St. Louis Rams face decisions on key players
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
On a day when Rams fans say hello to an old friend, they might be saying goodbye to three others. Longtime Ram Isaac Bruce, now with San Francisco, pays his first visit to the Edward Jones Dome since his unceremonious release last February.
But will Sunday's 2008 home finale be it for Rams mainstays Torry Holt, Leonard Little, and Orlando Pace? They are the last remaining Rams who played in Super Bowl XXXIV following the 1999 season. (Trent Green was on that squad, but missed the entire regular season and postseason with an injury.)
All three were teammates with Bruce in St. Louis for at least nine seasons. And all may face a fate similar to Bruce once the offseason starts because of high salary cap numbers, advancing age, recent injuries, and to some degree, declining play.
Between the three, they have combined for 15 Pro Bowls, played in two Super Bowls, won three division titles, and earned five playoff berths. But they've seen the Greatest Show on Turf disintegrate into one of the league's worst teams right before their eyes. The Rams have lost 25 of their last 30 games entering Sunday's blacked out noon contest with San Francisco.
None are happy about this fall from grace, and clearly the unhappiest in the trio is Holt — an ironic development since year in, year out, Holt is among the team's most upbeat, energetic players. The glass almost always is half-full with Holt, who almost always has a smile on his face.
But he wasn't smiling Friday when asked if he wanted to return to the club in 2009.
"Ummm, no comment," Holt said.
Holt was then asked if he had received any feedback from team officials about them wanting him back.
"Ummm, no comment," Holt replied.
Has he thought about the possibility that Sunday could be his last home game as a Ram?
"No comment," Holt said.
Holt has more catches (807) for more yards (11,727) than any receiver in the NFL this decade. But his numbers have dropped significantly this season, partly a byproduct of a horrible Rams offense.
Next season marks the final year of his contract, and he's due to count $10.2 million against the cap.
Included in that total are a base salary of $6.65 million and a roster bonus of $1.25 million.
Bruce was due to make less money when he was cut last offseason.
The familiar refrain among veterans at Rams Park has been: If it can happen to Isaac, it can happen to anybody.
"I said that when they released him," said Holt, who's 32 years old. "I said that when Kurt (Warner) left. I said that when London (Fletcher) left. You look back to Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson, and all those guys left this franchise. No one's immune to being released from this organization.
"So if it happened to Isaac, who by far was Mr. Ram or whatever you want to call him. A guy who committed a lot of his time to this organization, and to see him released the way he was released, it can happen to anybody."
Pace and Little were more philosophical on the topic, but realistic nonetheless.
"My future? I'm just trying to get through the day," Pace, 33, joked. "Every year from here on out, I've got to evaluate my future."
But barring a serious injury in the final two games of 2008, Pace wants to keep playing. Because he has been rehabbing from surgery the past two offseasons, Pace hasn't had a full offseason to train since the winter and spring of 2006.
Does Pace want to come back?
"I'm under contract, so for the time being it depends on what they decide to do," Pace said. "Who knows? You (reporters) probably know more than I know. If they decide to keep me here, I'll be more than happy."
Pace has three years left on his contract, but there is no amortization of signing bonus beyond the 2009 season.
So it would be less expensive in terms of a salary cap hit if the team decided to part ways with the seven-time Pro Bowler after this season.
(Pace is scheduled to count $9 million against the cap next season, with a base salary of $6 million.)
Little, 34, has one year left on his contract and is scheduled to count $7.6 million against the cap in 2009.
His situation is a little different than that of Holt and Pace, because he's due to make a modest $2.5 million next year in base salary and roster bonus money.
What that means is the Rams are stuck with $5.1 million of "dead" money in the form of a cap hit if they release or trade Little by June 1.
Under similar scenarios, the dead money for Pace is only $3 million, and just $2.2 million for Holt.
"If they'll have me back, I wouldn't mind coming back," said Little, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury this season. "They've got some decisions to make. I know that. If they don't want me back, there ain't nothing I can do about it."
So for now, there's nothing but uncertainty.
"I don't know where anyone stands," Holt said. "The only thing right now that I'm concentrating on is trying to finish up these last two games, and finish up on a high note. And then wait around just like everybody else and see how things fall.
"But as far as where things are going, who's going to be here (in 2009), I don't think you can ask anybody on our team. I don't think anyone knows. We're all waiting to see.
"I don't even think the coaches know. ...The only people that know what they're going to do are John Shaw and Lucia (Rodriguez) and Chip (Rosenbloom). They know what direction they want to take this franchise in. So we have to wait on their response."