Saturday, February 18, 2012

The New St. Louis Rams: A Requiem For the Pipe-Dreams

The "Greatest Show On Turf" era ended abruptly after the controversial departure of Kurt Warner, and the Rams have become well-acquainted with losing ever since.

But not too long ago, Warner and Dick Vermeil shared a podium together in celebration as they proudly hoisted the Lombardi Trophy high in the air for all to see.

During those years, the offense was a force to be reckoned with. The current Rams, on the other hand, celebrate if they can just get the ball to midfield.

However, while it's difficult to dispute the current team's incompetence, there's hope that the franchise is in the midst of a renaissance.

In fact, if you care enough to notice, you'll see the telltale signs of a full-blown revolution in motion:

- Stan Kroenke makes a move to purchase the team in Spring of 2010.

- Rams draft quarterback Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He is expected to be the new face of the franchise.

- Kroenke hires veteran head coach Jeff Fisher to replace Steve Spagnuolo.

- The team currently owns the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The pick is expected to bring in a king's ransom.

With a wealthy owner, a veteran coach and a potential franchise passer, a winning season could be within reach if the front office can just execute intelligent decisions in the upcoming months.

In addition, with competent drafting, solid free agency signings and a little luck from the injury bug, the Rams will possibly be competing for a division title sooner than we all expect.

However, even though respectable leadership is now in place, a minority of fans are humoring a few of the oddball rumors that have been formulated by the media, which means they didn't get the memo that this team is now on the straight and narrow.

So in an attempt to spare us all from a long offseason loaded with ridiculous hearsay and unsupported rumors, let's get this straightened out immediately...

1. The Rams Are Not Drafting A Quarterback

It's true. They're not going to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. Robert Griffin III has absolutely no shot at entering training camp with the team.

He might be a member of the team for about five minutes until the final details of the trade are worked out. Then he's off to begin his career in either Cleveland or Washington. Maybe Miami.

For starters, you don't use No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks on two different quarterbacks in just a three-year span. The very thought is completely absurd.

Secondly, only a fool would give up on a prospect like Bradford after one down year. I suppose Tampa Bay is about to throw in the towel with Josh Freeman after one tough season as well?

Maybe Bradford will live up to his draft status, but then again, maybe he won't. But what we do know with complete certainty is that he'll get a competition-free shot at redemption in 2012.

2. The Elderly Headcases Are Not A Fit

There has been talk about both Randy Moss and Terrell Owens returning to the NFL in 2012. To add even more fun to the mix, Albert Haynesworth was cut by Tampa Bay.

But let's not pretend that any of these three players are viable options for the Rams.

True, Haynesworth played some very good football under Fisher in Tennessee. On the other hand, he's a borderline sociopath.

Moss and Owens would almost be worth the risk... if it was five years ago.

Moss didn't "retire" from the NFL—he wasn't wanted in the NFL. And while Owens at least has the knee injury excuse, he's also at a point where his talent does not exceed the headaches.

So instead of giving one of these guys a shot at a sequel (likely more pathetic than Rocky V), the Rams need to diligently scan their draft board and find the next big play receiver, or perhaps the next run-stuffing defensive tackle.

Finding the next great player sounds a lot more appealing than trying to milk one last ounce of talent out of a has-been who has nothing left to offer.

3. We Don't Know If the Rams Are Moving

We don't. No one can possibly claim to have insider knowledge on the motives of Kroenke, so it's pointless to speculate.

What we do know, however, is that the negotiations between the Rams and the Edward Jones Dome are not unusual. The lease is nearing an end, so the negotiations were bound to happen regardless of whether or not Los Angeles is looking for a team.

Also, no team is going to move until there's a brand new stadium in Los Angeles with a giant red ribbon placed on top. And as far as we know, there has not been a single nail hammered in, or even one scoop of dirt shoveled up.

What we have here is a classic Scarface "Show me the stuff, and I'll show you the money!" showdown. Right now, Los Angeles doesn't have the "stuff," which isn't going to cut it. Just ask Tony's friend Angel.


After nearly a decade of laughable management, it's fair to say that poor decisions are not just expected out of the Rams' organization, they're assumed.

Throwing first-round draft picks at Alex Barron, Tye Hill and Adam Carriker is a good way to brain wash the fanbase into thinking that the team is destined to make poor decisions.

Perhaps that's the reason why the media links the Rams with some of the most far-fetched scenarios out there.

In 2010, the Rams were rumored to be interested in both Moss and Owens, which has been a recurring theme this year.

Now, there's speculation that St. Louis is a candidate in the non-existent Albert Haynesworth sweepstakes. And while we're at it, why don't we make the Rams the very first NFL team based in Europe?

Sure, the team has had terrible drafts in recent years, but they generally do not pursue bone-headed distractions. So why the sudden assumption that the Rams are involved in every ridiculous possibility?

The answer: They're losers.

It's true. But not to worry, because after several years of proper drafting and inspiring leadership, the team will soon be embraced as a true franchise.

Get ready St. Louis... no longer will the Rams be linked to every Area 51-worthy rumor. With this current regime, it's about time we finally win our respect back.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rams: 10 Players Who Are "On the Bubble"

With a new regime comes a new face lift, and at this point the St. Louis Rams are completely out of butt fat and have been shot up with enough Botox to put even the most artificial Hollywood stars to shame.

After a historically inept five-year stretch between 2007 and 2011, resulting in a combined 15-65 record, there's no doubt that the team must get it right this time around, hence the hiring of an experienced coach like Jeff Fisher.

With a veteran coach, the Rams figure they'll be a consistent .500 team at worst, which is still light-years ahead of the current team and will certainly be enough to appease a starving fanbase that was positively thrilled with the team's 7-9 losing record in 2010.

But in order to complete that satisfying step from hopelessness to mediocrity, the front office must identify the dead weight and eliminate it.

Over the next month and beyond, expect multiple cuts and restructured contracts as Fisher begins to mold the team in his own image.

Think of Fisher as the surgeon while the Rams are the overweight patient getting lard sucked out before swimsuit season (which comes much quicker than we ever expect).

There are some obvious cuts waiting to happen, such as the blocking-specialist tight end who can't block (Billy Bajema). But there are also a number of borderline players who will force the coaches to make some difficult decisions.

This article will focus on those "on the bubble" players and decide who's worth keeping and who needs to hit the road.

Ron Bartell, Cornerback

Ron Bartell has arguably been the Rams' best defensive player over the last five or six years, which is why the team felt he was worth a four-year, $25 million contract in 2009.

However, Bartell missed basically the entire 2011 season with a fractured neck which he obtained in Week 1 against Philadelphia.

Bartell has supposedly been cleared to play again, but even before the neck injury, he was already in a constant battle with various injuries, resulting in 19 missed starts over the last three seasons.

While Bartell certainly has a lot to offer on the field, it might not be financially feasible to pay him the $6.2 million that he's due in 2012, especially since he'll not likely stay healthy for all 16 games.

It would be ideal to keep Bartell and sign free agent Cortland Finnegan, but if the team can afford only one of the two corners, then it has to be Finnegan.

Verdict: Simple... If the team signs Finnegan, then Bartell is gone. But if the team doesn't, then Bartell stays.

Jacob Bell, Left Guard

The Rams signed Jacob Bell away from the Tennessee Titans in 2008 as a high-priced free agent, but he has been nothing but a disappointment in a Rams uniform.

Unfortunately for Rams fans, Bell has a history with Fisher from their time together in Tennessee from 2004 to 2007, which could result in Fisher showing some sympathy towards Bell and his struggles.

However, Bell is now a free agent and won't be nearly as pricey as he was in the recent past, which will probably be the only reason that he's brought back in 2012.

Verdict: If Fisher feels he can force Bell to elevate his game, then the Rams will re-sign him to a contract that will be merely a fraction of the $36 million contract he signed in 2008.

Jason Brown, Center

Jason Brown had a phenomenal 2009 season with the Rams after signing a $37.5 million contract with the team as a free agent.

However, his level of performance was merely adequate in 2010 and then simply awful in 2011.

Brown is a bit of a mystery. He was great for Baltimore to start his career and was solid during his first year in St. Louis, so it's hard to determine if the problem is actually with Brown, or rather the unqualified coaching staff he played under.

Bell, Brown and Jason Smith are the three most problematic offensive linemen on the roster, but since there are no capable replacements waiting on deck, it's probably unrealistic to expect the team to let go of all three.

If just one of the three remains with the team in 2012, then it will probably be Brown, simply because he's the only one capable of staying healthy.

Verdict: Brown missed two games in 2011 due to injury, but he was able to start 64 consecutive games between 2007 and 2010. So if the Rams are going to keep one of their under-performing linemen, then it might as well be the only one capable of staying on the field. Not to mention, he's probably the one most likely to revive his game.

Fred Robbins, Defensive Tackle

Defensive tackle Fred Robbins came over in 2010 as a free agent and was a terrific addition who single-handedly helped the defense grow by leaps and bounds.

However, Robbins experienced a decrease in production in 2011 and his chances of rebounding in 2012 are slim due to the fact that he'll turn 35 years old in March.

Robbins had a special connection with former head coach Steve Spagnuolo stemming from their shared history together with the New York Giants, but that favoritism vanished as soon as Spagnuolo walked out the door.

Fisher has no special bond with Robbins and will only retain him if he's deemed worthy, which is a hard case to argue considering the $3.75 million he'll make in 2012.

Fisher's defense-minded philosophy will likely call for a new defensive tackle, as he values that position greatly, but there's a chance Robbins will retire before Fisher has a chance to cut him.

Verdict: Now that Spagnuolo is gone, Robbins will likely retire.

Jason Smith, Right Tackle

Former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith is running out of opportunities to live up to his lofty draft status.

Unfortunately, Smith has been the victim of multiple concussions, which is spreading doubt that he'll ever be capable of a lengthy career in the NFL.

Even without the concussions, Smith has still been a major disappointment on the field, which could hurt his chances in 2012 considering the team will save millions in cap space by cutting him.

There's a chance Smith can revive his career at left guard not unlike Robert Gallery during his time in Oakland, but since Smith is due $10 million next year, it's probably too expensive to even consider that experiment.

Verdict: There's a chance the team will bring Smith back if he's willing to restructure his enormous $61.7 million contract, but the team will ultimately cut him if he refuses.

A.J. Feeley, Quarterback

A.J. Feeley was signed in 2010 as a likely backup quarterback, but since there was no guarantee that Sam Bradford would be drafted or even be ready to start Week 1, Feeley was partially treated as a starter.

Since starting games was in the realm of possibility, the Rams were forced to reflect that in Feeley's contract, which is why they inked him to a two-year deal worth $6 million. It was a bit pricey considering he had only started two games since 2004 at the time.

Now that Feeley is a free agent and Bradford is locked in as the starter, the team could probably bring him back at a reduced rate.

However, Feeley was considered a valuable backup due to his familiarity with Pat Shurmur's offensive scheme. But now that Shurmur is long gone as the team's offensive coordinator, there is really no reason to keep Feeley.

Third-string quarterback Kellen Clemens had an admirable game against San Francisco during the team's 2011 finale and is six years younger than the 34-year-old Feeley.

Coincidentally, Clemens played the first five years of his career with the New York Jets under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who is now the Rams' new coordinator.

Verdict: Clemens flashed some potential in 2011 and is very familiar with Schottenheimer's scheme, which makes him the perfect backup. There is no reason to re-sign Feeley.

Mike Hoomanawanui, Tight End

Mike Hoomanawanui was the team's fifth-round draft pick in 2010 and flashed plenty of potential during his rookie season.

Right from the start, even during the preseason, it was obvious that Hoomanawanui (Illini Mike) and Bradford had some chemistry together in the passing game, but he was unable to compile a respectable rookie season after missing eight games due to a high ankle sprain.

While his injury-plagued rookie season was alarming, people still held out hope that he'd bounce back in 2011 and continue to grow as an offensive weapon.

However, it became painfully clear that his rookie injury was not an isolated incident after he again missed eight games in 2011.

Even while healthy, he still only had seven catches for 83 yards in eight games.

The Rams could use a weapon like Hoomanawanui on the field, but he clearly does not have a body capable of absorbing a regular beating.

Verdict: There's basically no chance that Hoomanawanui can stay healthy for 16 games. And while his potential is alluring, it would be foolish to waste the roster spot. He will likely be cut at some point, either in the upcoming months or during training camp.

James Hall, Defensive End

In 2010, Chris Long was the defensive lineman who received the most praise, but it was actually James Hall who led the team in sacks that year with 10.5.

While Hall still managed to stay relevant in 2011 with six sacks and 50 tackles, it's fair to say that he experienced an overall decline.

Hall still has something to offer, but with 2011 first-round pick Robert Quinn ready to replace him as the full-time starter at right defensive end, it doesn't make a lot of sense to keep the 35-year-old Hall.

Also, Hall is due $2.75 million in 2012, so his departure would save the team some money, which could go towards a younger and more productive free agent.

Verdict: There's a chance Hall will retire due to his age, but if he decides to play, then he'll likely force the team to cut him in order to save money.

Josh Brown, Kicker

Some teams take their kicker for granted, so they go out an find a new one only to find that the replacement is not as reliable, which results in them playing musical chairs with the position until they can finally find the right guy.

For that reason, it might be wise for the Rams to stick with an experienced veteran like Josh Brown who, at his worst, is still somewhat reliable.

However, Brown made only 75 percent of his field goals in 2011 and his longest was just a modest 49-yard kick.

Brown has not been a total disaster, but he is hardly reliable enough to justify the $14.2 million contract he signed in 2008.

Verdict: Brown is entering the final year of his contract, so the team might wait it out for one more year. However, he is set to make $2.7 million in 2012. And with his accuracy beginning to come into question, the Rams could get equal production for a quarter of the price.

Austin Pettis, Wide Receiver

Austin Pettis was the Rams' third-round draft pick in 2011 out of Boise State, but he was basically a ghost throughout his rookie year.
The team was weak at the receiver position, which gave Pettis every opportunity in the world to show his stuff, but he still managed to produce only 27 catches and 256 yards.

Assuming the team enters 2012 with Brandon Lloyd, Justin Blackmon (or any other drafted receiver), Danny Amendola, Greg Salas, Danario Alexander and Dominique Curry (special teams), that doesn't leave a lot of room on the roster for Pettis, who was a questionable draft pick to begin with.

Not to mention, Pettis was suspended for four games for using steroids. The suspension caused him to miss the final two games of the 2011 season and will force him to miss the first two games of 2012, which makes it that much easier to cut him.

Verdict: Expect Pettis to make it to training camp. However, he'll be cut before the season begins.

What Does Jeff Fisher's History Tell Us About the No. 2 Pick?

With the 2012 NFL Draft still three months away, it's still far too early for coaching staffs to determine which players they covet more than others.

And with the NFL Combine three weeks away, there has not been ample time to evaluate or compare college prospects. Also, teams with new coaching staffs, such as the St. Louis Rams, have to review their own rosters before they can rightfully determine which positions are truly lacking.

However, even though the situation has not been completely analyzed, we can still hypothesize which direction the team will aim for.

Possibly the most popular draft day strategy that has been discussed calls for the Rams to trade their No. 2 overall pick to a team infatuated with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

However, if the Rams are incapable of finalizing a trade, then it basically comes down to offensive tackle Matt Kalil (USC) or wide receiver Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State).

Even if the Rams can trade down to No. 4 overall with the Cleveland Browns, it still comes down to Kalil or Blackmon, depending on which player the Minnesota Vikings pick at No. 3.

The question is: Which player does coach Jeff Fisher prefer?

During his inaugural press conference on Jan. 18, Fisher said the following quote when discussing the team's offensive philosophy:

"It's a team that's going to run the football and protect the quarterback."

Obviously, both running the football and protecting the quarterback requires a stout offensive line capable of opening run lanes and forming a strong pocket.

On top of that, the Rams just signed star offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in an attempt to find the next Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins) or Brandon Browner (Seattle Seahawks), who were both CFL stars turned NFL Pro Bowlers.

At first sight, it seems as though Fisher's philosophy clearly favors Kalil with the No. 2 overall pick. But then again, history says otherwise...

Here is every first-round pick from Fisher's career as a head coach:

Defensive Line (Five): Derrick Morgan (2010), Albert Haynesworth (2002), Jevon Kearse (1999), Kenny Holmes (1997), Henry Ford (1994)
Defensive Back (Three): Michael Griffin (2007), Adam Jones (2005), Andre Woolfolk (2003)
Wide Receiver (Two): Kenny Britt (2009), Kevin Dyson (1998)
Quarterback (Two): Vince Young (2006), Steve McNair (1995)
Running Back (Two): Chris Johnson (2008), Eddie George (1996)
Linebacker (One): Keith Bullock (2000)
Note: Tennessee did not have a first-round pick in 2004 or 2001.

Even though Fisher's recent actions make it seem as though he's leaning towards an offensive lineman, you can see that he's never drafted one in the first round, not even once.

Meanwhile, six out of the 18 picks have been offensive skill positions, with two of them being wide receivers.

It's also worth noting that the receivers, Britt (6'3", 215 pounds) and Dyson (6'1", 208 pounds), are both similar in size to Justin Blackmon (6'1", 215 pounds), which means Fisher believes a receiver can succeed in the NFL without being 6'4", despite what Blackmon's critics say.

After the NFL Combine, we'll have a much better idea of where different prospects stand in the eyes of NFL personnel, as the combine is really the media's first chance to discuss the players in detail with various scouts and general managers.

Perhaps Blackmon is not viewed as such a big play receiver in the eyes of an NFL scout, or maybe Kalil is not the blue-chip left tackle he's thought to be.

But for now, we must assume that it's going to come down to one of the two, and history says Fisher will opt for the receiver.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rams' Steven Jackson and the Hall of Fame

The days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and the "Greatest Show On Turf" are still in the back of our minds, but those memories are rapidly fading deeper and deeper into the past.

The death of that era has sparked a lengthy drought in St. Louis—While the 2001 Rams won 14 games in a single season, the current team has won only 15 games in the last five years combined.

In the middle of the drought, standing out clearly in contrast to the surrounding wasteland, is the oasis—Steven Jackson.

When discussing the futility of the Rams in recent years, he has always been the "but", the exception, the slither of pride that keeps the fanbase going.

Despite experiencing only one playoff win in eight seasons, Jackson still straps on the cleats every Sunday and gives it his all.

There is no immediate turnaround in sight, which makes his career into the spitting image of a traditional Greek Tragedy, as opposed to a Disney film, which would have it all end with Jackson hoisting a Lombardi Trophy over his head, much like Jerome Bettis did with the Steelers in 2005.

While a fairy tale ending seems unlikely at this point, Jackson's career would not be a total misfortune if he were to find his way into Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, even though Jackson owns the Rams franchise rushing record and is only the seventh player in NFL history to put up seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, he still has a few obstacles to overcome if he wants his legacy to reach an elite status.

1. Acquire More Playoff Appearances

If Jackson wants the Hall of Fame, then the Rams don't necessarily need to win a Super Bowl. In fact, they don't even need to win a single playoff game.

However, they certainly need a few more playoff appearances before Jackson retires.

Out of all modern-era running backs in the Hall of Fame, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson are tied for the fewest playoff appearances with six total appearances each, while Jackson is well behind with only two.

The Hall of Fame accepts players based on their personal accomplishments, which makes it ridiculous that Jackson could ultimately be punished for his teammate's shortcomings.

However, the Hall of Fame voters certainly equate playoff appearances with personal success, which means the Rams have to get on track quickly for Jackson, who will turn 29 years old before the beginning of next season.

2. Gain More Yardage

Jackson has rushed for 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons, which makes his rookie year in 2004 the only season in his eight-year career where he failed to surpass the 1,000-yard mark.

His consistent ability to gain yardage has him on pace to finish with an adequate number of career rushing yards in the eyes of the Hall of Fame.

When looking at modern-era players, while leaving out fullbacks and other novelties, the average amount of career yards for a Hall of Fame running back is about 11,632 yards.

Jackson is sitting with 9,093 yards at the age of 28.

Realistically, he'll need two more 1,000-yard seasons combined with a year or two of 500-yard seasons at the end of his career. Or, if he ages quicker than we thought and enters a backup role, he'll need about four more years with 500 or more yards.

In the end, his total number of rushing yards will not be the thing that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame, but he certainly still has work to do.

3. Find the Endzone

While Jackson has been consistent in yardage, he typically does not have an impressive touchdown total at the end of the season.

In fact, 2006 is the only year where he rushed for more than 10 touchdowns (13). This comes as a result of playing for a team that has been offensively-challenged for most of his career.

When looking at modern-era running backs, and again leaving out the fullbacks and other oddballs, the average touchdown total of a Hall of Fame running back is about 89.

With only 59 touchdowns at the age of 28, Jackson will be hard-pressed to meet that career average. Assuming he plays four more years, he would need 7.5 touchdowns a year to hit that mark.

Considering he's averaging 6.5 touchdowns per season during his prime, he won't be able to maintain the 7.5 average in his twilight years.

However, there are several notable Hall of Fame running backs who were elected despite falling short of the 89 touchdown average: Earl Campbell (74), Joe Perry (71), O.J. Simpson (61), Thurman Thomas (65)

So while Jackson will surely be short on touchdowns, he'll finish with just enough to keep him in the hunt.


Jackson has been the soul of the team throughout some of the worst seasons in franchise history, yet he hasn't complained, he doesn't demand to be traded and he stands by the team.

If Jackson spent his career in a larger market, such as Dallas or New York, then Canton would already be in the process of welding his statue. However, since he's in a small market on a team that doesn't properly support him, he'll be a borderline candidate.

He shouldn't be punished for loyalty and determination. Keeping a player like Jackson out of Canton would only encourage active players to abandon their teams in search of big city teams with more national media coverage.

Jackson still has work to do before the discussion can truly begin, but if he comes close to the benchmarks, then he deserves the nod.