Rams lock up one-year deals with Cleeland, Lucas

Originally Published: June 5, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Making quick use of some of the salary cap savings realized with the release of Kurt Warner earlier in the week, the St. Louis Rams have added two veteran players at areas where the team was seeking to improve its depth.

The Rams reached agreement to re-sign tight end Cam Cleeland, an unrestricted free agent. St. Louis also signed safety Justin Lucas, who was released on Tuesday by the Arizona Cardinals.

Both players will get one-year contracts. While financial details were not yet available, it is likely the deals are for the minimum base salaries of $535,000.

Cleeland, 28, appeared in 16 games for the Rams in 2003, with 10 starts, and he had 10 receptions for 145 yards and no touchdowns. He had drawn modest interest from some other teams during the free agency signing period, but the Rams stayed in contact with him throughout the process, and made it clear they wanted him to return.

In stints with New Orleans (1998-2001), New England (2002) and St. Louis (2003), he has 119 catches for 1,404 yards and 12 touchdowns. A second-round selection of the Saints in the 1998 draft, Cleeland excelled as a rookie, with 54 catches. But his career since that debut campaign has been slowed by injuries and he hasn't had more than 26 receptions in a season.

The former University of Washington standout recently suffered smoke inhalation when he pulled a motorist from a burning car near Mount Vernon, Wash. The victim was airlifted to a Seattle hospital but died the next day. Cleeland was so depressed at the outcome of the incident that he canceled at least one visit with another team.

Lucas, 27, was part of a purge of five veteran backups by Arizona coach Dennis Green this week. Larry Marmie, the Rams' new defensive coordinator who held the same post with the Cardinals, was familiar with Lucas and recommended St. Louis sign him.

The five-year veteran has appeared in 56 games with eight starts. He has 109 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed for his career. The former Abilene Christian star is now the most experienced backup safety on the St. Louis roster and, if recovered from the ankle injuries that limited him in 2003, could get considerable playing time.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.