Veterans Due for Decisions
Saturday, February 23, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – As Rams coach Scott Linehan openly acknowledged Friday, the Rams will have some tough decisions to make in terms of releasing players and clearing salary cap space.

But Linehan and Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Billy Devaney aren’t the only ones with some difficult choices to make in the near future.

There are some Rams at or near the end of the line with decisions to make about their future. Apparently, one of those players has already decided his next move.

After 14 seasons in the NFL, center Andy McCollum is retired. Sort of.

“I did talk to Andy and he said he will stay in shape in case we get in that position where we would have to go there and sign him if we needed him,” Linehan said. “He’s not ruling out coming back and playing. Andy is as salt of the Earth kind of guy as there is but I thought that was a good plan.”

Considering the way Rams offensive linemen fell to injury in 2007, that would put McCollum on target for a return to the team in say, week three. Jokes aside, McCollum is an unrestricted free agent and will enter the free agent market on Feb. 29 with an open mind to what teams have to say about his future.

McCollum is free to join another team should he get an offer, but for now the Rams will keep McCollum on speed dial should they be plagued by injuries again in 2008.

He started seven games at center and three at guard in 2007 and remained a solid performer. Soon after the season, he indicated he would like to take some time to evaluate his future and discuss it with his family.

“It’s hard not to think about (possibly not being a Ram next year),” McCollum said then. “Like I said, I’m going to take a few weeks to make a definite decision on what I’m going to do. I’ll just see how the knees and legs feel after a few weeks of rest.”

One way to preserve McCollum’s health would be to avoid training camp so the plan in place would make plenty of sense to that end.

“Andy is essentially a free agent,” Linehan said. “You never know someone might call and he can still play. That would be down the road.”

Another veteran Ram with a decision to make that has yet to be determined is kicker Jeff Wilkins. Wilkins said after the season that he wanted to evaluate his physical status before making a decision about returning for a potential 15th season in the NFL.

Unlike McCollum, Wilkins is under contract for next season so his return will come down to how he feels.

“I think we have to see how he feels,” Linehan said. “He has a little bit of an issue that he wants to get squared away medically. I think when you start getting up there you want to evaluate it. I don’t think it’s anything serious. But you say ‘Hey, are my years catching up to me?’ But he can still do it. I mean, he can still get it done.”

Wilkins had a rough 2007 in which he was 24-of-32 on field goals and tied the NFL record for consecutive extra points converted. But his leg showed some wear and he was admittedly worn down.

“He can still make them but he was like the rest of our team,” Linehan said. “He was a great example of how our season went. Here’s one of the greatest kickers ever and he has a down year and he misses kicks that he has never missed. I think we are all still kind of assessing what we need to do better and some of these other guys are assessing whether they will play or not.”

Wilkins is believed to have some complications with his right kicking leg, something that could be as simple as fatigue or more complicated.

“I have some issues with some health things that I am trying to get fixed up and if everything works out we will see,” Wilkins said after the season finale. “It’s one of those things where we will get into the offseason and see. So, I am going to take the next couple of weeks and hopefully things will work out and we’ll go from there.”

With free agency set to begin on Feb. 29, it would serve the Rams well to get a more definitive answer on Wilkins’ status, but the team has already begun taking precautions. The Rams signed kicker Justin Medlock to a contract a couple weeks ago.

Another veteran with a decision to make is tackle Todd Steussie, who is also an unrestricted free agent. It’s unknown if there’s interest in bringing him back but it is certain the Rams are looking for a young upgrade at offensive tackle.

JACKSON A PRIORITY: Clearly, the Rams will spend the better part of the next couple of months focusing on free agency and the draft. But steps have already been taken to make those tasks easier next year by locking up centerpiece running back Steven Jackson.

Jackson is entering the final year of his contract and would certainly draw lots of interest and dollars were he ever to hit the open market. So, the Rams have begun contract negotiations in earnest.

“It’s important for this franchise,” Linehan said. “It is easier said than done. We are working on that and have had open, quality discussions with that but like you said, with the idea that we have a number of needs and areas we need to address with our team, how you make that contract work and fit it in is all part of it. I have no doubt that will get done. We recognize he is a special player and we know to win next year we are going to need him playing at a high level.”

SHALLOW POOL: Don’t expect the Rams to dive head first into the free agent market when it opens on Feb. 29. For that matter, don’t expect anybody to dive headfirst into a market that figures to be extremely thin in terms of top talent.

After the franchise and transition tags and teams re-signed their players, there isn’t much available.

“It’s really shallow,” Devaney said. “What happens then is the caliber of players that are free now are going to get a ridiculous amount of money. Other teams will say ‘You have got to be kidding me?’ Then other teams are going to say next year ‘That slappy got this amount of money?’ It just skews everything.”

As for their own free agents, the Rams have had some dialogue with representatives for linebacker Brandon Chillar and center Brett Romberg about a potential return. But nothing seems imminent on either player and there’s a chance both will hit the open market.

As for the restricted free agents, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe will likely be given a first-round tender in the coming days. Safety Jerome Carter’s status is less certain.