Ram Nation breathes a sign of relief
By Jeff Gordon
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
03/10/2006
Isaac Bruce
Receiver Isaac Bruce
(J.B. Forbes/P-D)

Ram Nation is sighing with relief today.

Receiver Isaac Bruce is back in the house, re-signed as a free agent after getting cut loose for salary cap reasons. The Rams and the Bruce camp both did the right thing.

Both sides worked at finding ways to resume this highly productive relationship after a minor negotiating glitch.

The task became much easier once NFL owners voted to accept the final offer from the NFL Players Association, thus opening up a $102 million salary cap for this season and $109 million for 2007.

In the absence of a deal, the cap would have been $94.5 million and 2007 would have been uncapped. Chaos would have ensued next spring.

The Rams locked in Bruce before the free agent marketplace opened up full scale this weekend. Given that high cap figure and the number of highly talented veterans available, we’re going to see a memorable free-for-all.

A lot of players will land new gigs for a lot of money.

Expect the Rams to make another big move or two to upgrade their defense. In the meantime, though, they secured one of this franchise’s icons with a new three-year contract.

Bruce will now have the opportunity to play his entire career with the Rams. He will continue rewriting the team record book while building credentials that will land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

New coach Scott Linehan will have a key leader on hand as he puts his own stamp on the Rams’ potentially explosive offense. And when healthy, Bruce can still play at a very high level.

A "turf toe" injury limited him to 11 games last season, but Bruce still averaged 14.6 yards per catch – near his career average of 15.1.

In the eight games where he was able to play a major offensive role last season, Bruce caught 33 passes for 490 yards and three touchdowns. Project those numbers over a 16-game season and you can see that Ike is still a dangerous No. 2 receiver.

This wasn’t a sentimental re-signing by the Rams. In this hyper-competitive NFL era, the team won’t sign anybody for public relations or marketing reasons. The Rams will only commit to players the staff believes can still play.

This deal was great for Bruce, too. He remains with the team he is quite comfortable with. He lives four hours away in Memphis and can commute easily for the mini-camps.

He remains part of one of the league’s elite receiving corps, with Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald.

His new coach, like the departed Mike Martz, is a strong offensive tactician. Linehan wants to throw the ball down the field. He wants to be aggressive with his red-zone play calling.

Linehan is committed to keeping the Rams offense on the cutting edge. He is respectful of the veterans, too, wooing Marshall Faulk for next season and urging that Bruce be re-signed.

He didn’t want to Bruce to feel jilted. He didn’t want Bruce to move on after getting his pride hurt by the salary cap cut. Through the media, Linehan let the world know he still regarded Bruce as critical to his ’06 plans.

The club had been willing to allocated $5 million to Bruce this season, which is pretty significant for a player at this stage of his career. Salary cap master Jay Zygmunt finally found a way to structure a deal that satisfied Bruce and left the franchise room to address it myriad needs, especially on defense.

This was a good day all around for Bruce, the Rams and Ram Nation.