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PD hints that Chillar may start ahead of Thomas
Rams add another free agent LB
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Thursday, Mar. 03 2005
It's not as if the Rams haven't been tracking linebacker Chris Claiborne for a
They liked him coming out of college six years ago. He was drafted by Detroit.
They liked him well enough as a free agent two years ago to bring him in for a
visit. He signed with Minnesota.
But on Thursday, the Rams liked him well enough to sign him to a three-year,
$10.5 million contract. The deal includes a $3.6 million signing bonus.
According to team sources, Claiborne gets a base salary of $800,000 this
season, meaning his 2005 cap count is a relatively modest $2 million.
In 2006, Claiborne is scheduled to receive $2.7 million in the form of base
salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus. He will get $3.4 million in '07 in
base salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus.
"Chris Claiborne is a guy that we've all known about for the past several
years, and of course we remember him when he came out," Rams defensive
coordinator Larry Marmie said. "He's a big, physical guy that has a great
presence in the run game."
At 6 feet 3, 259 pounds, Claiborne is the biggest middle linebacker the Rams
have had since the move to St. Louis in 1995. He's bigger than Eric Hill, who
at 6-2, 258, started for the Rams in 1998. But Hill was in his 11th season and
past his prime.
Claiborne, a No. 9 overall pick from Southern Cal, is only 26 - he'll turn 27
at the start of training camp - despite have six years of NFL experience.
"Now, we've got a big banger inside at 255," said coach Mike Martz, who has
been slowed by back problems and a virus the first two days of free agency.
"He's a violent inside 'backer. That's what we need."
Even so, Claiborne runs well for a big man when healthy and in top shape.
(Earlier in his career, he had a tendency to get heavy.)
"The thing that's surprising about him is he's very athletic," Marmie said.
"He's not a one-dimensional player by any stretch. He drops well into zone
(coverage), breaks well on the football, and plays the man-to-man coverage
against tight ends."
Claiborne hasn't quite played up to his draft status - he was the first
linebacker selected in 1999, taken one spot after wide receiver David Boston
and one spot before cornerback Chris McAlister. But he has had a solid NFL
career, registering 97 tackles or higher in five of his six pro seasons.
Claiborne recorded a career-low 81 total tackles last season, according to
stats compiled by coaches' review of game film.
Last season, he missed four games because of a calf injury. He also missed four
games in 2003, because of an Achilles' (foot) injury.
"Guys are going to have some bumps and bruises and all," Marmie said. "He
passed our physical with flying colors. He's been a physical player. So I don't
think there's any concern. ... There's no injury history with him that threw up
any red flags for us."
Coupled with Wednesday's signing of three-time Pro Bowler Dexter Coakley, the
Rams' starting linebacker corps in next season will feature Coakley on the
weakside, Clairborne in the middle, and probably Brandon Chillar at strongside.
But if the switch of Pisa Tinoisamoa to strong safety doesn't work, the Rams
probably would start Coakley at strongside, Clairborne in the middle, and
Tinoisamoa at weakside.
The overall value of Coakley's contract was slightly lower than originally
reported - $14.15, not the $14.5 million widely reported Wednesday. In addition
to a $3 million signing bonus, Coakley gets base salaries of $1 million in '05,
$1.75 million in '06, $2.275 million in '07, $2.8 million in '08 and $3.325
million in '09.
Meanwhile, the Rams' efforts to bring in defensive backs Bhawoh Jue of Green
Bay and Gary Baxter of Baltimore for visits proved fruitless. Jue signed with
San Diego and Baxter re-signed with the Ravens on Thursday.
The next task: signing left tackle Orlando Pace to a multi-year deal. As one
Rams Park official said Thursday evening, "If we get him done, we've got the
Meaning Coakley, Claiborne, and Pace.
Defensive end Bryce Fisher, who led the Rams in sacks last season (8 1/2), has
yet to make a visit or schedule a visit as an unrestricted free agent. His
agent talked Thursday to Denver. The Rams would like to re-sign Fisher, but
only as their No. 3 defensive end behind starters Leonard Little and Anthony
Country Roads, Take Them To St. Louis!
Thomas trade or cut bait?
Thomas only has $1.2M of prorated bonus left (he got an initial $3M bonus). If cut or traded after June 1st, he would count $600K against the cap for bonus this year, and $600K next year. Both would almost be offset by his base salary savings. So don't be surprised that if he doesn't produce on special teams he could be gone... Chicago and Lovie maybe?