By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Saturday, Mar. 03 2007
The club deals for a defensive end from Detroit, plus gets visits from a free
agent wide receiver, Drew Bennett, and defensive end and linebacker Tully
Scott Linehan must be a pretty good poker player. On Thursday afternoon, he
said he didn't anticipate much activity by the Rams on the opening weekend of
the free-agency period.
Less than 24 hours later, Rams Park was a beehive of activity. On Friday
morning, the team traded a fifth-round draft pick to Detroit for defensive end
James Hall. By early afternoon, wide receiver Drew Bennett of Tennessee and
defensive end-linebacker Tully Banta-Cain of New England arrived for free-agent
Sources told the Post-Dispatch that Dallas center Al Johnson also was scheduled
to pay a free-agent visit, but he ended up in Tampa instead.
The Lions traded Hall rather than paying a $500,000 roster bonus, which was due
this month. Hall registered five sacks, 34 tackles and one forced fumble last
season in seven contests. He missed the last nine games of '06 because of a
shoulder injury, which required surgery.
Linehan said Hall should be able to do non-contact work during the spring
minicamps and drills, and then be fine for the start of training camp.
"He's really exactly what we're looking for," Linehan said. "He's an every-down
end who can anchor. He can play the run. He played very well against us last
year. But he's got a real sneaky ability to rush the passer.
"He had four sacks in two games against us in '04 when I was in Minnesota,"
Linehan added. "We voted for him for the Pro Bowl."
Hall didn't make the Pro Bowl in '04 but did register 11 sacks that season. But
he has only 10 sacks total over the past two seasons. Critics of Hall say he is
prone to flashes of big plays but then "disappears" for games at a time.
But from a Rams standpoint, anything would be better than the team's play at
right defensive end last year. Other than left end Leonard Little, the Rams got
only two sacks from the end position. By the end of the season, teams were
consciously running at the right side of the Rams' defensive front.
At 6 feet 2, 280 pounds, Hall is an all-around end who can play the run as well
as get to the passer. Hall, 30, entered the NFL in 2000 as an undrafted rookie
out of Michigan, where he played a rush linebacker position. He was a full-time
starter in Detroit for the past five seasons.
Before this season, Hall didn't have much of an injury history in Detroit. He
missed two games in '05 because of a groin injury, one game in '01 because of a
knee injury and two games as a rookie because of a knee injury.
The Rams inherit his Detroit contract, which has two years remaining. Hall is
scheduled to make $2.75 million this year in base salary and $3 million in '08.
He is also due a $500,000 roster bonus before the start of free agency.
The Lions probably would've released Hall rather than pay the bonus. But the
Rams thought Hall probably would've been more expensive on the open market. So
they made the trade.
"It makes all the sense in the world," Linehan said. "And in free agency, the
pool's not real deep. Especially at that position."
The top two free agents available at defensive end are Atlanta's Patrick Kerney
and Tampa Bay's DeWayne White. Kerney wouldn't have worked in St. Louis because
he's much more comfortable at left end, which is Little's position.
There's no doubt the Rams like White, who is 2½ years younger than Hall. But
White could end up costing twice as much as Hall. And as Linehan pointed out:
That's how many NFL games White has started in the NFL compared to Hall's 67.
Meanwhile, Banta-Cain could provide another boost to the team's pass rush.
Getting to the passer is what he does best. The fourth-year pro from
Cal-Berkeley had 5½ sacks and 40 tackles as a part-time starter in New England
Banta-Cain, 6-2, 250, can play outside linebacker and defensive end. The Rams
foresee using him in the "Buck end" role manned by Raonall Smith last season.
Bennett is perhaps the best wide receiver on the market. His arrival at Rams
Park on the first day of free agency signals that the team already is moving on
from free agent Kevin Curtis, who was scheduled to visit Minnesota on Friday.
At 6-5, 206, Bennett would provide the kind of size that Linehan likes in a
slot receiver. Bennett, 28, led the Titans with 46 catches for 737 yards last
season. He caught 58 passes in '05. His best season was '04, when he had 80
catches for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Banta-Cain and Bennett got a tour of Rams Park on Friday afternoon, met with
coaches and then underwent physicals.
Curtis isn't the only Rams player apparently headed elsewhere. Cornerback
Travis Fisher is scheduled to visit Washington today and Arizona on Sunday.
Fisher has started 53 games for the Rams since being selected in the second
round of the 2002 draft out of Central Florida. But he missed 21 games over the
past three seasons because of forearm and groin injuries.