NFC West: St. Louis Rams

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has never made any bones about his affinity for drafting defensive linemen early and often.

In Fisher's two decades as an NFL head coach in Houston, Tennessee and now in St. Louis, he believes he has often found the intersection of value and need in the first round by landing another pass-rusher even if his team is already well-stocked at the position.

Which is why perhaps nobody should be surprised if his Rams use the No. 10 overall pick on a pass-rusher this year despite more glaring needs in the short term.

“It would not be inconceivable to take another defensive end," Fisher said. "We like defensive ends and tackles. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities.”

With Fisher, it never is. Since he arrived in St. Louis in 2012, the Rams have taken a defensive lineman in the first round in two of the past three drafts in the form of defensive tackles Michael Brockers (2012) and Aaron Donald (2014).

But the track record extends well beyond that. As the coach of the Tennessee/Houston franchise from 1994 to 2010, the Titans/Oilers used 12 first- or second-round picks on a defensive end or defensive tackle. In Fisher's final three seasons in Nashville, the Titans drafted an end or tackle in the first two rounds in each of those years.

Fisher's belief is pretty simple: You can never have enough pass-rushers. It's why the Rams probably would have taken end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 2 overall pick in 2014 had he slipped past the Houston Texans despite greater, more pressing immediate needs.

Strange as it may sound, however, taking a lineman, particularly an end, this year might be more of a need than many realize. While the Rams have strong depth at the position for 2015 with the likes of Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes, Eugene Sims and Ethan Westbrooks, that depth could be fleeting.

Quinn is the group's premiere player and under contract through the 2019 season. Other than Quinn, the rest come with varying degrees of question marks about their future in St. Louis. Long's deal runs through 2016 but his cap number for that year is $14.25 million. He'll need a strong bounce-back year after a 2014 injury cost him most of the season for the Rams to retain him at that number.

Hayes and Sims are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after this season, and though both provide excellent depth, Hayes has had injury issues and Sims has never been more than a solid if unspectacular player. Westbrooks has flashed potential but it remains to be seen whether he can develop into a starting-caliber player.

Given all of that and adding that the Rams' fundamental defensive philosophy centers on generating pass rush, adding an end could be higher on the priority list than it might seem. That is only buoyed by a draft that looks to be rich in prospects at the position.

Most NFL draft pundits rank USC's Leonard Williams, Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Missouri's Shane Ray and Clemson's Vic Beasley as top-10-caliber prospects. The scheme or personality fit for each player might not necessarily be a match for the Rams but with so many of them ranked in that range, it's entirely possible that one could fall into the Rams' lap and stand out as the best player on the team's board.

Even with the team's pressing needs on the offensive line still unsettled, Fisher believes the Rams will have the ability to draft the best player available when the time comes but also mentions the chance that someone could want to move up if that type of player isn't what the Rams are looking for.

“There’s flexibility," Fisher said. "There’s no doubt we’re going to get an outstanding player at 10. It depends on who’s there, as always. If somebody sees value and it works for us, we could back out and still get an outstanding player.”

PHOENIX -- As one of the most well-respected owners in the NFL and a member of the committee working on bringing football back to Los Angeles, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft had plenty of thoughts to share on the potential of teams moving to the City of Angels.

Yesterday, we dived into some of that by offering his opinion that two teams will be playing in Los Angeles in 2016, but also adding his reminder that current markets working to keep their team should be given a fair shake.

Here are some more of Kraft's thoughts that we didn't get to, including his directly addressing the St. Louis stadium efforts:

(On the possible return of the NFL to Los Angeles)

Kraft: I was sad 20 years ago when I came into the league and the two teams moved out of the L.A. market. It was just very unfortunate. I don’t think it’s good that we let a generation of young fans grow up without a team. The good news is we have a quarterback from the bay area and we have a lot of Patriots fans out here. It’s not good for the NFL, and I really believe within the next year, we’ll have two teams in this market. I think there are good plans. We have a little committee that’s working with the different owners, and we have some real good options. Now we’ll see what happens in the end game.

(On how soon teams will be in Los Angeles)

Kraft: I really believe next year. I don’t know who they’ll be.

(On having two teams instead of one right away)

Kraft: I’m just speaking what I believe -- that there will be two teams. There might just be one team, but I really think to support the financial commitment of doing the kind of stadium that’s necessary in L.A. we’ll need the resources, that’s just my feeling. I might be wrong. And then whether it’s done simultaneously or not, personally I would think that would be the best way. Sort of, in a way, what happened in New York/New Jersey where they corrected a situation where for many years, I think the Jets felt like maybe they were second class and now you have two NFL teams and two fan bases that are both being treated in a professional way. It’s just my feeling. It could happen that one would come in later, but I would like to see it be simultaneous.

(On what happens if the Rams, Chargers and Raiders all get stadium deals done in their current cities)

Kraft: Somehow, I feel we will have at least one team in L.A.

(On St. Louis’ stadium plan and what they need to do to keep the Rams)

Kraft: My point of view, if they come up with a plan that looks pretty good and a strong financial package, we the NFL have an obligation, in my opinion, to have a team in St. Louis. I think the fans, just like what happened in Buffalo or any of the markets. But they have to be able to support the team.

(How does the Los Angeles dynamic change now that it’s league- and team-driven rather than L.A.-driven? Does it make relocation more real?)

Kraft: Yes, because the three teams that are all interested, the principals are involved, and they’re doing something first-class. I don’t think we could have a viable team in L.A. if we don’t have a first-class venue and have something very special. Then we the league have a lot to bring to it if we’re dealing with the right situation.

RamsOscar W. Gabriel/AP IMAGESStan Kroenke jump started discussion of an NFL team moving to Los Angeles with the purchase of 60 acres in Inglewood.

PHOENIX -- If deadlines spur action, perhaps "Deadline" should be St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke's nickname.

Of the many topics being discussed at this week's owners meetings, the NFL's potential return to Los Angeles ranks high on the list, perhaps even at the top. It was bound to be a subject that came up again sooner or later but in the past two decades it's never been as real as it is now.

That's why league executive Eric Grubman, the man in charge of the dual -- if not competing -- tasks of relocation and market retention, offered a thorough presentation to the owners on Monday morning.

In the presentation, Grubman discussed what's happening with the two potential Los Angeles sites as well as the home markets of the three teams pondering a move in St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego. The goal of the presentation was to make sure everyone is up to speed because chances are, something real will take place before the 2016 season, at the latest.

"I don't think we want to hurry it just to hurry it but I do think once clubs have declared their interest in developing a stadium in Los Angeles and haven't foreclosed their home markets, it's better to get to that answer sooner than later so that people at least know what to work on," Grubman said. "I would like to think that we have got a good shot at making the decision in time for people to know in the 2016 season where they are playing."

So why now? The answer is simple: Kroenke. Unlike failed attempts at bringing the league back to the City of Angels, Kroenke provides the holy trinity needed to make it happen: the land, the money and the team.

It was Kroenke's purchase of a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, California in January of 2014 that started the ball rolling. The announcement in January of this year that he's partnered with Stockbridge Capital group to build the City of Champions project on that site only made it all the more real.

Soon after, St. Louis announced a plan of its own in an effort to keep the Rams. At February's scouting combine, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders announced a plan to team up on a stadium project in Carson, California. Oakland and San Diego have also jumped into the fray in efforts to keep their respective teams.

All of that movement spun from Kroenke, who, to paraphrase Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, is all about that action.

In the process, Kroenke has managed to position himself at the front of one of the most ambitious and innovative stadium projects in North American sports history.

Kroenke's Inglewood project isn't just about trying to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles but offers much more, which is yet another reason that these discussions have moved to the forefront.

"I think what's happened is, I don't think we should have a team or teams in L.A. if we don't have a great venue," New England owner Robert Kraft said. "There's so many choices in L.A. and coming back into the market, I really believe it's going to be really first class.

"I think L.A. should be a market where we play Super Bowls, where we have an NFL experience, we have a network out here. There's a lot of things that can be done around it and allow the NFL to really be a showplace and integrating everything and doing it in a proper real estate development."

And though Kroenke's continued silence on this and pretty much every other topic can be frustrating, he's also left himself with a certain amount of plausible deniability.

While never explicitly stating that he wants to move the Rams, Kroenke has spurred movement in his current city and offered the NFL hope of landing new stadiums for all of the teams in need of one.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said Monday that Kroenke has never approached him to discuss Los Angeles and acknowledged that behind closed doors Kroenke isn't making his intentions clear as it pertains to a move.

In doing so, Kroenke is maintaining his position as the lead domino ready to tip over the rest however he best sees fit.

"Stan Kroenke has done a very good job in this business and in other businesses of creating options for himself while not foreclosing something else that may be attractive to him," Grubman said. "It's not different here. He's creating options in the Los Angeles market and he has not foreclosed the St. Louis market and so to the extent that he hasn't turned all his cards over that may be because Stan hasn't made all the decisions. And he doesn't have to yet. That's a great place to be."

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Speaking to Pro Football Talk Live soon after the news conference introducing quarterback Nick Foles to the St. Louis media, Rams coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged that he had turned down a first-round pick in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford before making the deal with Philadelphia.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt RourkeThe Rams were much more comfortable with Nick Foles than trying to trade up and draft a quarterback.

That echoed a sentiment offered by Eagles coach Chip Kelly last week after he made the deal for Bradford. On Tuesday, reports surfaced from NFL Network's Charley Casserley that it was the Cleveland Browns who had tried to trade for Bradford, using the No. 19 overall pick in this year's draft as bait. ESPN's Adam Caplan followed up by clarifying that the Rams were indeed offered the No. 19 pick from Cleveland before moving on to the Eagles' offer.

Which probably brings up the question of why. More often than not, a first-round pick is the greatest currency a team can have. The Rams have stockpiled picks in recent years and the chance to get a second first-round pick again in 2015 would seem too good to pass up.

But the explanation for the Rams passing on Cleveland's offer to take Philadelphia's really isn't that complicated. Unlike when the Rams made the 2012 trade with Washington, the Rams had a quarterback situation that was clearly unsettled this time around.

Fisher offered this explanation:

“There were some discussions, yes, but from our standpoint, the first-round pick — obviously it’s attractive, but you still don’t have a quarterback," Fisher told PFT Live. "It’s a late pick and then would we move up and get into position to draft one? It didn’t make sense to us."

The key here is that the pick obviously would have given the Rams two-first round choices at Nos. 10 and 19, but would that have been enough to move up to get one of the two quarterbacks considered the best choices in this year's draft in Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston? If the draft had been closer, perhaps that's a deal that could be made if one of the two were to slide, but the only way to guarantee landing either would be to move all the way up to No. 2 in a deal with the Tennessee Titans.

And that assumes the Rams even like whoever they think is the No. 2 quarterback in this year's class, presumably Mariota. Clearly, in the end, they preferred to have Foles over taking the risk that they could both get in position to land one of Mariota or Winston and develop either into the type of player that would help them win this year.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Rams wouldn't draft one of those players should they get the opportunity, but for now, it should be no surprise that Foles represents a safer option for a regime entering an important fourth year together.

"Long story short, the reason that made our trade the other day the right fit was the addition of Nick Foles," general manager Les Snead said. "Our conundrum at quarterback was going to require an addition and what made it work is this: You have got a young guy who has got a lot of physical skills to play in this league. Hey, he’s got a lot of metrics that show you how he can produce on the field."

Even though Foles still comes with his share of question marks, there are far fewer there than with anything that would've come with that 19th pick. Which is why the Rams made the right choice in taking Philadelphia's offer instead of Cleveland's.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams struck a one-year deal with defensive tackle Nick Fairley last Friday, adding him to an already extensive mix of talent on the defensive line.

As a former No. 13 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Fairley has long held much potential but to this point has been unable to reach it for various reasons. So Fairley signed a one-year deal in St. Louis with the intent to prove himself worthy of bigger riches next time around.

Fairley's one-year deal is worth $5 million but also includes another possible (though unlikely) $2.5 million that can be attained.

Here's a look at the contract, with all numbers courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

2015

Base salary: $2.5 million

Roster bonus: $1.5 million (paid March 15)

Additional bonuses: $31,250 per game active, up to a maximum of $500,000, and a $500,000 workout bonus

Cap charge: $5 million

Cash charge: $5 million

Notes: The deal also includes up to $2 million in what are deemed "not likely to be earned" bonuses, which account for things like a Pro Bowl berth, reaching sack milestones and team performance.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In what would turn out to be one of the last four games quarterback Nick Foles would play for the Philadelphia Eagles before being traded to the St. Louis Rams, Foles' Eagles jumped out to a commanding 34-7 lead late in the third quarter.

Foles had played a minor role in establishing that lead as the Eagles scored a defensive and special-teams touchdown but he had tossed a pair of touchdown passes to push the lead further. After hitting receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 24-yard touchdown to take a 34-7 lead, Foles watched as the Rams forged a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

The Rams scored three straight touchdowns to narrow the margin to 34-28 and had a possession with a chance to win the game before coming up short. Foles wasn't too familiar with the Rams before that meeting, but the Rams' comeback attempt left an impression.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY SportsRams coach Jeff Fisher said he admires the way Nick Foles is able to deliver the ball downfield.

"I remember playing this team and thinking this is a talented team, the defense is scrappy, all over the place, really tough to go against," Foles said. "The thing I really noticed, though, was the fight. I admire teams that continue to fight. Philadelphia had gotten up by several [scores] and the Rams kept fighting back, fighting back. That’s when you know that team is together as one, the coaching staff is working together, the players are fighting together. And they were in the game at the end. I really admired that and I looked back and said, ‘That is a team that is going to be reckoned with.’"

Now, after the headline-making deal that sent Foles, a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick to the Rams in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth-round choice, Foles will have his chance to play with that team.

As Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead introduced Foles late last week, Fisher quickly endorsed Foles as his starting quarterback. Fisher and Snead both made mention of the fact that they wouldn't have done the trade were it not for Foles' inclusion. It's even been said that the Rams turned down a first-round pick for Bradford because of their excitement about Foles.

Of course, it's worth taking all of that praise with a grain of salt given that Bradford was receiving similar plaudits from Rams leadership just a few weeks ago, and this is the time of year when true plans are only revealed by action or a lack thereof. But to hear Fisher tell it, Foles is a fit for what the Rams want to do offensively.

"It’s what he did in college, what he was able to accomplish there, the system he was in," Fisher said. "We went back and watched his first year with Andy [Reid], watched him finish up the year. Then ’13 was just so impressive what he was able to do, all the throws. We really feel like he fits into our style of offense, the mobility, the athleticism and he loves to put it down the field. He’ll be the first to tell you he likes to put it down the field. And we’ve got guys who can do that."

To put a finer point on it, Foles' role in the offense won't be drastically different from what Bradford would have been asked to do. Fisher is committed to having a run-first offense that spins any ground success into taking shots via play-action. That's an area where Foles has excelled.

According to Pro Football Focus, Foles is 121-of-210 for 1,924 yards with 21 touchdowns and three interceptions over the past two seasons when throwing off of play-action. That could bode well for Foles in St. Louis though he doesn't have guys like Maclin and DeSean Jackson on his side as he did when he was piling up those numbers.

On the flip side, Foles has had injury issues, including a broken collarbone that ended his 2014 season halfway through. Although Foles says he's at "180 percent" right now, that might not be a permanent condition if the Rams can't find some offensive linemen to protect him. And Foles has struggled when coming under pressure.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foles has completed just 40 percent of his passes for 1,209 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 57.4 and a 6.7 QBR when under pressure in his three seasons. In Philadelphia, that wasn't too detrimental because he wasn't under pressure that much, but the Rams still have to prove they can run the ball well enough to open things up and protect Foles well enough to give him chances to push the ball down the field.

Either way, Foles is pleased to have a chance to prove himself outside the realm of Chip Kelly's offense.

"It’s definitely a new start but I’m going to continue to be me," Foles said. "I think being the best quarterback you can be is just being who you are, so I’m excited to just get to know my teammates and get to know the locker room because that’s what it’s about. ... But sticking together like I said, which I admired of the Rams last season, that’s what I love about it and I just want to help add to it."

Free-agency review: Rams

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
10:00
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Most significant signing: The St. Louis Rams signed four players during the opening week, and the sum of those moves is greater than any of the single parts. Retaining receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Lance Kendricks should allow the Rams to have some continuity on their offense, though some would argue that isn't necessarily a good thing given that group's struggles. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams got a couple of new toys in defensive tackle Nick Fairley and linebacker Akeem Ayers. Both should provide depth and give Williams even more ways to mix and match pieces. None of those moves is necessarily more significant than the other, but all were sensible and mostly cost-effective.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonOne of the Rams' biggest surprises of free agency was the move to trade for QB Nick Foles.

Most significant loss: The only loss the Rams suffered that wasn't by choice was the departure of quarterback Shaun Hill to the Minnesota Vikings. The Rams wanted to keep Hill and pushed to make that happen, but Hill's market turned out to be more lucrative than they could have imagined. Minnesota came strong with a two-year deal worth $6.5 million, and the Rams elected not to go to those links. Instead, the Rams traded a 2016 seventh-round pick to Houston to reacquire quarterback Case Keenum.

Biggest surprise: The biggest move of the first week also probably came as the biggest surprise, at least given what the Rams were saying publicly before it happened. The Rams traded quarterback Sam Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Nick Foles, with draft picks also going both ways. Despite consistent rumors the Rams were interested in Foles and the obvious salary-cap savings that would come with parting ways with Bradford, the Rams continued to say Bradford was their guy, even going so far as asking his approval before promoting Frank Cignetti to offensive coordinator and hiring quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead insist they meant it when they said Bradford would be their quarterback, but clearly they had at least some intention of making the move all along. That's all part of the deal during the silly season that is free agency and the draft as teams try to maneuver for players. And, if it didn't work out for the Rams, publicly declaring they wanted to trade Bradford would have been a risky proposition if they didn't get an offer they liked and had to bring him back. In the end, the Rams got a good deal and can finally move forward with a fresh start at the game's most important position.

What's next: The Nos. 1, 2 and 3 priorities have to be on the offensive line. The Rams have openings at center, right tackle and one-guard position. They'd like to retain right tackle Joe Barksdale, and it seems his market hasn't developed as hoped, so the Rams might be able to keep him on the rebound. At guard, the Rams have interest in Justin Blalock, who fits the scheme and could be a solid short-term starter while they add help in the draft. At center, Oakland's Stefen Wisniewski has also been connected to the Rams and is the best pivot left on the market. Blalock and Wisniewski could visit St. Louis as soon as this week. The Rams have the cap space to add two of those three players but could easily create more room to get all three if they wanted.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As tight end Lance Kendricks' first foray into free agency drew close to an official beginning, all signs pointed to him being headed for greener pastures with the Atlanta Falcons.

During the three-day negotiating window preceding free agency, the Falcons had pushed hard for Kendricks and made a lucrative offer exceeding the others that he'd received. The St. Louis Rams, meanwhile, wanted to keep Kendricks but had a limit on how far they'd go to do so.

Throughout the process, Kendricks stayed in touch with tight ends coach Rob Boras, who was Kendricks' biggest advocate and vice-versa. As Kendricks tells it, he and Boras would exchange messages with Boras imploring Kendricks to stay and Kendricks telling Boras that nothing was certain.

[+] EnlargeLance Kendricks
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAfter flirting with the Falcons, Lance Kendricks re-signed with St. Louis on a four-year deal.

"He gave me a few calls," Kendricks said. "He was getting nervous, I heard he was pacing up and down the hallways. I was shooting him some texts but I didn’t want to give him a heart attack."

Kendricks and Boras can laugh about it now that the 27-year old tight end/fullback/jack-of-all trades has re-signed with the Rams on a four-year contract worth $18.5 million. But it's quite clear that things were touch and go for a bit on whether the Rams would get Kendricks back.

In fact, Kendricks confirmed Friday that the offer he received from the tight end needy Falcons exceeded the one he eventually took to stay in St. Louis. When the Rams upped the ante to the offer he signed, Kendricks decided to put value on his comfort level over the bottom line.

"It’s not always about the money," Kendricks said. "I think being able to come to work and be happy and work with some of the people that love being around, that’s a little more important, just the common bond we all have as players and players from St. Louis. We all kind of walk with a chip on our shoulders. For me, I just love it here so I have to make sure I was able to stay."

That process wasn't so simple as finding an offer that was in the same ballpark as the one he received from Atlanta, either. Near the end of the season, Kendricks had made it clear that he wanted an expanded role in the passing game wherever he landed in free agency.

The 2011 second-round pick had entered the league with a reputation as a pass-catcher but evolved into more of a Swiss Army knife for the offense in his time with the Rams. In 2014, Kendricks had a career-low 27 catches with 259 yards but did lead the team with five touchdown grabs. In four seasons with the Rams, Kendricks has 129 receptions for 1,388 yards and 13 scores.

"That’s something that was emphasized," Kendricks said. "With the quarterback changes we had going on last year it was really hard for anyone to get in a rhythm so Coach Boras and [offensive coordinator Frank] Cignetti spoke to me yesterday about implementing more options in the passing game for me so I’m pretty happy about that and I’m excited to see what they have in the works."

Those numbers might seem awfully low for a player now scheduled to bank in excess of $4.5 million a year but Kendricks' value to the Rams offense goes beyond the numbers. Kendricks has lined up in-line, in the slot, in the backfield and just about anywhere else you can imagine. And though Jared Cook is technically listed as the starter, the Rams frequently use multiple tight end sets.

Kendricks played 569 snaps in 2014, trailing Cook's 654 but ahead of Cory Harkey's 318. Kendricks is usually on the field with Cook and the Rams sometimes even have all three in the game at the same time.

Now that Kendricks is locked in with the Rams, they'll probably look to find ways to get him more involved. After major drop issues as a rookie, Kendricks has become a more reliable pass-catcher and given the contract, it would appear the Rams have bigger plans for him moving forward.

And Boras can finally relax in the knowledge that Kendricks remained a Ram despite great interest elsewhere.

"He definitely played a huge role in me staying," Kendricks said. "It would be hard for me to find a better tight end coach than Rob. That was important to me. Rob makes us all better players. Without him, it would definitely be more of a challenge. He makes it easier for us. He puts a lot on our shoulders and he expects a lot out of us. So I was happy to be able to stay."

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- From the moment wide receiver Kenny Britt arrived in St. Louis on a one-year "prove it" deal in 2014, he made it clear that he needed a fresh start with a familiar face.

The St. Louis Rams offered Britt just that with a chance to begin anew somewhere other than Tennessee but with a trusted confidant in Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher was the coach who drafted Britt in 2009 and the only coach with whom Britt had enjoyed any NFL success.

Removed from the only NFL home he'd ever known but also the place where he'd struggled with injuries and off the field issues, Britt made the most of his new opportunity. About as much as a wide receiver playing for this version of the Rams could, Britt "proved it."

As a reward for proving that he could be a productive player on the field and a solid citizen and leader off of it, Britt received another contract with the Rams on Friday night. This time, Britt got two years instead of one and though the financials weren't yet clear, it's safe to assume they far exceed the $1 million base salary he got a year ago.

That Britt is back with the Rams should come as no surprise. He was the team's most productive receiver last year with 48 catches for 748 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage production made Britt the first Rams pass-catcher since Torry Holt in 2008 to even break the 700-yard barrier.

Make no mistake, 700 yards isn't much of a milestone for a receiver but in these parts, that represents progress.

In the process, Britt also proved a more valuable team leader than many could have imagined. He was also instrumental in the early-season flash of progress by fellow receiver Brian Quick, who credited Britt with showing him how to use his bigger frame to his advantage.

"He's that kind of player," Quick said near the end of the season. "That's why he's here. Just looking at him shows that I can do the same thing."

Keeping Britt should also allow the Rams to focus their resources on other areas, namely the offensive line. While many would still like to see them add a top receiver in the draft -- and they still might -- that want would have become a need without Britt's return.

From Britt's perspective, he never had much of a desire to detach from Fisher so long as the offers he got on the free-agent market came in about the same. Fisher is known for how he manages his players and allowed Britt days off near the end of the season to help keep him healthy.

Britt's healthiest and most productive years have come under Fisher's guidance. In three seasons with Fisher as his head coach, Britt averaged 741.3 yards, 44 receptions and five touchdowns while missing just four of a possible 48 games. In three seasons without Fisher as his head coach, Britt averaged 324.7 yards, 24.3 catches and 2.3 touchdowns while missing 19 of a possible 48 games.

The two sides began negotiating as far back as January and though it carried into the first few days of free agency, it always seemed like nothing more than a matter of time for an agreement to be struck.

"It's always about how you fit and how you feel," Britt said in December. "I was never a person that would go out there and play the game for money. I go out there and play the game for the guys that line up next to me and the guy that is in there each and every day going to work for guys like Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff. That's somebody I want to go win a ring with because he deserves it and I want to be one of the guys that helps."

With a deal now done, Britt will get his chance.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Poor Nick Foles. Surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of a glorified pep rally Friday afternoon at Rams Park, Foles was supposed to be the center of attention as the new, albeit possibly temporary, face of the St. Louis Rams franchise.

But Foles' first chance to meet with the St. Louis media went largely under the radar as coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead attempted to offer explanations of how the seismic shift in their quarterback room came about.

After Fisher surprised the staff in attendance by trotting out about to sign defensive tackle Nick Fairley, he introduced Foles before turning it over to Snead. For those who might not remember, it was at February's NFL scouting combine and in the week before it in which Snead and Fisher had repeatedly and emphatically expressed their confidence in Sam Bradford as the quarterback.

Although the Rams had been rumored to have interest in Foles as early as the Senior Bowl in January, it was at the combine where plans for Bradford started down a path that would lead to Philadelphia.

In Indianapolis, a rumor popped up that Bradford was being shopped around. At the time, the spin was that Bradford's camp was being given an opportunity to shop around to get a better gauge on what his value might be for a pay cut. Because Bradford was due to count $16.58 million against the cap in 2015, the Rams had been very clear that they wanted that number reduced. The theory was getting a chance to shop Bradford, to find out his value to other teams, might yield a middle ground.

Although it's unclear exactly how much of a pay cut the Rams wanted Bradford to take, there have been strong indications that the numbers came in below what he might have been able to fetch on the free-agent market.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonNick Foles (center), flanked by head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, said he started hearing rumors about the Rams' interest in him at the Super Bowl.
Back on the Lucas Oil Stadium podium, speaking to reporters, Snead was taken aback by a question about Bradford's availability and made the comment that "deleting" Bradford wasn't the best move for the team. Fisher followed two days later by declaring reports about Bradford's availability were "inaccurate" and had previously noted that Bradford was involved in the hiring of Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator and Chris Weinke as quarterbacks coach.

According to Snead, soon after his turn on the dais he began receiving calls about Bradford, gauging the Rams interest in a trade.

"We went to the combine, we had never heard anything about a trade, nobody had mentioned wanting to trade for Sam Bradford," Snead said. "Deleting him wasn’t going to be the solution. Obviously when news like that breaks, guess what? Some other teams start babbling. I think the first team approached me at the combine at some point and said, ‘Hey, when you get off the elevator, can we chat?"

As Snead tells it, the Rams started getting interest only after the "news broke" that the Rams were interested in trading Bradford. But that "breaking news" wasn't made up; it had to have come from somewhere, right? Bradford's camp was caught off guard by the rumors, which likely means it wasn't that side leaking the information.

"I was at the podium," Snead said. "I forget who asked the question. I’m not sure where he got it from. You’ll have to figure out who asked. It’s been squirrely."

In the meantime, no progress was made on reducing Bradford's salary. The longer that stalemate lasted, the more the Rams began looking at their options.

"It was an issue, and it was an issue that was addressed for quite some time," Fisher said. "And it was not an issue with respect to the transaction as far as they were concerned."

Asked if Bradford would be in St. Louis had he agreed to a pay cut, Fisher responded, "probably not." Fisher spoke to Bradford on Tuesday morning and informed him that they were discussing trades and which teams they were discussing them with.

For his part, Bradford told the Philadelphia media he knew of a possible move to the Eagles about three or four weeks ago. Foles told 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis he had started hearing rumors of going to St. Louis around the Super Bowl.

Fisher said two hours after his conversation with Bradford, the deal with Philadelphia was consummated. It was a deal that was probably in the works much longer than the Rams let on, but they insisted Friday that acquiring Foles was the key to it all.

"When we said deleting Sam wasn’t the answer, that was true," Snead said. "When Coach Fish said that was his QB, that was true because at that moment there was no trade and there was definitely nobody like Nick coming in the building."

Fisher has declared Foles the starter and offered a strong commendation on Case Keenum, whom the team reacquired from Houston for a seventh-round pick soon after the Bradford trade. Foles and Keenum join Austin Davis (who has been tendered but not signed) as the three quarterbacks on the current roster, though none of the three are under contract beyond this season.

When asked about his comfort level with the quarterback position as a whole and whether the Rams had designs on adding another in the draft, Fisher gave a vote of confidence to the current group while ignoring the draft piece of the query.

"It’s a different room right now," Fisher said. "It’s a fresh start."

As we dive further into the silly season, deception and misdirection are part of the deal and it's clear there was plenty of it that went on before the swap. It's a deal that makes plenty of sense for the Rams on multiple levels.

But it should also serve as a reminder that any statements made about the team's comfort level in its quarterbacks, or just about anything else, are only as true as the amount of salt you're willing to ingest it with.
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the 2011 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams had the 14th pick and patiently waited their turn to make a selection while superstar pass-rushers such as J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Aldon Smith and Marcell Dareus came off the board. While Chris Long was locked into one position, the Rams desperately wanted to bolster their pass rush and kept their fingers crossed that one of the other top defensive linemen would fall in their lap.

As the Detroit Lions came up with the 13th pick, they took Nick Fairley. The Rams turned in the card with end Robert Quinn's name on it nearly as fast as Quinn bends the edge against a left tackle.

On Tuesday morning, the Rams turned what four years ago was an "either/or" situation into a resounding "and." A day after arriving in St. Louis, Fairley signed a one-year contract worth $5 million, which could reach the $8 million range with incentives.

That Fairley was even available was a product of a disappointing four-year stint with the Lions in which Fairley was plagued by injuries, weight problems and some off-field incidents. Despite glimpses of potential -- especially in 2012 and 2013, when he posted 69 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 28 games -- the Lions declined to exercise their fifth-year option on Fairley in hopes it would motivate him.

It didn't necessarily work; Fairley had 14 tackles and a sack in eight 2014 games before knee injuries cost him the other half of the season. So it was that Fairley hit the open market Tuesday in search of a chance to prove the potential that came only in small doses in Detroit.


In choosing the Rams' one-year deal, Fairley essentially signed a "prove-it" deal intended to bolster his stock and allow him to cash in next season. Though Fairley is likely to serve as the primary backup to Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, he couldn't have picked a better situation in which to bet on himself.

Fairley joins a defensive line that's already stocked with pass-rushers Long and Quinn, defensive rookie of the year Donald, former first-round pick Brockers and quality backups such as William Hayes and Eugene Sims. He's the fifth former first-round pick on the defensive line and should have no shortage of one-on-one pass-rush opportunities.

"I feel like it's a perfect fit for me," Fairley said. "The guys in this group, the D-line, they are young and they're moving forward and I want to be part of it.

"You got those guys up there and a guy next to me like Aaron is going to take on some double-teams, I'm going to take on some double-teams so it's going to be a good fit for me."

Line coaches Mike Waufle and Clyde Simmons also come with strong reputations in league circles, and Waufle's hard-charging style developed in years as a Marine should only serve Fairley well in maintaining discipline.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
Paul Sancya/AP PhotoDefensive tackle Nick Fairley, who signed a one-year deal with the Rams on Friday, says St. Louis feels like a "perfect fit."
"[He's] a great guy, matter of fact my dad is an ex-Marine so I know a little bit about ex-Marines," Fairley said.

It also doesn't hurt the Rams have become Auburn North with former Tigers Greg Robinson, Tre Mason and Daren Bates on the roster and general manager Les Snead offering input on the roster.

But even with that support system in place, it's up to Fairley to become the player many anticipated. For his part, Fairley seems to have put in the work to come to St. Louis in shape.

At times during his stint with the Lions, Fairley's weight ballooned to as high as 320 pounds, but a personal chef allowed him to trim down to about 290 pounds before last season. There were concerns the knee injuries he suffered last season might cause his weight to go back up, but Fairley continued to work with the chef and arrived in St. Louis at a sleek 280 pounds.

In fact, Fairley is now in position to actually put weight on before the season, though he's looking to enlist the help of a local personal chef to help him do it the right way.

"I'm going to be looking for one out here so if anybody knows a chef, holler at me," Fairley said, laughing. "I'm going to put on some muscle so when I come back in April with the group of guys in the conditioning and work program, I'm sure I'll get to where I want to be."

If he does, an already scary Rams defensive line could get even better, and Fairley's one-year gamble could pay off in an equally big way.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams search for depth at defensive tackle has begun.

The Rams welcomed former Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley to Rams Park for a visit on Thursday afternoon. Fairley, who visited with the Cincinnati Bengals as free agency opened, would be another logical fit for the Rams defense should his price be right.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley missed 18 games in four seasons with the Detroit Lions.
After releasing defensive tackle Kendall Langford before free agency to save money against the salary cap, the Rams were left with a defensive tackle group consisting solely of starters Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald. So it's pretty clear the team has a need for depth, though ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims both have experience moving inside.

It's also worth noting that Fairley played his college football at Auburn, which isn't a reason to sign any player but certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to the Rams.

Fairley represents an interesting case study. Taken one pick before Robert Quinn in the 2011 NFL draft, Fairley was considered one of the most disruptive interior players in that draft. His career since has been something of a roller-coaster.

In the time since, injuries and weight issues have prevented Fairley from fully reaching his vast potential. He posted 13.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Lions but also missed 18 games. In 2014, Fairley missed half the season with a pair of sprained knee ligaments and finished with 14 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Fairley had his best seasons in 2012 and 2013 when he posted a combined 69 tackles and 11.5 sacks in 28 games. But the continued issues led to the Lions declining his fifth-year option, making him a free agent this offseason.

Presumably, if Fairley were ever to live up to his potential, he'd be able to do it in St. Louis where line coach Mike Waufle is one of the league's best. It's unclear what Fairley's market price might be, but a one-year "prove it" type of deal might make a lot of sense. And even if he didn't start in St. Louis, there'd still be plenty of reps for him along the way.

Langford, who spent most of the 2014 season as a backup, still played about 47 percent of the snaps. Assuming Fairley was doing what was asked, it stands to reason he'd be able to do the same or perhaps more in a rotation with Brockers and Donald.

Meanwhile, the Rams are also spending time Thursday with linebacker Akeem Ayers. As we discussed Wednesday, the Rams have had interest in Ayers and a visit was likely forthcoming. That visit is now taking place.

And yes, the Rams need help on the offensive line but visits with other players don't preclude them from finding help there. What might prevent that, though, is the fact some potential options are taking visits elsewhere. Center Stefen Wisniewski is in Seattle for a visit after stopping in Tampa Bay on Wednesday, and guard Justin Blalock is visiting the Lions.

The Rams have expressed interest in both and could still line up visits assuming one or both make it out of their current visits.
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Quarterback Sam Bradford took his first crack at handling the Philadelphia media as the Eagles introduced him at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Bradford has never been much for media attention and in his time with the St. Louis Rams often avoided doing any more than the NFL media policy would dictate. And, of course, the media attention and scrutiny in St. Louis is far different from what he'll now face. But, at least in his first try, Bradford handled everything about as well as could be expected.

In the 15 minutes or so he was on the dais (which can be seen here), Bradford fielded plenty of questions about his twice-torn left anterior cruciate ligament. He also fielded a few questions about how things in St. Louis ended.

It should come as no surprise that Bradford, who always carried himself as the consummate professional in St. Louis, had nothing bad to say about the organization that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.

Asked if he felt like a lack of talent around him was the reason it didn't work out in St. Louis, Bradford said that wasn't the case.

"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses for the way things are," Bradford said. "I'm just excited to be here. I look at the opportunity ahead of me and I think it's a great one. I'm looking forward to the fresh start."

Bradford was also asked if he felt like the Rams "gave up" on him.

"No, not at all," Bradford said. "The way I look at it is the Eagles wanted me, they pursued me and they got me in this building. I'm happy to be an Eagle and I'm ready to get to work."

Bradford did, however, offer some clarity on how long the trade had been in the works and where he stands from a health standpoint. Bradford said that he learned of a possible trade three or four weeks ago and that along the way multiple teams expressed interest.

That timeline would mostly match up with February's NFL scouting combine, where news of the Rams shopping Bradford first came up. At the time, Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher vehemently denied the rumors. Though it was clear the Rams might make a move if the right offer came along, they obviously were more eager to make something happen than they let on.

"This has been in the works for a while," Bradford said. "So it didn't catch me totally by surprise when it happened yesterday. I think any quarterback in this league would love to play for Chip in this offense."

Around that same time, it also had become clear that taking a pay cut for the season was growing into a bigger point of contention between the two sides, though Bradford was not asked about that Wednesday.

Bradford didn't reveal much else that anyone would consider revelatory in his time on the podium. He did express happiness that he'll be reunited with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur in Philadelphia.

In discussing the need for stability, Bradford said that's one of the few things the Rams didn't have in his five years. Right now, that's also not something overly abundant with the Eagles unless you're a former Oregon Duck.

"I think the key to any successful organization is stability, whether that's professional sports, business, whatever it is," Bradford said. "That's something we didn't have a lot of in St. Louis. But I think there's a lot of other reasons that things have gone the way they have."

Namely, his two consecutive ACL injuries. Bradford said he began a throwing program in St. Louis a few weeks ago and reiterated that he plans to be ready for training camp and he's willing to compete for the starting job with Mark Sanchez.

Such is Bradford's new lot in life. After a career in St. Louis that once held so much promise, Bradford said he can't afford to spend time looking back on his time with the Rams.

"I wouldn't say regret," Bradford said of his time in St. Louis. "I think any player when you come into this league, everyone has the dream of playing 12, 15, whatever it is, that many years with the club that brought you into the league. But like I said, I think this is a great opportunity. If it's not in St. Louis, I think this is the one place that a quarterback would want to be and this is where I want to be. I'm an Eagle now and I can't wait to start this journey."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For as fluid as all things free agency are with players constantly changing teams and teams constantly changing their minds, the amount of money a team has available under the salary cap is equally mercurial.

The St. Louis Rams made some big moves on Monday and Tuesday, releasing offensive linemen Jake Long and Scott Wells, and then trading quarterback Sam Bradford to the Eagles for Nick Foles and draft compensation. Before that, the Rams had parted ways with defensive lineman Kendall Langford in another cost-cutting move.

Suddenly, a team that was once relatively tight against the cap is now pretty comfortable under it. According to the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, the Rams now have $28,834,811 in cap space.

That number is probably actually a bit different since the Rams are still hammering out the final details on a contract with tight end Lance Kendricks before it can be made official. It also doesn't include the addition of quarterback Case Keenum. But clearly the Rams are no longer hurting for space if they want to be active in the market.

Subtracting Bradford saved the Rams $12,985,000, but it also added the remainder of his prorated signing bonus of $3,595,000 to their total amount of dead money. Releasing Long ($1.25 million) and Wells ($1 million) also added to the total dead money.

As it stands, here's how ESPN Stats & Information has the Rams' current cap situation with the caveat that this is unofficial based on other things in motion:

Adjusted Cap Value: $144,673,387
Cap Value:
$107,535,959
Dead Money / Other:
$8,302,617
Cap Space:
$28,834,811
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has broken his silence -- sort of.

The Rams officially announced their big trade with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday evening in the form of a standard-issue release. Well, maybe not so standard. The release included a quote from Kroenke, the notoriously silent Rams owner who has not spoken on much of anything Rams-related since the team hired coach Jeff Fisher in 2012.

The release also includes quotes from Fisher on Bradford as well as new quarterback Nick Foles.

For posterity, here's a transcript of that release from the Rams' public relations department:


"The Rams have reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles to trade QB Sam Bradford for QB Nick Foles, the team announced Tuesday. In addition, the Rams will receive Philadelphia’s fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft and a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, and St. Louis sent their fifth-round pick in 2015’s draft to the Eagles.

“Throughout his five years with the Rams, Sam has been a consummate professional,” Rams Owner E. Stanley Kroenke said. “We thank Sam for his dedication to our team and community and wish him and his family the best moving forward."

The Rams chose Bradford with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. He started 49 games over five seasons, including all 16 as a rookie, a year in which he won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2010, Bradford set NFL rookie records for completions (354) and attempts (590), while his 3,512 yards were the second most ever by an NFL rookie at that point. In 49 starts, Bradford passed for 11,065 yards and 59 touchdowns with 38 interceptions. He ranks seventh in Rams history in passing yards and eighth in touchdown passes.

“Sam was a leader on our team in the locker room and on the field,” Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. “He was a great teammate who was dealt some adversity but handled it all with grace and dignity. He represented himself as well as the organization in a first-class manner. I wish him nothing but the best throughout his career."

Foles joins the Rams after three seasons in Philadelphia. He’s appeared in 28 career games and started 24, posting a 16-12 record as a starter. His best work came in 2013 when he posted a 9-4 record while throwing 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. Foles was a third-round pick of the Eagles in 2012.

“I’m extremely excited about adding Nick to our team,” Fisher said. “Nick is a talented young quarterback and will be a great addition to our offense. I look forward to getting him here as we prepare to start our offseason program.”

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