NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - INSIDE SLANT
Rams options open for second pick in the draft
Two years ago, the landscape was decidedly different when the NFL Scouting Combine ended.
Like this year, the St. Louis Rams had the second overall selection in the draft. But that year, as Rams general manager Les Snead recalls, the top of the draft appeared written in stone when the combine closed its doors for the week.
Speaking at the combine Friday, Snead said, "We left Indy and everyone knew who pick 1 was going to be and who pick 2 was going to be. That year it was (quarterback) Andrew Luck is going 1. There was a little movement 'does Robert Griffin beat out Andrew Luck,' but that was more 'let's stir it up and have something to write about.' Because it's kind of boring Andrew's going No. 1.
"This one doesn't seem as defined. I'm not sure this year when we leave we'll know who pick 1 will be. If you all do know, let me know. That will help the spring out."
In 2012, Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher were able to orchestrate a trade in March with the Washington Redskins that moved the Rams down to sixth in the first round with the Rams also acquiring a second-round choice that year to go with first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.
As the Redskins bottomed out at 3-13 this past season, that left the Rams at No. 2 again. And while Snead figures there will be trade options this year, it might not happen until draft day.
Said Snead, "It's definitely an option. I won't continue calling it a piece of real estate. But it's a nice asset as an organization to have and we need to make the best of that asset. We'll evaluate all situations."
Most important is the uncertainty of what the Houston Texans will do with the first selection, whether it's one of the top-rated quarterbacks or take a player at a different position.
Fisher jokingly said he hopes to learn what the Texans will do in meetings with their general manager, Rick Smith. Both are on the NFL's competition committee.
Said Fisher, "You know I spent the last three days in the same meeting room with Rick Smith, will spend another week with him in a couple weeks and I'm going to give myself another good solid week to find out what they're going to do. Get him in a weak moment."
When it was mentioned that Smith isn't saying much, Fisher said. "He is not talking to me, no."
Meanwhile, stating the obvious, Snead said he'd prefer having the first choice. "Houston controls the draft," he said. "The interesting thing about being 2 is, as I've mentioned, I'm an only child, I'm selfish and I'm greedy. I want to be in the driver's street. I wouldn't have to sit and react."
When he was told he's still riding shotgun, Snead laughed and said, Sometimes shotgun is worse. Maybe it's better not being in the car."
However, if the Rams are able to make a trade that helps deepen the roster, he won't be so upset at riding shotgun. And, he acknowledges that the depth of this year's draft will make acquiring extra picks even more advantageous.
"Early last May when we started looking at what was coming, we had a gut feeling it was going to be a deep draft and it's turned out be that," Snead said. "It's a very, very deep draft at multiple positions. It's a good thing for this year."
Analyzing trade options, Snead said, "If you go back and look at last year, we might have been shut out (with a trade down). This year, it's 'wow, look at our options.' This year being deep is going to affect trades, for sure."
One thing that won't affect the Rams' pick is the status of quarterback Sam Bradford. Snead and Fisher have reiterated consistently that Bradford is the team's quarterback, yet that doesn't stop outside talk from occurring talk says the Rams might release him to save salary-cap dollars and use their high pick on someone new.
They each again squashed any of that talk. Fisher smiled when he was asked if he is surprised by the continued speculation, and said, "Nowadays, speculation is not puzzling to me."
He then said, "As I've mentioned before, one of two reasons I took this job was because of Sam. As an organization, we have a great deal of respect in him and trust in him. He's our guy. He was playing pretty good football before he got hurt."
Bradford suffered a torn ACL in the seventh game of the season against the Carolina Panthers, and Fisher said, "We have zero concern whether or not he comes back. He's working hard, he's there every day. He's excited about it.
"This was a freak injury so we don't look at it like we have an injury-prone quarterback. There's no question whether he will be back."
Said Snead, "He's young but still has a lot of experience, so we don't want to throw that experience away. When you start talking about a starting quarterback, we could spend all day on why we're standing by Sam. Since 2012 when Jeff and I got here, it's pretty well-documented the NFC West is pretty tough. He's 5-2-1 in the division.
"When we found our identity this year, he played really well. We have to win in this division to get to the tournament. He proved he could play pretty well in the offense (after) the San Francisco game. Those variables are why you're standing by him."
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Rams have several questions on the offensive line, with the most timely the pending free agency of offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
Saffold experienced a roller-coaster season in 2013 that included a switch to right tackle, a knee injury that resulted in Joe Barksdale becoming the right tackle, a move to right guard when Harvey Dahl went out with a knee injury, and then a slide left tackle when Jake Long suffered a torn ACL.
The move to guard was fortuitous because that's where the Rams believe he will be best.
Coach Jeff Fisher said, "He's going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Obviously we have a serious interest in getting Rodger back. It's important for us to get that done. He's expressed serious interest in coming back as well."
Fisher said he also hopes guard Chris Williams, who started on the left side in 2013, will re-sign.
"We had a really good visit when he left (after the season ended)," Fisher said. "He'd like to come back and it makes sense that we would try. He played good; he was solid. When you don't hear his name, you don't talk about him."
--General manager Les Snead said he's not "losing sleep" worrying about the return of both left tackle Jake Long and quarterback Sam Bradford, who both suffered torn ACLs during the 2013 season.
First discussing Bradford, Snead said, "Things go forward. Let's learn from this. Let's take a step back and learn from it physically and emotionally. What we've seen with technology today; it's pretty fascinating seeing the things you can do from a rehab standpoint and why you see athletes recover relatively quickly and not miss a beat."
"Sometimes the human makes a difference. He (Long) is going to attack this. I'm not losing any sleep over both of those injuries. We've agreed in the organization not to place an inorganic timeline on it, saying this date or bust. But you've got enough signs to know those guys will be ready to go in the season. We'll play it by ear and one might be a few weeks earlier than the other."
--Cornerback Cortland Finnegan has a cap figure of $10 million in 2014, $9 million of which is in base salary ($6 million) and a March roster bonus ($3 million). His 2013 season was affected after suffering a broken bone around his eye, which did not require surgery.
It would appear Finnegan would only return on a restructured contract. Fisher said at the combine, "He overcame a difficult situation. I understand he's healthy now. And so we expect him back in the offseason program."
Snead said, "Cortland's had a great career. He had an injured eye last year, really a broken eye. I don't know if you can break your eye (but) he continued to play through that, and it was causing him some issues with 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, corners that can go inside and play nickel; you can't have enough of those people."
--Rams coach Jeff Fisher Fisher said he consulted with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before hiring Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator.
"I had a conversation with the commissioner who not only endorsed Gregg, but felt that (hiring) Gregg would be a good move," Fisher said at a press conference to formally introduce Williams.
Reports last month indicated that Williams would be returning to St. Louis after he was set to take over the defense in 2012 until he was suspended for a year by the NFL for his part on the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.
Williams takes over two weeks after Fisher made the decision to fire Tim Walton.
Fisher said when he reached out to Williams, he knew full well that some fences would need mending. During the two years apart, Fisher and Williams rarely spoke. Fisher also had fired Williams' son, Blake, as linebackers coach after the 2012 season.
"We spent several days together, discussing the past, putting the past behind us, discussing the present and the future and direction of where we wanted to go with our defense," Fisher said. "Gregg and I came to terms with a lot of things."
Williams was asked how he and Fisher patched things up between them.
"Those are things that are between Jeff and I," he said.
Williams returned to the league last year and worked on the Tennessee Titans' staff as a senior assistant/defense before head coach Mike Munchak was fired in January.
Williams and Fisher previously worked together for six years with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Williams was Fisher's defensive coordinator for four of those seasons.
The Rams' defense finished 13th in the NFL in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed during the 2013 season, but opponents' 68.1 completion percentage was tied for the worst in the league.
"Gregg was my first choice and Tim was my second," Fisher said. "And I had a chance to go get my first choice. That was it. It had nothing to do with Tim. When you sit in my seat at the end of the hall, often times there are some very difficult decisions that need to be made, and that was one of the more difficult decisions that I've made."
Williams is comfortable being reunited with Fisher.
"The fact that there's a great familiarity with us, but realize this -- it's been 14 years since we've been together," Williams said. "It's been 14 seasons we've competed against each other. It's fun to be back with people who think and believe the same way you are, so now you get a chance to spend more time with the players because you're spending less time having to sell or defend yourself with your staff before you ever get with the players."
Williams said he maintained hope that he could one day take the job he briefly had in 2012.
"I've always thought that this was a possibility," Williams said. "I've always thought that this was a great place to be."
Williams also called talk that he stole a playbook as "a joke."
Former NFL defensive end Renaldo Wynn said Williams told him that the Titans had Jacksonville's playbook and used it to prepare to beat the Jaguars in the 1999 AFC Championship Game. Wynn later backtracked on that claim.
"That was really a joke story," Williams said. "That was a joke, to me."
Williams said he compares notes on playbooks from around the league with other coaches, and that he has a large collection of old playbooks.
"I do collect playbooks," Williams said. "I love to see what other people call a term that you use. We understand football and don't need anybody else's playbooks."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not walking around scrambling that we've got to do anything to function." - GM Les Snead on the belief the Rams are cap-strapped entering the new league year that begins March 11.
NFL Team Report - St. Louis Rams - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:
--QB Kellen Clemens
--LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
--S Matt Giordano
--QB Brady Quinn
--T/G Rodger Saffold
--G Shelley Smith
--S Darian Stewart
--G Chris Williams
--LB Will Witherspoon
SAFETY: T.J. McDonald was a solid pick in 2013, but more depth is needed, especially if Darian Stewart and Matt Giordano don't return.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Tackle Jake Long is coming back from an ACL, and Rodger Saffold will be a free agent. There also could be salary-cap issues with center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl.
QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford is coming back from a knee injury, and while a high pick won't be used, the Rams could be looking for one in later rounds.