With Long in the Fold, Rams Look Ahead

Posted Mar 28, 2013

Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead couldn’t help but smile Thursday afternoon as they formally announced the addition of prized free agent offensive tackle Jake Long.

Obviously, Fisher and Snead were more than happy to make it official with a tackle of Long’s credentials and ability but they also did so knowing that his signing now allows them to look forward to the next phase of the offseason process.

While Fisher said the Rams are going to continue mining through the available free agents – he specifically noted a plethora of talent still available on defense, namely at cornerback and safety – for the most part the Rams work in free agency, at least the deep end of the pool, came when Long signed on the dotted line.

As Fisher sees it, the Rams made themselves better with three key signings, including Long, tight end Jared Cook and the re-signing of defensive end William Hayes.

“That was very important for us so when you get an end that is coming off a big year with seven sacks and then Cookie with what he can do and of course Jake now,” Fisher said. “We feel like we have filled some areas where we can now move different directions in the draft and still with free agency.”

In addition to those three moves, the Rams have also brought back restricted free agent safety Darian Stewart, signed defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo to a contract extension and retained exclusive rights free agent tight end Mike McNeill and offensive lineman Tim Barnes.

Clearly, the Rams still have holes to fill as they head toward the NFL Draft, which is exactly a month from today and now they can turn their attention to how to approach that as well as what’s left in free agency.

Getting Long in the fold was of utmost importance considering the Rams’ need for an offensive tackle. In signing him to a four-year deal, the Rams got much more than a four-time Pro Bowl performer, according to Snead.

“Not only does he give you the physical skills to be able to both pass block and run block in this league, I think that position you have got to be able to have certain intangibles to be a glue so that all five can work in sync,” Snead said. “I find that group very similar to a good basketball team that can pass the ball around and then score when needed. You have got a lot of things going on with the front seven of a defense that try to attack that position group so with the physical skills and the intangibles, I think it’s a nice piece of glue to steady that offensive front.”

Having Long in the mix should provide some stability to the line and lessen the need for help at the position in the draft and moving forward. Theoretically, the Rams could still use some help at guard with previous starter Robert Turner departing in free agency.

Likewise, they also have to work on shuffling the line a bit. With Long jumping in at left tackle, Rodger Saffold will likely be asked to shift over to the right side.  Fisher said Thursday that he’s been unable to get in touch with Saffold in recent attempts but he remains confident that things will play out OK.

“Things are going to work out,” Fisher said. “We’re confident they’ll get resolved. We have been trying to reach Rodger and he’s not returning calls right now but we’ll get things settled. Rodger is a big part of our future and a big part of our plans on offense.”

Considering their current depth on the offensive line, Snead said the addition of Long won’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in some tackles in the draft, particularly tackles with some positional versatility that could play guard in the early parts of their career.

“You have two starting tackles anyway,” Snead said. “But sometimes there are times if you liked tackles before we signed Jake and that’s one of the better players on the board, your first thought is ‘OK, can he play guard?’ and then eventually move to tackle like a lot of guys have done. It may lessen the urgency or the desperation but it wouldn’t preclude you from taking a tackle.”

Ideally, Fisher said the Rams would like to find some more help in free agency. The Rams still need some help at safety, outside linebacker, receiver, running back, guard and cornerback.

Signing Long chewed up the bulk of the Rams’ remaining cap room as they now sit somewhere with just over $1 million in salary cap space after adding outside free agents and retaining some of their own.

With an eight-player draft class still to be brought on board and the chance that some more free agents could be brought on or even retained – offensive lineman Chris Williams is one possibility after Turner departed -  the Rams will need to clear some cap space to get those moves made.

That could mean some more cuts such as the release of safety Quintin Mikell and tight end Matthew Mulligan or, more likely, some contract restructuring.

“There may be a couple here,” Fisher said. “Unfortunately we had to make a few moves with Q and Mully and such but we have got the ability, we have got the support from our owner and we are just going to move forward. There are still some players out there, role players for us that could help us.”

As for the draft, that will become the team’s primary focus in the coming days. Slated for April 25-27, the Rams hold two first-round picks that they hope to make the most of.

Snead returned to St. Louis on Wednesday night after making the rounds to various pro days around the country, including a stop at Southern California’s on Wednesday.  That part of the process is now over and the Rams can focus on setting up some private on-campus visits/workouts with some players as well as hosting 30 prospects of their choice at ContinuityX Training Center.

Already, the Rams have welcomed some of the local prospects in the area, including Arkansas Pine-Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead, a native of Cahokia (Ill.). They’ll begin welcoming in their top 30 guys in the coming weeks.

“We’ll actually start draft meetings next week so there may be a few private opportunities from here until the draft but I think the pro days are (over),” Snead said. “I think the (visits) are going to pick up. A lot of those visits will come in this month of April. We’ve had a few local guys come into the building and kind of spaced them out through March. (It’s the) home stretch, we are in the fourth quarter.”