NFC West: Kevin Demoff

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The spotlights are off, the media have dispersed and the wait is over.

For Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams' newest addition at defensive end and the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, it's time to get down to business.

Less than an hour after Sam's introductory news conference, the majority of the circus tents have been packed up. All that remains for Sam to do is play football.

"Will I make the cut?" Sam said. "You'll want to find out in a couple months, huh? I use little things to motivate me and make me a better player. Thank God for you guys for making this all a big deal because it's just going to make me even a better player than I am now."

Make no mistake, the attention will continue. It will ebb and flow with every landmark event along the way, be it an organized team activity, a minicamp, a training camp practice or a preseason game.

But for now, Sam is over the first hurdle and can now fully focus on the many more in front of him as he attempts to make the roster.

Asked if he took even a moment to appreciate the gravity of being the first openly gay player drafted, Sam didn't hesitate. In his mind, the sooner the focus turns to football, the sooner the attention will taper.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Tim Sharp"They came to me and it was like 'Welcome to the family, let's get to work,'" Michael Sam said of meeting his new Rams teammates. "That's what we're going to do."
"I'm already focused on playing and trying to make the team," Sam said. "Eventually it will. But I understand that right now you guys want to make a big deal out of it. When this is over, I can start doing that as fast as possible."

Before meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, Sam got his first introduction to his new teammates. Upon arrival at Rams Park on Monday night and Tuesday morning, Sam watched his veteran defensive line mates go through a workout.

Whether it was Chris Long or Robert Quinn or any of the other teammates, the message from each was a familiar refrain.

"They came to me and it was like, ‘Welcome to the family, let's get to work,'" Sam said. "That's what we're going to do."

Part of that work will fall on others within the organization. They must carefully tend to media requests, monitoring how much Sam is out in the community and walk the fine line between marketing him -- there will be new Rams fans he inherently brings -- and exploiting him.

Over the weekend and into Tuesday, those conversations had already begun. From a media standpoint, Sam won't be doing interviews every day. The team will make him available on a limited basis.

"I think we've heard a lot of things, a lot of people excited about the leadership and step that we took," Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. "Certainly we have heard some negative as well. You are going to get both throughout the process.

"That's something that we knew and we discussed on Saturday if this was going to come to be. If you're going to take a leadership position by drafting Michael then I think you have to expect both the good and the bad, and we're prepared for it and I think we'll shine through it."

The question then becomes whether Sam will have the ability to shine on the practice field and land a roster spot. After going through the grueling pre-draft process in which his football activities were limited to running around in shorts and a T-shirt at the scouting combine and his pro day, Sam is eager to regain some sense of normalcy.

No place provides that type of sanctuary more than the football field, the one place he goes to cancel any outside noise. By the time he returns to that place, Sam figures to be carrying an extra large chip on his shoulder.

"I'm determined to be great," Sam said. "I'm determined to make this team. I have every confidence in myself that I will make this team."

The Rams' schedule for the next week will serve as a sort of orientation for the rookies. They'll be kept separate from the veterans as they work on their conditioning.

There will be no media availability during that time, and Sam and the rest of the rookies will get their playbooks and do film work with their teammates. On Monday, the whole team will come together for more workouts as they build toward OTAs.

The coaching staff's plan for Sam offers no surprises. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has already retired to his lab to come up with packages in which Sam could fit and defensive line coach Mike Waufle has plans on adding more moves to Sam's pass-rush repertoire.

"Anyone who watched him play sees special traits," Fisher said. "We'll have the capability provided that he's able to get from Point A, which is right now, to Point B through camp. We'll have the capability and potential to package him up and get him in defensive packages. We'll stress the importance of his contributions to special teams and all those types of things, so the work is just getting started. We're looking forward to being part of this journey."

The initial pomp and circumstance is over. The real journey begins now.
You might recall our March discussion from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference regarding NFC West team-building strategies.

St. Louis Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, addressing conference attendees, noted that his team expected to stock its roster with young, affordable talent.

"When we did the RG III trade a year ago, we looked out and said, 'In 2014, we will have 12 players who were first- or second-round picks under the new rookie wage scale,' " Demoff said at the conference. "Twelve of our best players will make less than $25 million combined in 2014, which meant on the remainder of our team, we could overpay a few guys in free agency, we could make a few mistakes here or there and we would have a pretty good nucleus."

The thinking is sound. And as the chart shows, the Rams have selected eight players in the first two rounds since the wage scale went into effect for 2011. That figure ranks tied for the NFL lead with the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots.

The Rams' plan to have 12 such players on their roster in 2014 requires a slight revision. The team is scheduled to have 11 such players on its roster after trading its 2013 second-round choice to the Buffalo Bills in the move to acquire Tavon Austin with the eighth overall choice.

I find it interesting to see the Seattle Seahawks listed so low in the chart, with only four players selected in the first two rounds since 2011. They're known for building effectively through the draft, but they have selected players with only two first-round picks and two second-rounders under the new labor agreement.

Seattle has used a league-high 26 picks in the final five rounds during the period in question. Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright and Russell Wilson were among the players they selected with those choices.

Can a team beat the system by stockpiling later-round picks? I don't know if that's a sustainable strategy. It might not even be a strategy in this case. The trades Seattle made could have appealed to the team for unrelated reasons. Either way, it's pretty tough to question the Seahawks' drafting results.

Whatever the case, the contrast between Seattle and two of its division rivals, St. Louis and San Francisco, has been pronounced.

The 49ers have still managed to use 21 picks in the final five rounds over this span, allowing them to have it both ways, in some respects. The Rams have used 17 picks and the Arizona Cardinals 19 of them over the final five rounds since 2011.

Seattle traded its 2013 first-rounder to the Minnesota Vikings in the Percy Harvin deal. The Seahawks traded their 2011 second-rounder to Detroit with the 157th and 209th picks for the 75th, 107th, 154th and 205th choices. They took John Moffitt, Kris Durham, Sherman and Pep Levingston with those selections.

We'll think through this one a little more. First, though, a diversion courtesy of Sherman, who has outlived his fifth-round status on the field and on Facebook.
Got a question during the latest NFC West chat asking whether I envisioned the St. Louis Rams winning the NFC West in the next three years.

It's going to be a challenge given the projected state of quarterback play elsewhere in the division, but as I said during the chat, there's a good chance the Rams will break through in the next few seasons.

ESPN's Chris Sprow has written about this very subject at length. His latest piece for Insider Insider expands upon a subject we've discussed quite a bit lately: the impact cheap labor at quarterback can have on a team's ability to build a roster.

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are benefiting from having low-cost quarterbacks playing at a high level. The Rams are not benefiting from that dynamic, but their 2012 trade with the Washington Redskins will give them cheap labor for years to come -- all part of a plan to build with young talent.

The Rams have 17 total players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. Those players average 24.5 years old (24.4 median). Backup tight end Matthew Mulligan, 28, is the only one age 26 or older.

"No team is bound to improve more over the next few seasons than the Rams," Sprow writes. "If Fisher is right, they'll get improvements from a deep 2012 rookie class in 2013, then a good 2013 rookie class in 2014, and another good 2014 rookie class in 2015."

Most of those players remain unproven and that can be scary for fans.

I sensed excitement, not trepidation, from the Rams' leadership during my interactions with coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff during the recently concluded NFL owners meeting. They are stocking the roster with young talent. We'll find out over the next couple seasons whether they've stocked wisely.
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' expected visit with Miami Dolphins free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long:
  • Long
    Clear need: Sixteen players have started on the Rams' offensive line over the past two seasons. The team badly needs stability on its line. Long would stabilize the line.
  • Protecting Sam: The Rams must give quarterback Sam Bradford a chance for success. They invested in center Scott Wells last offseason. Signing Long would improve the odds of St. Louis winning its bet on Bradford.
  • Win-win situation: Bradford, like Long, was the first player selected in his draft class. Agent Tom Condon represents both players. Getting the right deal for Long in St. Louis would help Bradford, Long, Condon and the Rams.
  • Philosophy: As teams figure out how best to allocate money in free agency, the Rams are on record saying they value substantial investments over mid-level ones. Chief operating officer Kevin Demoff put it this way at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: "If you have $8 million to spend in free agency, you might be better off spending $7 million on one guy and $1 million on the other than buying two players at $4 million." A deal for Long would be a lot closer to the high end than the low end.
  • 2008 revisited: Long was the first pick of the 2008 draft. The Rams drafted defensive end Chris Long second overall that year. They could wind up having both players if talks with Jake Long head in the right direction. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, chosen fifth overall by Kansas City that year, was another consideration for the Rams in that 2008 draft. He's a free agent as well.
  • Saffold's role: Jake Long would start at left tackle for the Rams. Incumbent left tackle Rodger Saffold could move to guard or right tackle if the Rams signed Jake Long.
  • Flexibility: Signing Long would give the Rams greater flexibility with their two first-round choices this year. Coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman while Fisher was head coach. That streak would be more likely to continue if the Rams signed Long.

NFC West free-agency primer

March, 11, 2013
» NFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals
HEAD COACH: Bruce Arians

Cap Status: The Cardinals emerged from the weekend with moderate flexibility under the cap and a chance to gain additional room. Kevin Kolb's contract is counting $13.5 million against the cap, but Arizona could reduce that number significantly by releasing the quarterback or reworking his contract. Releasing Kolb would reduce his cap charge to $6 million. The team could lower the 2013 hit to $2 million after June 1 under NFL rules, but the remaining $4 million would hit the 2014 cap.

Strategy: Teams with first-year head coaches are sometimes more aggressive when taking over teams deficient in talent. That was the case for St. Louis in free agency last offseason. That was the case for Seattle in the trade market back in 2010, when new leadership took over the Seahawks. Arians and Keim seem to feel better about their talent than the leadership of those other teams felt about theirs initially. The Cardinals figure to make a few targeted strikes, but the list of available veterans isn't an impressive one. Keim and Arians have talked about relying more heavily on younger players, but Arizona needs upgrades, too.

St. Louis Rams
HEAD COACH: Jeff Fisher

Cap Status: The Rams have more than $15 million in salary-cap space after Steven Jackson, Wayne Hunter and Quintin Mikell left the roster. They also have a league-low 44 players, so there's work to be done. But if St. Louis needed additional room, the team has other options. For example, James Laurinaitis and Cortland Finnegan are scheduled to earn $16 million in roster bonuses this offseason. Converting those into signing bonuses pushes most of the cap charges into the future.

Strategy: The Rams added 11 unrestricted free agents from other teams last offseason, tied with New England for most in the NFL. They signed Finnegan and Scott Wells to lucrative contracts. I would expect a slightly less aggressive approach to the market this offseason in part because the Rams' roster is in better shape. However, the freshly created cap room sets up St. Louis to go after a front-line player. The team could use another weapon on offense, for sure. And Kevin Demoff, the Rams' chief operating officer, has suggested teams are more interested in using their free-agent budgets for a smaller number of high-impact players, leading to fewer players signed for what passes as middle-class contracts worth $3 million to $4 million per year.

San Francisco 49ers
HEAD COACH: Jim Harbaugh

Cap Status: The 49ers have been tight against the cap recently, but they'll gain breathing room when the Alex Smith trade becomes official. Smith had been scheduled to earn a $1 million bonus and $7.5 million in salary. The team has found creative ways to comply with the cap, including when it packed into its 2013 budget more than $17 million in charges for Patrick Willis, lessening the hits in other years. Willis' contract is scheduled to count only slightly more than that $17.7 million over the next three seasons combined. The 49ers took a similar tack in 2009, when contracts for Justin Smith and Joe Staley combined to use more than $30 million in cap space.

Strategy: The 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency over the past several seasons. That trend should continue. San Francisco will have a league-high 12 draft choices once the Alex Smith trade is processed. The team's conservative approach to the market last offseason should net additional choices when the NFL hands out compensatory selections for teams suffering net losses in free agency a year ago. The 49ers have already identified and paid most of their core players. Now is the time for them to restock with cheaper labor through the draft, right?

Seattle Seahawks
HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll

Cap Status: It was fair to wonder whether the team would carry $20.7 million in combined cap charges for tight end Zach Miller ($11 million) and receiver Sidney Rice ($9.7 million). There are no indications Seattle plans to re-work those deals for cap purposes, however. The team had enough flexibility to acquire and pay Percy Harvin on a long-term contract. The number for Miller drops next season, putting the Seahawks in position to ride out the contract if he remains productive. The numbers aren't yet in on Harvin, but Seattle presumably still has cap flexibility this year.

Strategy: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Barrett Ruud and Deuce Lutui were the only unrestricted free agents Seattle signed last offseason. The team appears likely to add a veteran or two for a few million per season, perhaps on one-year deals similar to the one Jones signed a year ago. That seems to be the team's strategy in free agency recently. Young stars such as Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor continue to play under their rookie deals. Paying top dollar for a free agent from another team could throw off the natural order of things for Seattle on defense. The 49ers have gone through a similar phase, rewarding their own players and staying away from big-ticket free agents. However, the Harvin deal shows Seattle will make an aggressive move for a young, dynamic player.

Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsThe 49ers have invested heavily in linebackers Patrick Willis (middle) and NaVorro Bowman (right). Is their defensive success financially sustainable?

BOSTON -- The San Francisco 49ers, having already spent big for Patrick Willis, engaged in a lengthy internal debate before deciding to invest heavily in a second inside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, last season.

The St. Louis Rams also had big-picture NFL economics in mind when they sent the second pick of the 2012 NFL draft to Washington, a deal that stocked St. Louis with early picks while allowing Robert Griffin III to land in the nation's capital.

These were a couple NFC West points of interest when 49ers chief operating officer Paraag Marathe and his Rams counterpart, Kevin Demoff, joined a football analytics panel Friday at the recently completed MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Marathe sat at one end of the four-man panel. Demoff sat at the other. For one hour, the two joined Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz and former NFL executive Scott Pioli in discussing where the game is headed through increasingly sophisticated use of data.

There was some fun back-and-forth, including when Marathe, Demoff and Pioli dodged moderator Andrea Kremer's question about which players are most overrated. Demoff broke the tension by saying he hoped other teams would consider the Rams' impending free agents overrated, allowing St. Louis to re-sign them more easily.

On a more serious note, Marathe and Demoff expanded on how the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has changed the way teams build their rosters.

"There is a lot of discussion right now about the shrinking of the middle class in football," Demoff said. "Elite players continue to get paid at high levels and there are no more $3-4 million players. A lot of that is because teams are getting better at scouting college players and the draft has become efficient."

The rookie wage scale has made college players more affordable, particularly early in the draft. That could be allowing teams to concentrate their free-agent budgets on a smaller list of higher-priced veterans.

"If you have $8 million to spend in free agency, you might be better off spending $7 million on one guy and $1 million on the other than buying two players at $4 million," Demoff said.

That is because teams are increasingly focused on accumulating as many high-impact players as they can with less regard for the positions those players play, in Demoff's view. For the 49ers, that meant paying both Bowman and Willis instead of letting Bowman hit the market simply because the 49ers' budget for inside linebackers was tapped out.

Such thinking could come into play for Seattle if safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor still project as Pro Bowl players when their contracts wane. Thomas, as the 14th pick of the 2010 draft, was the more highly valued player. Re-signing him would be the higher priority, in my view, if Seattle had to choose between its safeties. But if the Seahawks can draft a lower-cost alternative in the meantime, the team will have additional options.

As noted last month, the Seahawks got exceptional value from their defense last season largely because they've drafted so well recently, finding low-cost-starters in the back seven especially. Seattle ranked first in point allowed and seventh in EPA despite ranking 30th in cap dollars committed to defensive players.

The 49ers also fielded a top defense, but they're further along in their development, which is a nice way of saying they've got more money tied up in veteran players. San Francisco led the league in cap dollars allocated to defensive players last season. The decision to re-sign Bowman was made in that context.

"We have the most expensive defense in the league on an average per-year basis, and that is not sustainable over time," Marathe said. "Because of the cap, if every veteran on the team took a 15 percent discount on their market value, you couldn't field that team still under the cap because the difference between wholesale [draft] and retail [free agency] is so wide.

"You have to figure out which players to keep and which players to let move on and churn out. Because you have to continue to replenish the system."

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesCan the 49ers afford to pay talented free safety Dashon Goldson what they think he deserves?
Dashon Goldson's situation comes to mind. The Pro Bowl free safety is a player the 49ers value. Coach Jim Harbaugh recently called Goldson the type of player a team wants to reward. But will the economics make sense in the end?

"Paraag makes a great point in that his defense right now, and they are fantastic, but ultimately a scheme like that is going to be very expensive to keep and get veterans to do," Demoff said. "So, either they are going to wind up changing schemes and adapting, or they are going to decide which positions are most valuable. I have long thought teams would go to a 3-4 because it was easier to find nose tackles, but now [top] nose tackles are worth $12 million."

The prices for positions change over time in relation to supply and demand. There's been a trend toward more 3-4 schemes in recent years. Those schemes tend to be more complex. They often work best with veteran players running them. Veteran players tend to cost more money. It gets back to wholesale vs. retail.

The 49ers' decision at inside linebacker came down to whether Bowman and Willis could still have sufficient combined value if the defensive scheme changed.

"There was a lot of debate about that before we decided to make the move," Marathe said. "Ultimately, we decided that, yes, having two position trend-setting players was worth having on our team. But it was not without hesitation because of system."

Demoff sees strong focus on making efficient use of, say, the 35th through 53rd salary slots on an NFL roster. Teams drafting well can leverage additional margin for error under the current labor structure because early draft choices cost less.

The change is one the Rams in particular should welcome.

The Rams are still digging out financially from the old system after funneling wildly disproportionate resources into their 2008, 2009 and 2010 first-round choices. Chris Long, Jason Smith and Sam Bradford all were chosen among the top two overall picks at a time when those choices carried premium price tags.

Long signed a contract extension last season. Smith was traded to the New York Jets and subsequently released by them.

Bradford's rookie deal is scheduled to count $12.6 million against the cap in 2013, his fourth NFL season. The deal Andrew Luck signed with Indianapolis as the first pick under the new labor agreement could count closer to $7 million when Luck is in his fourth season in 2015. That's an advantage for the Colts.

The Rams have 10 contracts scheduled to count roughly $85 million against the $123.9 million cap for 2013, not counting the deal Steven Jackson is expected to void when free agency begins March 12. That is the highest projected figure in the NFC West. The Colts' 10 highest cap charges total less than $50 million. Factors beyond the rookie wage scale account for much of the difference. The Rams could reduce the figure through roster moves and renegotiation. But there's no getting around Bradford's rookie contract, either.

"When we did the RG III trade a year ago, we looked out and said, 'In 2014, we will have 12 players who were first- or second-round picks under the new rookie wage scale,' " Demoff said. "Twelve of our best players will make less than $25 million combined in 2014, which meant on the remainder of our team, we could overpay a few guys in free agency, we could make a few mistakes here or there and we would have a pretty good nucleus.

"We have all stopped looking at where you spend. It is, 'How do you accumulate the best players regardless of position?'"
BOSTON -- Five years ago, San Francisco 49ers fans weary of losing might have cringed seeing team executive Paraag Marathe representing them on a "Revenge of the Nerds" panel put on by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Marathe himself might have cringed. At the time, the academic credentials Marathe brought to the NFL made him an outsider in an acutely insular world. He was conveniently cast as a "non-football guy" distracting the 49ers from the important stuff.

The 49ers' success over the past couple seasons has provided public cover for Marathe, now the team's chief operating officer. But the world around Marathe is what has changed the most. Marathe, hired by the forward-thinking Bill Walsh in 2001, is doing what he's always done, but to an increasingly receptive audience.

Marathe's specific audience Friday included some of the 2,700 attendees at the seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Marathe joined Moneyball author Michael Lewis, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, statistical analyst Nate Silver and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on the "Revenge of the Nerds" panel discussing the evolution of analytics in sports.

That evolution remains ongoing. Revenge is not total. But the nerds' win probability is sharply on the rise.

Marathe, who completed business school at California and graduate school at Stanford, worked at Bain & Company and International Management Group before Walsh hired him. Walsh wanted Marathe to develop an updated model for valuing draft choices, the better to inform decisions regarding their use, including in trades.

"I was this young kid with all these ideas and wanting to do things, telling the coaches and the general manager at the time to invest in the offensive line, only do incentive-based contracts for running backs or to accumulate second- and third-round picks," Marathe told the Sloan audience.

It was an uphill fight.

"Just throwing stuff out there with analysis and stats, it is threatening if someone is not comfortable with analytics or some guy showing up with all these charts and graphs on why you should do things," Marathe said.

That has been true here on the NFC West blog as we've introduced Total QBR and other advanced metrics instead of relying solely on conventional stats. The resistance usually forms as a general aversion to such things, not as specific objections to the information itself.

"What I learned five or six years into my tenure is, it's not about the analytical work that you do," Marathe said. "That is less than 50 percent of it. The majority of it is communicating that work and representing that work in a way that you can get by with, whether it's ownership or the head coach or the scout, so that they believe it, so that they embrace it."

Marathe pointed to New England's Bill Belichick and New Orleans' Sean Payton as two head coaches who have successfully implemented analytics -- identifying and harnessing trends culled from large quantities of data -- into decision-making during games. He expects others to follow.

Overall, though, Marathe sees the use of analytics as nascent to the NFL. He pointed to players' mental aptitude and injury prevention as two areas largely unexplored using advanced methods.

Margins for mental makeup are so much wider than those for physical ability, Marathe said. The NFL's recently adopted psychological testing will arm teams with new levels of information. The goal will be to close the gap.

On the injury front, teams want insight into which players are additionally susceptible at various points in their careers.

Note: I'm bouncing from one panel discussion to another as the conference continues through Saturday. St. Louis Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff and senior assistant Tony Pastoors are also among those in attendance.

Chat moved to Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET

February, 27, 2013
Good morning. We've moved the NFC West chat from Thursday to Wednesday this week. This one will begin at 3 p.m. Here is the link.

Thursday doesn't work this week because I'll be traveling to Boston that day for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which begins Friday.

NFC West executives Kevin Demoff (St. Louis Rams) and Paraag Marathe (San Francisco 49ers) are among those listed as speakers this year. They will be joining Scott Pioli and Aaron Schatz on a panel discussing football analytics.

I'll be participating in a Saturday discussion called "ESPN's Use of Analytics in Storytelling."
St. Louis Rams executive Kevin Demoff left team headquarters on a stretcher after fainting, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

A team spokesman I contacted said Demoff was alert and that paramedics were taking him to the hospital as a precaution.

Demoff, who is in his 30s, has been with the organization since 2009. He played a role in the Rams' major front-office and coaching hirings. As chief operating officer, he also negotiates player contracts and manages the salary cap.

Update: Demoff is apparently fine. Hilarious tweet from him this afternoon.

"I guess fainting the day after going over .500 isn't exactly acting like you've been there before," he wrote.

The Rams are above .500 for the first time since 2006.
The timing was wrong for the St. Louis Rams to make a three-year commitment for games in London.

The team acknowledged it Monday by canceling games scheduled there in 2013 and 2014.

This was a good move for the team on the field, in my view. It was also helpful in countering perceptions that the Rams, currently mired in a stadium arbitration process, had one eye on the horizon and a foot out the door.

Saying the team was committed to St. Louis was tougher when the team was agreeing to play games on another continent for the next three years, a period matching up nicely with the potential expiration of the Rams' current stadium lease.

As Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told reporters in St. Louis on Monday:
"We certainly understood there would be backlash (in scheduling London games). That has never been something we've shied away from and our job is to do what’s best for the organization moving forward, even if it’s not always perfectly understood by fans.

"The message we want to send, since January, we have hired Jeff Fisher, we have gone out and gotten a very experienced coaching staff, we spent $100 million in free agency, we made a bold draft trade to help set along the future of this franchise, we've grown our television network 12 affiliates, nine states -- the largest span of affiliates in the NFL.

"Everything we’ve done is to demonstrate that we’re committed to getting this right on and off the field in St. Louis. Continuing to work in the community, building another playground, going to Joplin, the focus has been on St. Louis. I think this confused the message, it confused the brand, and because of that we took a step back now and said, 'The timing’s not right.' It may be right in the future; it’s not right right now."

Demoff said he expects the stadium arbitration process to begin during the 2012 season. The process will include an arbiter making a proposal for upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome. The proposal would become binding for the Rams if the local stadium authority accepted it. Otherwise, the Rams' lease, currently scheduled to run to 2025, would become year-to-year in March 2015.

According to Demoff, the Rams might have stayed the course on their London plans if they had made more headway in trying to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome. Arbitration is extending the process.

The team's 2012 game against New England, set for Oct. 28, will proceed in London as planned.

Rams better off minus London games

August, 13, 2012
St. Louis Rams fans recouped two home games Monday when the team withdrew its commitment to play 2013 and 2014 games in London.

The Rams' 2012 game against New England remains scheduled for Oct. 28 in London.

The Rams are casting their decision as part of their ongoing efforts to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome. Whatever the motivation, the decision is a good one for fans in St. Louis. It's good for the coaching staff and players as well.

Previous talk about the importance of international branding sounded ridiculous for a team with a 15-65 record over the past five seasons.

The Rams need to worry about blocking, not branding. Blocking the Patriots would have been easier in the Edward Jones Dome than abroad, even though the Rams' home-field advantage has waned in recent years.

The Rams released a statement from Kevin Demoff, their chief operating officer, that said, in part, "We believe our attention needs to be on the ongoing First Tier process. We have worked closely with the NFL in coming to this decision and remain key supporters of the international series and its objectives."

It'll be important to find out how the announcement Monday affects arbitration between the team and the local stadium authority over upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome. The move could make the Rams appear more serious about keeping the team in St. Louis. Relocating games strengthened perceptions that owner Stan Kroenke was shopping for other cities -- perhaps even abroad, where he has other interests.

The arbitration process, expected to conclude by year's end, allows the stadium authority to accept or reject the arbitrator's proposal. Accepting the proposal would make the arbitration binding for the Rams. Rejecting it would convert the Rams' lease on a year-to-year basis beginning in March 2015.

Demoff was scheduled to speak with reporters in St. Louis on Monday. I'm at 49ers headquarters and have some interviews to conduct, but will be monitoring this one.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Steve Spagnuolo would dart around the St. Louis Rams' practice field during training camp, visiting each position group, demonstrating his intention to coach the full squad, not just the defense.

Spagnuolo would focus with an intensity revealed through his stance: feet wide apart, legs bent, hands on knees, leaning forward as if ready to pounce.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Jeff Fisher
AP Photo/Tom GannamJeff Fisher didn't have to say much during the first practice of Rams' training camp.
That was then. This was Sunday: Jeff Fisher, conducting his first training camp practice as the Rams' head coach, walking around the field as if he's been coaching forever, which is pretty close to the truth by NFL standards.

Every coach has his own style. First-time head coaches sometimes have to work to establish themselves in the role.

Fisher, a head coach for 16 of the previous 17 full seasons, just has to show up. His leadership style is already the storyline of this training camp.

"The greatest thing about Coach Fisher is he is confident and he is so confident, he doesn't feel like he has to come out and give us a bunch of lip service every meeting, every practice," quarterback Sam Bradford said after practice.

I watched Fisher closely and was prepared to chronicle his every move and command. There wasn't much to chronicle.

Fisher was engaged and involved without being demonstrative. He chatted with general manager Les Snead and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff during the early portion of practice. At one point, he called out instructions for defensive players to line up on the near sideline. Assistant head coach Dave McGinnis repeated the instructions. Fisher would confer with an assistant on occasion. I never heard him yell at a player.

"He doesn't say much but when he speaks, everyone listens because if he is saying something, it's for a reason and it's extremely important," Bradford said. "His natural vibe, his calmness, his confidence just rubs off on everyone. When you're around him for 3-4 months in the offseason and then you're around him in camp every day, I think everyone just kind of feeds off that. It takes over the team."

That was the initial feel from Rams camp, where 1,600 spectators watched amid relatively pleasant (for St. Louis recently) conditions. I'll be back with notes from practice in a bit.

I'm heading out to the St. Louis Rams' first training camp practice under coach Jeff Fisher. First, though, I wanted to pass along this video showing fans having fun at the expense of Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.
The San Francisco 49ers made upgrading at wide receiver a top priority this offseason.

They used a first-round choice for A.J. Jenkins. They brought Randy Moss out of retirement. They landed Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham in free agency. They re-signed Ted Ginn Jr. Throw in Michael Crabtree, the receiver coach Jim Harbaugh cited for having all-time great hands, and the position appears stronger.

How much stronger?

Matt Maiocco of says much, much stronger. Maiocco: "The 49ers have never had a group of wide receivers as deep and talented as the one they had sprinting around their practice field during their seven weeks of practices this offseason. ... The 49ers should still be in good shape this season even with an injury or two or three. If everyone is healthy at the start of the season, there will be some good receivers who will not win the right to suit up for regular-season games." Noted: I'd never thought of the 49ers' current receivers in relation to the depth and talent at the position in years past. Much depends upon what Moss has left. Purely from a talent standpoint, however, this group has credentials. Jenkins, Crabtree, Moss and Ginn were all first-round draft choices. Manningham was a third-round choice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs got together with the 6-year-old boy who tried to keep him in New York with a $3.36 donation. Barrows: "Jacobs was touched by the gesture and told Armento's mother, Julie, that he would be in the area for a short time this week while he packed and moved his family to the Bay Area. He thought his original idea for a meeting place, Chuck E. Cheese, might cause too much of scene. So they settled on the bounce houses."

Clare Farnsworth of updates J.R. Sweezy's conversion to the offensive line. Farnsworth: "At Mooresville (N.C.) High School, Sweezy was a linebacker who made 195 tackles in 12 games as a senior, when he also won the state heavyweight wrestling championship. The following season, he redshirted as a defensive end at NC State. He played in two games at end in 2008, moved to tackle and worked in a rotation in 2009 and then started his final two seasons."

Brock Huard and Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle offer thoughts on the Seahawks' handling of the quarterback situation. They're generally supportive.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune weighs in on various Seahawks-related stories. His take on Sweezy: "At 6-5 298, Sweezy will probably work to get some more meat on him. In some of the early workouts we were allowed to see, you could tell he was still figuring out the rudiments -- like the snap count. But as OTAs wore on, he developed a nice head-up, butt-down set-up which creates good balance and a powerful stance. More importantly, he has a defender’s mentality, which tends to make O-linemen more aggressive with their blocks. Sweezy has an interesting back-story, too, that we’ll examine in a feature later; he was more than a bit of a rascal for a while, but he claimed it got him turned around and focused."

Robert Patrick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says a 56-year-old former Rams employee is alleging age discrimination and sexual harassment. Patrick: "The suit's claims single out former head coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff, saying they systematically fired several employees over 40. Demoff, the suit says, told Fabian that 'no one liked her' and she was 'too old for her job.' Fabian's suit also claims that she was subjected to unwanted touching by Bob Reif, the executive vice president for sales and marketing. Reif is a named defendant in the suit. The suit says that the Rams retaliated against Fabian for complaining. When she was fired, Fabian was less than a month away from her 55th birthday, when she would have qualified for health insurance benefits for 10 years, the suit says." Noted: It's impossible to know whether these claims have merit, but with former longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt also filing suit recently, the manner in which the Rams have treated long-time employees has come under scrutiny.

Ross Martin of the St. Louis News-Press says the Chiefs and Cardinals appear likely to hold joint practices during training camp even though the Chiefs have made no formal announcement. Martin: "The plan likely would include two days of walk-throughs/practices for the Cardinals at Western alongside the Chiefs. [Athletic director Kurt] McGuffin expects those dates to be August 7 and 8, with the possibility of Arizona holding at least one workout on August 9, the day before the game at Arrowhead. The past two years, the Chiefs have held their workout in Kansas City the day before their first preseason game."
A few highlights and interpretations after reading through comments from Kevin Demoff, the St. Louis Rams' vice president of football operations and chief operating officer:
  • The team is "in the process of starting initial conversations" with Chris Long and James Laurinaitis regarding long-term deals. Demoff joked about hearing rumors that Long's agent can be difficult. Long's agent is Demoff's father, Marvin. Marvin Demoff also represents Rams coach Jeff Fisher. If Fisher wants a deal done with Long in particular, the process should be pretty smooth, in other words.
  • Demoff dismissed suggestions the Rams could be for sale. He said the idea was so "baseless" that it didn't merit a response. But he responded anyway, saying owner Stan Kroenke has never been more excited about owning the team. Kroenke doesn't say much publicly. He isn't very expressive when he does. It's good having the Rams on the record regarding the team's intentions while its stadium lease is in the news.
  • Sounds like Demoff and general manager Les Snead have a good rapport. Demoff felt comfortable joking about Snead's hair.
  • Demoff referred to the age rankings I publish periodically. He's right about the Rams having the youngest roster in the NFL. Tampa Bay, Dallas, Green Bay and Cincinnati round out the top five. Seattle is 11th after adding some veterans this offseason. The 49ers are 17th. The Cardinals are 27th.
  • On the age front, I like to adjust for specialists, whose ages can skew the averages without necessarily telling us what we want to know about a roster. I mean, who cares if the punter is 33 years old, right? Excluding specialists, the Rams are still the youngest team. The 49ers would be ninth, the Seahawks 16th and the Cardinals 19th by that measure. St. Louis has the NFL's youngest specialists on average. The Cardinals have the oldest.
  • Training camp opens Sunday, July 29. That is one day later than I had thought.
  • Receiver Steve Smith is looking good. The Rams have relatively high expectations for him. More here.

I've got another item scheduled in a bit. That one features some good back and forth regarding a couple of the NFC West's more promising young pass-rushers.