Rams make roster moves at a dizzying pace

BY JIM THOMAS
Sunday, July 31, 2011

A day after the Rams agreed to terms with four veteran players, the personnel wheels were still turning at a rapid pace Saturday.

The Rams agreed to terms with defensive tackle Justin Bannan, agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Robert Quinn, set up a Sunday visit with outside linebacker Brady Poppinga, and continued their search for a backup running back with Ronnie Brown and Jerious Norwood surfacing as candidates.

The team also restructured the contracts of offensive guard Jacob Bell and safety James Butler, with both players apparently taking pay cuts to free up more salary cap space. And related to the Bell restructuring as well as the signing of free-agent guard Harvey Dahl, league sources told the Post-Dispatch on Saturday evening that the Rams had traded guard John Greco to Cleveland. Terms were undisclosed.

After Saturday afternoon's practice, the first full-scale practice of training camp, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the Rams weren't giving up on re-signing two of their own free agents: guard/tackle Adam Goldberg and wide receiver Mark Clayton. Other than that, it was another quiet day at Rams Park.

Bannan, 6-3, 310, was en route to St. Louis on Saturday evening and will sign his contract Sunday. He's regarded as a no-nonsense blue-collar player, but has some athleticism to go with his high motor. Bannan has a quick first step, providing good penetration against the run. And that's what the Rams signed him for his run defense. With only 6 1/2 career sacks in nine previous NFL seasons, Bannan won't be on the field in obvious passing situations.

Bannan is 32, but it's a "low mileage" 32. He began his NFL career in Buffalo and rarely played behind starters Pat Williams and Sam Adams. Until last season, when he started all 16 games for Denver, Bannan had started more than seven games in a season only once. But as a Baltimore Raven, he had 15 starts in place of the injured Kelly Gregg in 2008 and played well.

Bannan was an unrestricted free agent a year ago, ultimately signing with Denver, but Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo called him early in the free agency process trying to get him to consider St. Louis. Bannan was released by the Broncos this offseason in a cap-related move. But Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was Broncos head coach last season, vouched for Bannan.

Elsewhere on the personnel front, Quinn became the last of the Rams' 2011 draft class to come to contract terms. Even with a last-minute agent switch, contract talks weren't what caused the defensive end from North Carolina to miss Saturday's first day of camp practices.

"It was not a contract issue," Spagnuolo said. "He spoke with me, it was a personal issue."

The Rams' seven other draft picks all practiced Saturday. There was some drama Saturday morning when Bell was a no-show at the Rams' walk-through. Bell apparently balked at being asked to take a pay cut, and for a while it looked like the team might end up releasing him to free up cap room.

But during Saturday afternoon's practice, Bell walked out on the field early in the proceedings, gave Spagnuolo a hug and mingled with his teammates and watched the rest of practice.

Veteran players who have signed new contracts, even those who have taken pay cuts under restructured contracts such as those of Bell and Butler, cannot practice until Aug. 4 (or until the collective bargaining agreement is complete).

With Bell back in the fold and Dahl joining the team from Atlanta, Greco may have felt like the odd man out just a day after signing his one-year tender as a restricted free agent. But Greco's departure may have opened the door for the return of last year's starting right guard, free agent Adam Goldberg, in his old utility role.

"I don't want to lose sight of Adam Goldberg," Spagnuolo said after practice before word of the Greco trade leaked out. "He means a lot to this team, we just have a lot of things going on. When we get it ironed out, we'll see where we go, but Adam is a pretty special guy to us."

Another member of the 2010 Rams, free-agent Clayton, is still talking to the team about returning. But Clayton is coming off season-ending knee surgery.

"Mark, right now, the leg's not right just yet," Spagnuolo said. "So we're just going to hold off. I've talked with Mark, everything is very positive there, but we're just going to see where his injury goes for right now."

At linebacker, former Houston Texan Zac Diles is expected to arrive at Rams Park on Sunday to sign his deal. He's projected as the team's starting weakside linebacker, but it looks like the Rams are looking for help at strongside linebacker as well.

Poppinga, released by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers earlier this week, is scheduled to arrive at Rams Park on Sunday for a visit and a physical. Poppinga is coming off season-ending knee surgery last season, and if his knee checks out, he could be signed Sunday.

Although he has some liabilities in coverage, Poppinga is regarded as a good run defender and excellent special teams player.