Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Paul Clarke, Oxford, England: I don't understand what the process is with restricted free agents, what happens if they are not resigned with the rams. Is there any sign that the restricted agents will be re-signed by the rams, because I would like K.Curtis to come back now Bruce has been cut. Could you explain the process to me.

NW: Sure, Paul, here's the short-hand explanation. A restricted free agent has been in the league for four seasons. After those four years, the team has the ability to "tender" them an offer. That offer can be from three choices. One choice is to tender at the highest level (i.e. the most amount of money). The next level is original draft level. This level is slightly less money. The bottom level is no compensation level and the cheapest amount. Now, here's the twist. A team with restricted free agents has the ability to match any outside offer from another team so long as the original team has tendered the player at any of the three levels. If the team chooses not to match the offer, it receives various compensation based on which level the tender offer was. If you tender someone at the highest level and another team signs your player, you get a first-round draft choice. If you tender at the middle level and someone signs him and you choose not to match, you get compensated at the level of the original draft position of the player beings signed. If you have a player signed from the lowest level, there is no compensation if the offer is not matched. So, for a quick example. Kevin Curtis is a restricted free agent this year. He was tendered at the highest level. So, if a team wants to sign him, the Rams have the right to match the offer and keep him in St. Louis. If they don't match, the Rams are compesated with a first-round draft pick. If the Rams had tendered him at the middle level and Curtis signed an offer sheet elsewhere, the Rams would be compensated with a third-round pick, the round in which Curtis was drafted. Hope that explains it. Chances are good that Curtis will be back since it is unlikely anyone will want to give up a first-round pick for him at this point.

Eric Telmer, Ballwin, Mo.: One of the reasons La'Roi Glover signed with the Rams is because of his having played for Coach Haslett and in his system.
My question - Are there other quality cut players or free agents who have a "history" with Coach Haslett or any of the other coaches, defense or offense, who might be inclined to want to sign with the Rams for similar reasons?

NW: Good question, Eric. There are plenty of players with connections to this coaching staff all over the league. Some of those bonds are stronger than others, but there are some intriguing possibilities of players the Rams could be interested in. There are a few big names with connections to Haslett, including defensive end Darren Howard and center LeCharles Bentley. It seems, though, that neither of those players are necessarily going to be targeted. Aside from that, coach Scott Linehan knows cornerback Sam Madison from his time in Miami and safety Corey Chavous from his time in Minnesota. There are others, but those are the biggest names on the market. Chavous seems like a real possibility and Madison isn't out of the question, though he could command more than the Rams are willing to pay.

J.J. Smith, Ft. Dodge, Iowa: Once I saw the news on your website I was completely heartbroken about the releasing of Isaac Bruce! Do you have any estimates that he will be back? If so, will that be very likely? Do you see him in a Ram uniform next year?

NW: This is obviously the question of the moment. You and many others have written in with the same question and here's the best I can do for an answer. I can give you a definitive, I'm not sure. I honestly just don't know what's going to happen. I don't want to get hopes up and I don't want to crush hopes on this topic. Things are changing by the hour on the Bruce front. I do know this...It's not lip service when Linehan and Henry Ellard say they want Isaac to return. Isaac still wants to be a Ram, too. I think we all hope that the mutual desire for Bruce to stay in St. Louis ultimately wins out. I'm going to stay on the optimistic side and say that until the ink dries with Bruce's signature on the contract from another team, I believe he will be a Ram.

Sam Malhotra, Ellicott City, Mary.: If Bruce is truly out of the picture, though I would love to see him come back, is there any chance the Rams will go after a WR who likes to go for those extra yards and take those hits. Nothing against Holt, Curtis, or McDonald but you just sometimes notice that rather then going for those extra few yards they go down to avoid the big hits. I've seen all the Rams recievers take the hits but it seems though many times they go down to avoid it. As I stated, nothing against the recievers...I think Holt is one of the best and Curtis deserves to play at the #2 spot for this team if Bruce is gone. Just wanted to see what you thought about this topic.

NW: Obviously, you have to have some contingency plans in case Bruce doesn't return, but there is some merit to your point Sam. I don't necessarily agree on the part about just falling down and avoiding hits. It's important to remember that most of the Rams' receivers catch the ball way down field to begin with and often in spots where they would be easy targets for a big hit. I'd rather see guys make plays and hang on to the ball than get nailed, lose the ball and perhaps get injured. That said, a physical presence in the passing game would be a welcome addition. Someone who can go up and get it over smaller defensive backs or go over the middle and take some shots would diversify the passing game some from the deep outs, dig and wheel routes the Rams like so much. If Bruce does not return and none of us want that, there is a need at receiver and a big, physical possession guy would be a nice way to help fill that void.

Eric Nagel, Edmonds, Wash.: I've heard a lot of talk about getting a first round tight end, and then i've heard a lot of about getting as many quality defenders as possible. Which do you think is more important? Personally, in my opinion we need to focus on the defense. I think in the draft we should trade up and try and get either "Super" Mario or A.J Hawk. I think it would be better to get Hawk, only because i think the linebacking core needs more help then the D-Line (Hargrove in the last game of the season looked really good, hopefully he can keep it up).

So is it TE or D?

NW: To answer your first question, I have said it time and again...I believe defense, defense and defense are this team's top need. However, that could change by the time the draft rolls around if the Rams get the necessary things done in free agency. I am with you 100 percent on moving up to get Mario Williams or A.J. Hawk as I believe those are the only two instant impact defenders in this draft. There are a lot of factors that will ultimately determine which direction the Rams go in the first round. Is Bruce still a Ram? If not, a receiver or tight end becomes more of a viable option. Are Hawk or Williams still on the board or within striking distance of a trade? If so, it becomes a no brainer to make a move to get them. Have the Rams added the depth and quality at a position like linebacker, but not tight end? Is Vernon Davis still on the board? There is just too much that can and will happen between now and then for there to be a definitive answer on the best choice for that first pick.

Jonathan Keenum, Toney, Ala.: The signing of Glover should provide more consistancy and stability for the defensive line. However, since Glover played in the Cowboys 3-4 defense, do you think the Rams may at least experiment with the 3-4 some next season?

NW: It has already been acknowledged that indeed the Rams will mix in some 3-4 looks to go with a base 4-3 set. The personnel is just more tailored for a 4-3 right now. That could change in time, but for now the 3-4 will just be used to provide a different look. For what it's worth, Glover played well in his first time in a 3-4, but he is much more effective in a 4-3. I honestly believe with Glover next to him, this will be Jimmy Kennedy's breakout season.

Richard Knox, Clearwater, Fla.: Marshall is older now , Steven Jackson while more powerful is not as agile and fast as Marshall. While a good back, he is not the fearful everyplay threat of Marshall. The defense looks slower especially at line backer and the defensive tackle and end positions except for Little . Special Teams are swarming to the ball with slower reaction times when you clock them as a whole . Do you feel the Rams have dropped off in Team Speed?

NW: Interesting question, Richard. It's hard to say if there is a true answer on overall team speed, but it would be hard to argue against you on this one. It's important to remember that the Rams of the Greatest Show on Turf days were, perhaps, the most awesome collection of speed and athleticism any team has assembled. It seems to me that when you lose a guy like Az Hakim or Tony Horne and you take five or so years away from Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk then you will almost inherently be slower, regardless of who you bring in to replace them. Defensively, that speed has also dropped off, but a big part of that is the change in defensive scheme and philosophy. Lovie Smith's defenses emphasized speed and swarming to the ball and Larry Marmie's defenses were more lax. It seems there is going to be a push back toward the athleticism and speed and just the signing of La'Roi Glover is a prime example of that. Glover is a pass rushing defensive tackle, something the Rams haven't had in a while.