In it for the Long Haul

Posted Jul 29, 2012

For four NFL seasons, Rams defensive end Chris Long has toiled as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary situation.

Approaching his first bite of the free agency apple, Long could have waited and gone in search of a big payday with a more established team. But that’s not how he’s wired.

The way Long looks at it, he’s paid some dues with his teammates in St. Louis and he wants to enjoy the spoils when it all turns around.

So it was that Long signed a lucrative four-year contract extension with the Rams on Sunday that will keep him in his role as a franchise cornerstone for the next five seasons.

“Absolutely I’ve been here along with some other guys for some years now and I’ve seen the downs,” Long said. “When it turns around I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to be watching it from somewhere else. I’d like to be here. When Coach Fish (Fisher) got here and gave us some hope. He does things the right way and I think Les has a vision for it. Stan’s obviously a great owner, so he’ll put a team of coaches…and GM, and players, we’re starting to assemble and I just want to be a part of it.”

Long’s signing might not be the end of the Rams’ locking up some of their most important players before the start of the 2012 season.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is also scheduled to become a free agent after the season and though he says he’s not worried about anything off the field, coach Jeff Fisher made reference to locking up other important pieces following Sunday’s first official training camp practice.

“We’re just really excited,” Fisher said. “He’s not the only one we’re working on. We’re just happy. He’s had a great start to his career and we want to give him a chance to really settle in here and be one of the mainstays on our defense.”

For his part, Laurinaitis wanted to defer to Long on Sunday and rightfully so, considering what Long’s retention means to the franchise.

“It’s a great thing,” Laurinaitis said. “I couldn’t be more proud of Chris and everything that he has gotten. This is really his day and I’m happy for him. Chris is a very humble, mild mannered guy…he doesn’t like the attention on himself. He’s very much a team guy but today is his day and he deserves it.”

Since signing cornerback Ron Bartell to a hefty extension in 2009, the Rams haven’t re-signed one of their own pending free agents to a major contract. In fact, they hadn’t re-signed any of their own first round picks since running back Steven Jackson signed his extension during training camp in 2008.

In other words, not only is Long’s signing meaningful in that the Rams get to keep one of the NFL’s best burgeoning pass rushers but it’s also a good sign in terms of at least having a foundation upon which to build for Fisher, general manager Les Snead and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.

“He’s very deserving of what he just signed,” running back Steven Jackson said. “It’s actually nice to see some guys drafted and not move on; we keep them around. I was really stoked for him, and I gave him a big hug when I heard about the news.”

While Long declined to offer much insight into the length or scope of the contract discussions, he did acknowledge that they’ve been on going for some time and that he remained hopeful that a deal would be done so it wouldn’t linger through the season.

Long’s agent, Marvin Demoff, is the father of the Rams’ Demoff so there was never a question whether negotiations would get too intense. But as training camp grew near, it became clear that things were headed in the right direction.

Snead said in an online chat last Friday that negotiations were on target which proved prophetic Sunday. Not that Long was quick to let his teammates know the good news.

Never one to enjoy the spotlight, Long had to be coaxed into discussing the contract in the locker room after news broke on Twitter.

“It’s good to talk about because I’m excited to be here for five more years,” Long said. “That’s why I like talking about it because I’m excited about the future, but otherwise I don’t want to. We’ve got a bunch of guys working hard out here for the same goals, to win a championship, and that’s kind of what we’re focused on. I don’t want it to be about me; it’s about us and I’m just very lucky and appreciative.”

In keeping Long, the Rams retain one of the league’s most talented pass rushers. After three years in which he seemed to improve every year but never quite have the sack totals expected of a former No. 2 overall pick, the near misses that used to go down as pressures and hurries finally turned into sacks in 2011 for Long.

After finally moving to his more natural left end position, Long bested a previous career high of 8.5 sacks as he posted 13 sacks last season while drawing double teams and not benefiting from much of an inside rush. He also led the Rams in pressures (15) and quarterback hits (16). That production ranked Long near the top of the league in combined sacks, pressures and hits.

Considering his ascent to seventh in the NFL in sacks last year, Long is thought to be just scratching the surface of his immense potential. With upgrades at both tackle spots in Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers, an emerging Robert Quinn opposite him and highly regarded line coach Mike Waufle doing the teach, Long appears poised to become one of the league’s elite pass rushers.

“I mean, I can get a ton better so you know that’s my goal,” Long said. “My goal is to get better every year, get smarter, prepare better and I’ve got a lot to focus on in camp here. I’ll certainly come out every day and try to work hard to be a part of this defense. I think (the defense) can be pretty special and I’ll try to pull my weight.”

Fortunately for Rams fans, they’ll get the privilege of watching Long realize that potential while he hopes to reap the rewards that go with his own dedication and commitment.

With his contract out of the way, there will be no distractions in Long’s way.

“Yeah it’s huge for me,” Long said. “It just puts your mind like you know where you stand and I feel really good about obviously their commitment to me and I’m committed to them regardless. I’m always going to play really hard. To feel like I’m gonna be a part of something turning around, and I know I will, I’m absolutely lucky and appreciative and really happy.”