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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Mailbag: Rams' stadium and 2012 outlook

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

After taking a closer look at the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson in the most recent mailbag, I've set aside this one for the St. Louis Rams.

Colin from Venice, Calif., hopes the Rams move back to Los Angeles, but he's not clear what happens next in the dance between the team and the St. Louis stadium authority.

"The articles I've read say that if the stadium authority rejects the proposal, it goes to arbitration," Colin writes. "But what happens then? If the arbitrator comes back with a solution the Rams don't like, can they walk? Can the stadium authority walk if they don't like the proposal? Or are both parties bound to whatever the arbitrator comes up with?"

Mike Sando: This part of the protocol wasn't clear to me until the last week or so. The stadium authority has until June 1 to accept or reject the Rams' proposal. A rejection appears imminent. The sides would then be free to negotiate until the arbitration process begins June 15. That process would be expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Once the arbiter makes a compromise proposal, the stadium authority will then have an opportunity to accept or reject. If the stadium authority accepts, the plan would become binding for the Rams, extending their lease through 2015. If the stadium authority rejects, the Rams' lease would proceed on a year-to-year basis beginning in March 2015.

Most NFL reporters cover stadium issues from afar and only reluctantly. I'm in that camp. We're then forced into catch-up mode when actual stadium news breaks out. Those with greater interest in stadium issues seem far better informed, but even that can be difficult to discern for those of us without a feel for the subject matter.

Footballphds.com has shown interest in covering stadium issues pertaining to the NFL potentially returning to Los Angeles. It considers the Rams to be a secondary player for that market, with the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders as the primary players. Its Rams coverage could be worth a look for those interested in another voice on the matter.


Anthony from Headrick, Texas asks whether the Rams will "be any good" this year.

Mike Sando: They'll be better simply because so many things had to go wrong for the team to finish 2-14 last season. How much better? I'd expect the Rams to get into that 5-11 or 6-10 range in their first season under Jeff Fisher. But when I look at the schedule, it's tougher to single out which five or six games the team would likely win. Home games against Seattle and Arizona in Weeks 4-5 appear pivotal.


Joe from Phoenix asks whether the Rams could be in play for Jake Long if the Miami Dolphins' tackle become a free agent next offseason.

"The current left tackle situation could be improved," he writes, "and if Long's brother, Joe, sticks on the Rams' roster this year, St. Louis would have a connection with Jake. Do the Rams have the cap room for another mega-deal? And if they do, could you defend this move?"

Mike Sando: The Rams should be set up very well from a salary-cap standpoint. They have many potentially early choices over the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts, but the rookie wage scale makes those players' contracts easy to absorb. However, I also think those early choices put the Rams in position to build with lower-cost players. They shouldn't need to spend lavishly for free agents, as a general rule.

ESPN's Andrew Brandt recently laid out just how the rookie wage scale has affected the process. I then followed up with him to ask how the new structure could affect the Rams given all their early picks.

"Having a top pick is no longer a millstone around a team's neck and they can amass multiple first-round picks without weighing down future payrolls," Brandt replied. "Especially in later years of these contracts, the cash commitment represents great value compared to highly-paid veterans. Thus, having multiple first-round pick gives a team options whether to package them to go up as, again, the numbers are down from the previous CBA, or move back for more 'value' picks later in the draft."