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  1. #1
    Rambos's Avatar
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    Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    By Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com


    ST. LOUIS -- For the next month, 32 NFL general managers and head coaches will refer to the draft as the lifeblood of any successful franchise.

    They’ll step to the microphone at this month’s NFL scouting combine and espouse the need to draft and develop talent, along with many more team-building clichés. Plenty of personnel types will talk the talk. Far fewer will walk the walk.

    There’s no definitive blueprint on how to build a consistently successful NFL franchise, but if there’s one trait commonly held by Super Bowl winners, it’s the ability to identify talent, procure it, coach it up and spend the money to retain it.

    Chris Long, left, and James Laurinaitis have been draft hits for the Rams in recent years.
    Upon his arrival in St. Louis two years ago, Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher immediately fell in line with their NFL brethren. They’ve fielded the league’s youngest team two years in a row and allowed rookies and second-year players to take on prominent roles.

    They’ve also spent some big money in free agency trying to supplement that talent. In order to be competitive, chasing those free agents was necessary. But those days should be over.

    There’s nothing wrong with continuing to look for reinforcements in free agency, but the Rams’ big-spending days on any free agents but their own should be behind them. If the franchise is as close to competing as Snead, Fisher and Co. insist, the Rams shouldn’t be looking to drop major coin on any veterans.

    “When I say experience, it's this group, our core, continuing to evolve,” Snead said. “Not saying we won't add any veterans, but hey, we've got a nice draft class. The way we've done this and the way our plan is, we want to take this group and let it grow together and kind of ascend that way, both big picture and experience-wise.”

    Deviating from that plan is a sure way to land on the unemployment line. Previous regimes can attest to that.

    After going 7-9 and coming up a game short of an NFC West title in 2010, the Rams ignored their draft-and-develop ethos and went heavy on the veterans. In a span of 10 days following the 2011 lockout, the team signed 11 free agents.

    Many were aging veterans signed to one-year deals. Nearly all of them kept the Rams from retaining a younger player with more upside and kept some of the important youngsters on the roster from getting much-needed game experience.

    Only guard Harvey Dahl remains on the roster, and he could become a cap casualty in the coming weeks. The Rams played a tougher schedule in 2011 and dropped to 2-14.

    General manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo were fired, leaving behind a roster with few usable pieces. Of course, the Rams haven’t exactly been flush with talented young players worth re-signing in the past decade, either.

    As the draft misses piled up, the Rams have had only a handful of players, guys like end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis, who were even deserving of rich contract extensions.

    Fisher and Snead brought with them the same draft and develop ideals Spagnuolo and Devaney had preached, and so far they have stuck to that plan.

    They quickly made the bold trade with Washington that landed them additional premium draft picks, including the piece de resistance in this year’s No. 2 overall pick.

    The Rams have mostly made good on those extra picks, putting in place some valuable franchise pieces such as defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree, running back Zac Stacy and receiver Tavon Austin, among others.

    Two years into the rebuilding project, the draft part seems to be on course, though the development side remains to be seen. How the Rams consider that development is going might best be viewed through the lens of how they approach the upcoming free-agent period.

    In 2012, the Rams doled out $106.2 million, fourth-most in the league, on 10 free agents, including $49 million in guarantees. That spree yielded high-priced additions such as cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Kendall Langford and center Scott Wells. It helped the Rams improve from 2-14 to 7-8-1, but that wasn’t enough to get them back to the postseason.

    Last year, the Rams signed two marquee free agents -- left tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook -- but forked over nearly $70 million on the two contracts, with more than $26 million guaranteed. Those additions didn’t yield any more wins, though, as the Rams went 7-9.

    With the mixed results, it’s possible the Rams will create salary-cap space by cutting ties or restructuring the likes of Finnegan and Wells.

    So far, the two best moves the Rams have made in free agency the past two years were signing low-cost, low-risk, high-reward defensive end William Hayes to a one-year deal in 2012, and subsequently re-signing him for three years last year.

    That type of move falls in line with the successful draft-and-develop franchises around the league. Identify a young, underutilized player with upside, help him reach his potential and then sign him to a relatively cap-friendly deal.

    Big free-agent spending yielding mediocre or worse results is not exclusive to the Rams. In 2011, none of the top four free-agent spenders had a winning record the following season. Last year, Miami dropped $146.1 million on free agents and improved one game from its 7-9 mark in 2012.

    If the Rams truly believe in the young talent they have, they’ll begin saving their money to keep players such as defensive end Robert Quinn, Brockers, Jenkins and others around.

    “Some of the strong teams, the ***** and Seattle, were doing some of the same things we're doing here,” Snead said. “They were building that thing and they were getting a lot of good, young players and now all of a sudden over a couple three years we went from the worst division to one of the best.”

    With so many high-priced players already on the roster, the margin for error in free agency and the draft is minuscule in the league’s best division. If the Rams want to keep up, the time has come to stop spending big money on outside help and start investing in themselves.


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    RealRam's Avatar
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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    There's no definitive blueprint on how to build a consistently successful NFL franchise, but if there’s one trait commonly held by Super Bowl winners, it’s the ability to identify talent, procure it, coach it up and spend the money to retain it.


    "When I say experience, it's this group, our core, continuing to evolve," Snead said. "Not saying we won't add any veterans, but hey, we've got a nice draft class. The way we've done this and the way our plan is, we want to take this group and let it grow together and kind of ascend that way, both big picture and experience-wise."

    With so many high-priced players already on the roster, the margin for error in free agency and the draft is minuscule in the league’s best division. If the Rams want to keep up, the time has come to stop spending big money on outside help and start investing in themselves.
    2014: Year of the Ram. Best wishes for a strong Ram development via draft / FA.

  3. #3
    kman is offline Registered User
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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    I cant wait till the seahwks and niners have to pay Wilson and Kapernick what they will get when free agents..THEN we'll see how they'll do..its a huge advantage to have your qb play at a high level while only making 500k

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    Not to sound like an arse, but I don't think there is anything earth shattering in this article. Of course, these are the logical ideas behind building a competitive team. The problem is it is easier said than done. You can write down a formula that makes so much sense, yet one sub-par draft and a key injury could really hurt that bullet-proof plan.

    Although Wagoner alludes to this point, I believe that cap management is duly important. I think teams could be better at evaluating younger player's talents and then making contract offers at strategic times. Take Robert Quinn for example. Each year he has basically doubled his sack totals (Obviously, that won't happen again lol) and now he is starting to ascend into one of the best DEs in the league. Resigning him this year or next is most likely going to be very expensive. I realize I already said that strategy is easier said than done, but if the Rams would have offered Quinn a new contract at the end of last year they may have gotten him much cheaper. Most likely Quinn would reject a contract extension at that time in hopes of receiving a larger contract with improved play regardless.

    Maybe there are discussions happening that we don't always hear about, but I look to baseball as a comparison for this idea. Look at the Atlanta Braves for example. They have this stud first baseman for three years in Freddie Freeman. The first two years of his career were very good for a young player. If Atlanta offers him a contract after his second full season they could have set themselves up with talent and surplus contract money for years to come. The Cubs kind of did that with Anthony Rizzo. I feel like Rizzo will turn into a Freddie Freeman next year or the year after. The difference is that the Cubs signed Rizzo for a seven year 41 million dollar deal. While Freeman deserves the 8 year 135 million dollar contract, signing him a year earlier could have resulted in something more beneficial for the Braves longer term.

    I know that Wagoner discusses this idea near the end of the article, but I think the execution of offering extensions is just as important as drafting well. I understand that this is not so easy to do but buying out the last two years of Quinn's contact, thus making him more expensive for two years, will result in money saved and cap flexibility for future years of the deal.

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    Would it be considered FA signings, say if the Rams raid other teams practice squads? Its about getting depth that concerns me, especially if the "injury bug" should plague the Rams this coming season.

    Injuries are just part of the game, but too many of them can have a telling affect. Some NFL teams have done well with a rash of injuries and able to adapt. It comes down to good coaching and already having a known asset to step in to execute the schemes. But you first have to have the material at hand.

    We all know the starters. And for the most part they belong in the league. What is harder to know is who are your backups. Often here in these posts, it comes up and its speculation at best who can stand in for who. In an ideal world, your backups are those players who can start and as nearly good as your starters.

    For me talent is where you find it. I'd love it if the Rams found undrafted talent, or strike Draft-Gold with say 5th round or lower picks. I bet its every HC's dream he finds a Brady out there or Stacy. To be in the NFC West, you need as many edges as you can get, and walking away from FA is plain foolish and just as likely get a HC unemployed. I suppose its how you pick your poison. But at least doing ones homework to hire or not to hire is why Fisher and Co. are running the show. Lots of heads rolled this past season on other teams--better them then the Rams

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    The Rams depth will be acquired via Free Agency, both the draft and FA are equally important to have a successful off-season....

    at this time the Rams cannot avoid FA and just draft, they must be creative in contracts, signings, and the future of the franchise...

    maybe a free agent signing at back up center, ends up starting and playing for the league minimum and could be as important as anyone.....

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    The previous regime had us so deep in dead money year after year. Free agency isn't bad it just needs to be smarter.

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    The article reaffirms what we already know; that you build through the draft with a key free agent or two sprinkled in where necessary. Fisher and Snead have stuck to the youth concept in their first two seasons, and I don't believe this will change. Another good draft and a healthy Sam Bradford are the keys to success in 2014.

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    Re: Draft, not free agency, key for Rams

    Its a double-blow often with teams. Right now the Saints have cap issues that are public--some mention with the Seagulls salary issue I see in the news as well--guess all teams are having moments of truth.

    I can't recall, and maybe somebody can remind me what it cost the Falcons when they acquired SJax. I know there are always costs for getting veteran players00and that is where the Rams have to be doubly careful in FA--those little extra costs.

    But honestly--if you got to take a hit in the wallet, its better at the low end of the pay scale. Ideally love to see the Rams walk away with FA pickups for depth for the line on both Offense and Defense--and perhaps another RB to share the load with Stacy. Where in the draft that's an open topic--and likely where Snead/Fisher need to work their draft magic. Have lots of ideas there but when it comes to where the rubber meets the road, its in their hands--and I can't complain what they have done so far.

    FA, is a bit more questionable--maybe they couldn't fix everything last season with what assets they had at hand. But then again its not just one season--its that season and the next two that often HCs plan for. So I look for marked improvement with the O-line--running game--and honestly I'd like a QB that can challenge Bradford. Too comfortable a QB in his job I think makes for sloppy play and they lose part of their edge

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