equivalent of a one-year offer sheet that would pay the player an average of the top five salaries of the players at his position or 120 percent of his salary from the previous season, whichever is higher. The transition tag is similar but includes the top 10 average salaries or 120 percent of the previous year.

Players who have been tagged can still sign elsewhere, but the original team retains matching rights. For franchise players, there is no chance to sign elsewhere if the team designates the player an exclusive-rights franchise player. If a player signs an offer sheet elsewhere and the original team chooses not to match, that team is entitled to compensation.

From a Rams' perspective, there's no real need to use the tag considering what it would mean in terms of payment. The Rams' key free agents include tackle Joe Barksdale, receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Lance Kendricks. Neither Britt nor Kendricks is considered enough of a key piece to use a tag on, and the Rams figure to have a good shot to re-sign both should they elect to do so.

Barksdale presents a more complicated issue. The projected franchise tag salary for offensive linemen (they don't differentiate between positions) is just south of $13 million. The Rams would like to keep Barksdale but won't overextend themselves to do so. That price the Rams would be comfortable paying Barksdale certainly isn't anywhere close to $13 million and likely falls somewhere closer to less than half of that number.

On the open market, Barksdale could land a deal closer to $7-8 million per year if recent contracts for solid, if unspectacular, tackles offer any indication of the going rate. So it's entirely possible the Rams will lose Barksdale in free agency but they almost certainly won't use a tag to prevent it from happening.

Rams' search for QB coach continues

February, 15, 2015
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams finally filled their offensive coordinator job Thursday, formally announcing Frank Cignetti's promotion. They also promoted Rob Boras from tight ends coach to assistant head coach/offense.

Boras will continue coaching tight ends, but Cignetti's focus on quarterbacks will not remain. So head coach Jeff Fisher is searching for a replacement for the role of quarterbacks coach. On Thursday evening and Friday morning, Fisher and the Rams interviewed former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia for the job.

Garcia
All signs are that the discussion with Garcia went well, but Fisher made it clear that he'd like to investigate other candidates further before making a decision.

"We’ll have a quarterback coach in place that’s going to help us," Fisher said. "That process is ongoing. As it was reported, we did have Jeff Garcia in last night and today. I’ll continue to interview several others. We have some really solid options in place, but again, we’re going to probably take a little time before we make that decision.”

It should be no surprise that Fisher doesn't want to rush into the hire of a quarterbacks coach. Taking his time has been a Fisher trademark in coaching searches, as evidenced by the lengthy process preceding Cignetti's hire.

Garcia is the only known candidate at this point. He has never coached in the NFL, but spent last season as the quarterbacks coach for the Montreal Alouettes. Garcia has, however, spent time as a mentor and trainer for quarterbacks at all levels as part of his Jeff Garcia Football Academy in San Diego. And, of course, Garcia had a lengthy NFL career in which he started 116 games and went to four Pro Bowls.

At this point, none of the other potential candidates are known, but there is at least one more potential coach that Fisher would like to talk to. It's possible some of that business could get cleaned up next week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

No matter who the Rams ultimately add to complete the coaching staff, Cignetti says there will be a little difference in how he and former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer divided up the duties.

Schottenheimer was the coordinator, but spent a lot of time working with Cignetti and the quarterbacks. Cignetti intends to have input with the quarterbacks, but take on more of an all-encompassing role with the offense.

"I want to be the offensive coordinator in terms of leadership and motivation," Cignetti said. "We want to hire a quarterback coach that will be the quarterback coach. I’m not going to be as involved with the quarterback as much as Coach Schottenheimer was involved. That would probably be the biggest difference.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The purpose of the St. Louis Rams' news conference on Friday was to introduce Frank Cignetti as the new offensive coordinator. It's a mission they accomplished, but it was also old news.

The underlying theme of the press conference featuring Cignetti and coach Jeff Fisher offered a further affirmation of some other old news: That the Rams have every intention of bringing quarterback Sam Bradford back in 2015. And, so long as Bradford is healthy, he'll almost certainly be the starter.

Throughout the nearly 22-minute press conference, Bradford's name came up again and again, sometimes by way of a question, sometimes without prompting. Perhaps most telling of all was this response from Fisher when he was asked what input Cignetti would have regarding the team's offseason search for help at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Eric GayThe Rams seem willing to stick with having the oft-injured Sam Bradford as their starting quarterback in 2015.
"He’ll have significant input on that," Fisher said. "As I mentioned, that most likely is going to happen. It’s not as much from the standpoint of challenging Sam; it’s to have options. We don’t know what that looks like right now. We don’t know if that’s draft, free agency or what that looks like. But when we line up in September, we’ll have somebody there.”

Barring a major turn of events, that somebody will be Bradford. Given the dearth of legitimate and realistic quarterback options who figure to be available to the Rams this offseason, that should be no surprise. But Fisher's comment about having options and not "challenging" Bradford represents something of a step backward from his comments in the end-of-the-season news conference.

"There's going to be competition at the quarterback position, there's no doubt," Fisher said then. "With somebody that is not in the building right now. We're hopeful for that. You have to be realistic, but I think we need to do that. Sam understands that. He doesn't have any problem with competition. He's been competing his whole life."

It's no secret that the Rams would like to bring Bradford back. They have never wavered from that, though they have also been open about their desire to bring him back at a cap number below his current $16.58 million with a base salary reduced from the $12.985 million he's scheduled to get in 2015. For the record, there hasn't been much movement on that front, but things could heat up soon, perhaps at next week's NFL scouting combine, when agents and teams converge on Indianapolis.

In the meantime, everything the Rams have done this offseason points toward Bradford remaining in St. Louis. That starts with moving Cignetti into the offensive coordinator job.

Cignetti has been Bradford's position coach for the past three years and offers an easy and smooth transition for the QB in a system that will remain mostly the same, with Cignetti in Brian Schottenheimer's former role.

"Continuity, stability, same system for Sam, same system for the rest of his teammates was very, very important and it was about how we get better," Fisher said.

Even before elevating Cignetti from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, Fisher said he had a long conversation with Bradford about Cignetti and who he'd like to see in the coordinator role.

“I had a lengthy discussion with Sam, yes, prior to making the decision," Fisher said. "It was part of the information-gathering process. Sam was very forthcoming. He had some firm opinions. I really enjoyed and appreciated his input.”

Asked if Cignetti would have gotten the job if Bradford hadn't provided positive feedback, Fisher offered another not-so-subtle clue about where Bradford stands.

"We wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Fisher said.

For his part, Cignetti also provided little room for error in describing his view of the position moving forward.

"We’re looking forward to Sam moving forward," Cignetti said. "He’s doing a great job in his rehabilitation. When you go back last year, he had an outstanding offseason. He had a great training camp. Unfortunately, in Cleveland he got injured. Moving forward, getting Sam back healthy will greatly increase our chances of winning.”

According to Fisher, Bradford is making progress on his road to recovery from a second ACL tear in as many seasons and has been at Rams Park every day since the end of the season. If the Rams get their way, that's a habit that won't be changing anytime soon.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the latest sign that the NFL is both interested in returning to the lucrative Los Angeles market and that it wants to exert control over how it arrives, the league has formed a committee devoted to making both of those things happen, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The Times obtained a memo sent to the 32 NFL franchises Monday explaining the formation of the six-person committee, which includes Kansas City owner Clark Hunt, New England owner Robert Kraft, New York Giants owner John Mara, Houston owner Bob McNair, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson and Pittsburgh owner Art Rooney.

That committee has actually been working on the project for some time though it's existence as a formal committee had not yet been acknowledged by the league. Some of the key language in the memo refers to the committee's job being to "evaluate the various stadium options available in Los Angeles, oversee the application of the relocation guidelines in the event that one or more clubs seek to move to Los Angeles, ensure proper coordination with other standing committees … and confirm that all steps taken in Los Angeles are consistent with the Constitution and Bylaws and NFL policies.”

With the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders all sniffing around the Los Angeles market to varying degrees (the Rams clearly being the most active) and with Rams owner Stan Kroenke part of a group putting together a major stadium project in Inglewood, this is a logical next step for the league to take.

The names on the committee are generally regarded as much of the "old guard" of owners who have either been around or are members of families that have been in the ownership group for a long time. The part in the memo discussing the confirmation of steps taken being consistent with the Constitution and Bylaws and NFL policies is worth noting in that it jibes with comments Rooney made to the Times in January.

"The majority view is that there's a process the teams are going to have to go through, and I think everybody understands that in terms of the teams that may be interested, I expect that the process will be observed, and hopefully it will be an orderly process," Rooney told the Times then.

So what does it all mean? Well, the league is at least putting up a strong front that it's going to have an orderly process for any team that wants to relocate to Los Angeles. But it's still hard to imagine that if the consensus is that Kroenke's is the best plan to get back to Los Angeles in 20 years (and it is), the league will ultimately do what it believes is best for business.

Meanwhile here in St. Louis, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is scheduled to announce progress toward getting the land in order for the St. Louis stadium project on the north riverfront Tuesday morning. That announcement is expected to include the news that the city has come to terms with a couple of major utilities to help clear the path for construction should the stadium plan be approved.

It remains unlikely that any relocation would happen until 2016 after the league informed teams it would not accept any applications this year. The original deadline for teams to file for relocation this year was scheduled for the end of this week.

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