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Rams could wheel and deal
EARTH CITY, Mo. — When Jeff Fisher was hired as head coach and Les Snead as general manager of the St. Louis Rams two years ago, they owned the second overall pick in the draft and had a roster that needed a major overhaul after the team won just 15 of 80 games the previous five seasons.
Now, the Rams have won seven games in each of the last two years and enter the 2014 draft with the final payment from the blockbuster trade they made with Washington that enabled the Redskins to move up to No. 2 overall and select quarterback Robert Griffin III. Thanks to the Redskins’ 3-13 finish in 2013, the Rams again have the second pick in the first round to go with their own choice at No. 13.
Fisher and Snead have been able to build a young roster that has been competitive, but also resides in a division with three teams — Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona — that won a combined total of 35 games last season. Upward mobility doesn’t come easily, and can only be achieved by hitting with their selections and then having those young players continue to improve. The team’s roster has just one player, defensive end Chris Long, that came to the organization from college prior to 2009.
Fisher likes what the trade with the Redskins produced, saying, “I believe right now with what we’ve got on the roster resulting from that trade that we’ve done well. We’ve drafted starters. We’ve drafted high-character players that are going to be part of our program hopefully for a long time. And as we all know, we’re not through. We’re not done yet.”
The extra picks enabled the Rams to take a chance on cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the second round of the 2012 draft, trade up for wide receiver Tavon Austin in the first round last year and then trade down later in the first round while still adding linebacker Alec Ogletree.
There remains the distinct possibility there will be more wheeling and dealing this year. While the first two picks overall aren’t as clearly defined as they were two years ago, which is why the Rams were able to make the trade with Washington on March 12, there is still expected to be significant interest in the draft’s best talent from the teams selecting afterward. Once the first player is selected, whether it’s by the Houston Texans or a team trading up to No. 1, the Rams’ pick will be officially in play to a team yearning for a quarterback, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, linebacker Kahlil Mack or tackle Greg Robinson.
In a relatively quiet month after the March 11 beginning of the league year, the Rams improved their roster with the re-signing of guard Rodger Saffold and the additions of wide receiver Kenny Britt, defensive tackle Alex Carrington and backup quarterback Shaun Hill.
That still leaves work to be done at tackle, where Jake Long is returning from a torn ACL, and safety, where depth as well as a potential starter would be welcome. With quarterback Sam Bradford recovering from a torn ACL and with two years remaining on his contract, the Rams are also expected to add another young arm behind Bradford and Hill either in the third or fourth round, or possibly in the second if an extra No. 2 choice could be acquired as part of a trade down.
However, it’s unrealistic to actually believe the Rams are targeting a quarterback with their choice at 13. There’s no reason to think anyone they draft will be better than Bradford. A top half of the first-round quarterback is expected to come in and play, not sit, considering that player will have a cap charge approaching $1.9 million, which will make that No. 13 pick ironically the 13th-highest cap number on the roster. The general consensus is that there isn’t significant separation between the perceived top quarterbacks in this draft and the next tier of passers.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Rams also look to trade down from that 13th spot, especially if quarterbacks begin sliding through the first round and teams want to move up for one.
However it plays out, the Rams should emerge from the draft fortified with another strong group of talent that will help them compete in what has developed into the toughest division in the NFL.
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