NFC West: Robert Quinn

Breaking down Robert Quinn's contract

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn inked a four-year contract extension with the team on Saturday, a deal that is actually a new six-year contract worth $65.6 million.

Quinn
Now that the details of the contract are available, we can see that Quinn's deal does indeed contain $41.2 million in guarantees though they aren't all technically guaranteed.

As we reported Saturday night, Quinn's salary-cap number for this year is mostly unchanged by the deal. The real big money starts kicking in in 2015 with a salary-cap number reaching in excess of $16 million, which is about $10 million more than it would have been under the fifth-year option the team exercised in the offseason.

"I was really happy for Rob," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "As we said we really appreciate (Rams owner) Stan’s (Kroenke) support and approval on this. Rob’s got a chance to be an outstanding defensive player for us for a lot of years, so much deserving of it.”

Here's the full breakdown of Quinn's deal, which is heavy on palindromes and courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

2014

Base salary: $608, 608 (prorated for rest of the season from original number of $646,646, all of which is fully guaranteed)

Bonus: $2,296,001

Roster bonus: $0

Cash value: $5,488,731

Cap value: $3,077,958

2015

Base salary: $5,555,555 (Fully guaranteed for injury and becomes fully guaranteed regardless on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $10,233,201 (Fully guaranteed)

Cash value: $15,788,756

Cap value: $16,744,110

2016

Base salary: $7,777,777 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $2,424,242 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $10,202,019

Cap value: $11,157,353

2017

Base salary: $6,161,616 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Signing bonus proration: $955,354

Roster bonus: $3,633,363 (guaranteed for injury, becomes fully guaranteed on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $9,794,979

Cap value: $10,750,333

2018

Base salary: $10,333,301

Signing bonus: $955,358

Roster bonus: $1,111,111 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $11,444,412

Cap value: $12,399,770

2019

Base salary: $11,811,121

Signing bonus: $0

Roster bonus: $1,121,211 (due on fifth day of league year)

Cash value: $12,932,332

Cap value: $12,932,332
TAMPA, Fla. -- Throughout the offseason and into training camp, the St. Louis Rams seemed to be in no hurry to sign defensive end Robert Quinn to a contract extension.

There were no hard deadlines to meet and Quinn was going to remain under team control for at least the next two seasons no matter what. The two sides were talking but there was no sense of urgency. None was needed.

A lack of urgency might have been the exact reason the two sides were able to come to terms on a new six-year contract Saturday afternoon, a deal that will keep Quinn in St. Louis through the 2019 season.

[+] EnlargeRobert Quinn
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsThe Rams and Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, agreed to a four-year contract extension.
Without having to worry about holdouts or franchise tags, the Rams and Quinn’s representatives were able to work toward a resolution that would allow the team to keep its best player in St. Louis.

Upon reaching an agreement Saturday, the deal looks to be good for both sides. The new deal is worth a total of $65.6 million with $41.2 million guaranteed.

It’s important to note that the deal makes Quinn a Ram through the 2019 season, which means it includes the next two seasons as well. The distinction means the Rams could have a relative bargain on their hands should Quinn continue to ascend as one of the best pass-rushers in the league.

Assuming the numbers are correct, an annual average of about $11 million would be an absolute bargain for Quinn, considering he ranks second only to Houston's J.J. Watt in sacks with 29.5 since 2012.

After Watt agreed on Sept. 2 to a six-year, $100 million deal with $51.8 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid defensive player in the league, it was only logical Quinn would be next in line.

What wasn’t clear was how fast the Rams would put a deal together. On one hand, Watt’s deal offered a baseline for Quinn’s, but on the other, Quinn doesn’t have Watt's lengthy track record of success.

Getting a deal done now allows the Rams to sign Quinn for a number below what Watt received from the Texans, but offers a relative bargain should he continue to perform as he did in 2013 when he posted 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles on his way to first team All-Pro honors.

Had the Rams waited until after the season, they might have faced a price tag closer to Watt’s if Quinn duplicates his 2013 success. In signing Quinn now, the Rams struck a good balance between paying him what he is currently worth, what he could be worth in the future and protecting themselves on the off chance he doesn’t continue at his current trajectory.

For his part, Quinn landed a nice deal with a strong guarantee. That $41.2 million is really the only number that matters here, and it represents a smart play on his part, taking what he can get rather than worrying about it later should he suffer an injury or have a down season. In the process, Quinn gets the chance to set up his family, namely son Robert Jr. for life.

"You have got to take everything into account," Quinn said Saturday night. "Maybe I have another monstrous year, maybe I have a mediocre year. So like I said I am definitely blessed and honored for the Rams to even offer that to me, but I wanted to make sure my son was taken care of. I keep going back to my son because that’s what I kind of play this game for, to make him happy. I, of course, enjoy and love the game but it’s kind of just making sure he’s got a sense of security."

Only time will tell whether this is the rare deal that works well for both sides, and we still need to see the exact breakdown of the financials. But at first blush, it certainly looks like a win-win.

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

It's tough to call the second game of the season a "must-win" situation. But that might not be far off what the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing this week.

Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses that could set the tone for disastrous seasons. But a victory in Week 2 could save a season -- at least for the moment.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at this matchup:

Yasinskas: Nick, let's cut right to the chase. Are the Rams as bad as they looked against the Vikings in the opener?

Wagoner: I don't think the Rams are as bad as they were in Week 1, but I can understand why some might view it that way. That isn't to say this team just had an off-day and is about to string 15 wins together. The issue in Week 1 boiled down to the Rams failing to do the things they believe they will do well this year. Namely, this is a team built to run the ball to set up play-action on offense and dominate defensively, but they didn't control the line of scrimmage well enough on either side of the ball to do that. On paper, this looked like an offensive line that could be really good if everyone is healthy -- but even healthy, it looked like an aging group unable to block basic four-man rushes.

Still, I expect the Rams to be more competitive this week, so long as they have veteran quarterback Shaun Hill back from a quad injury.

I suppose the best option now is to redirect back at you: The Bucs disappointed in Week 1 against a backup quarterback, and either way, they're going to see another this week against the Rams. Are they as bad as they showed against the Panthers? How do they bounce back?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were horrible offensively for more than three quarters. Their defense, which is supposed to be a strong point, wasn't much better against Carolina backup Derek Anderson. There weren't a lot of good things to come out of the opener, and I'm not trying to make it out to be more than it was. But the Bucs did score 14 points in the fourth quarter, and they made it a game. It took a long time, but their offense finally showed some rhythm in the fourth and they had a chance to win at the end. Maybe this offense isn't that good, or maybe it just took some time to get things going in the right direction.

I know hopes were high with Sam Bradford, and that all changed with his injury. How much of a difference will it make if Hill is able to play?

Wagoner: Let's be honest here: It's not like the Rams are choosing from a quarterback trio of Elway, Marino and Montana. But of the three they have on the roster, it's pretty clear Hill gives them the best chance to win at this point. He's a steady hand and actually got off to a pretty good start against the Vikings last week before a dropped screen pass and a bad throw that resulted in an interception just before the half. For what it's worth, Jeff Fisher said Hill was trying to throw that ball away but couldn't get it out of bounds because of the quad.

Either way, the Rams need Hill under center because the options behind him -- Austin Davis and Case Keenum -- simply aren't going to get the job done. Of course, it won't matter who is under center if the offensive line doesn't perform better than it did the past week. That group has to give Hill time to throw and open some holes in the run game for this offense to have any chance of success against that Tampa defense.

Speaking of that defense, Lovie Smith once coordinated the group in St. Louis, and we all have a pretty good idea of what he likes to do. But now that he's back with the Bucs as the head coach, what are some wrinkles he's bringing to the table, and how good can that group be with guys such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in the system?

Yasinskas: McCoy and David are two excellent cornerstones around which to build the defense. But as we found out against Carolina, the Bucs need more than that. The key to a Smith defense is getting pressure from the front four, and the Bucs didn't do that against the Panthers. They came up with one sack (by McCoy) and got no pressure on the outside. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson have talent, but they have to be more productive for Smith's defense to really work. If the defense gets pressure, the turnovers will flow. If it doesn't get pressure, the defense will be nothing more than ordinary. McCoy and David are the stars of the defense, but the Bucs need Clayborn and Johnson to really make things click.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a huge question, and the Bucs might be without injured guard Logan Mankins. Like any quarterback, Josh McCown is going to struggle if he's pressured. Are the Rams capable of putting a lot of pressure on McCown? If so, that will stall Tampa Bay's offense.

Wagoner: The strength of the Rams' defense is certainly found in the front four and the pass rush in general. Of course, that wasn't all that evident this past week against Minnesota. The Vikings only allowed one sack, and that came because of a botched snap. But Minnesota had a good game plan and made it a point to get the ball out quickly, which negated the Rams' pass rush. In fact, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1.

The Bucs know exactly what the Rams' pass rush can do after Robert Quinn gave them all kinds of headaches in the past year's meeting. But the Rams have to be better in coverage on underneath stuff if they want their pass rush to take off as it should.

McCown had some success throwing against the Rams last year when he was with the Bears, and the Bucs have a couple big, physical receivers on the outside. If things are going how the Bucs want, what type of challenges do they present to the Rams' defense?

Yasinskas: Let's assume for a second the offensive line plays a decent game. If that's the case, McCown will have time to throw, and he has some nice targets to work with. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all at least 6-foot-5. That creates all sorts of matchup problems for a secondary. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins are only rookies, but they can be impact players. Jackson is a proven receiver who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

But like I said, the offensive line will be the key. If McCown has time to throw, he can be an efficient quarterback. If he doesn't have time, he'll show why he's been a backup most of his career.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- They were selected three spots apart in the 2011 NFL draft. In the time since, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn have developed into two of the league's most dominant defensive players, regardless of position.

Watt, who checked in at No. 1 amongst defenders in our most recent #NFLRank project, was rewarded for his outstanding body of work early Tuesday morning. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Watt agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Texans. Mortensen reports the deal includes $51.8 million guaranteed, the most for a defensive player in the history of the NFL.

Soon after that news broke, Quinn offered his congratulations to his fellow 2011 draftee via Twitter.

It's left unsaid here but Quinn also might as well have tossed in a hashtag with the words "thank you" after it. That's because with Watt now officially setting the bar in uncharted territory for a defensive player, Quinn has a pretty good idea of what his next contract is going to look like. Luxurious, indeed.

Clearly, Watt's value to the Texans makes him a player they know they can't replace. He's a dominant run-stuffer and an incredibly productive pass-rusher while playing a position where it's hard to get sacks.

The Rams should view Quinn the same way after his breakthrough 2013 season. In posting 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles, Quinn proved beyond a doubt that he's the Rams' best and most valuable player. Beyond his pass-rush production, Quinn also made great strides as a run defender and, for whatever it's worth, earned record-high grades for a 4-3 defensive end from Pro Football Focus.

The scary thing about Quinn is that he's only 24 years old and just scratching the surface of what he can do in the NFL. Working with defensive line coach Mike Waufle, one of the best in the league at his craft, there's almost no ceiling to what Quinn could become.

The Rams have Quinn under control for the next two years at the reasonable cap charge of a combined $9,971,381, which includes the bargain rate of just over $3 million this season. In theory, they could wait it out and use the franchise tag if they wanted but it seems unlikely they'd go that route since there's no reason to potentially anger the easy going Quinn.

Instead, my expectation is the Rams will wait until after this season to begin talks on extending Quinn. After the year, the Rams will free plenty of cap space (a number which could be even bigger if they part ways with quarterback Sam Bradford) and Quinn will have a chance to add another dominant year to his overall body of work.

There's little doubt the Rams will work to ensure Quinn remains a franchise fixture well into the future. Now that the bar has been set, it's not really a matter of if but when.

#NFLRank: No. 6 Robert Quinn

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
3:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The annual #NFLRank project got underway last week as a panel of 85 NFL analysts across ESPN's many platforms went through the process of ranking the Top 100 players in the league on each side of the ball.

 Though Thursday, three St. Louis Rams -- linebacker James Laurinaitis (No. 93 defense), left tackle Jake Long (No. 63 offense) and defensive end Chris Long (No. 37 defense) -- had cracked the list. On Friday's final day, the list revealed the highest-ranked Ram, defensive end Robert Quinn.

Quinn made the biggest jump of any player in this year's rankings, moving from unranked last year to No. 6 on defense this year.

Defense, No. 6, Robert Quinn

Stats & Info: Quinn led the NFC with 19 sacks last season, the most by a Ram since sacks became official in 1982. Quinn's seven forced fumbles also led the NFC last season.

My take: Although Quinn made quite a leap in this year's rankings and being called the sixth best defensive player in the league is no slight, I can't help but feel like Quinn is too low on this list. I suppose you could make the argument that he needs a little more of a body of work before he can crack the top five, but these rankings are based on the here and now. I have the privilege of seeing Quinn every day so maybe that clouds my view, but I doubt there's a defensive player in the league that has the combination of production and upside that Quinn showed coming out of last season. I personally would have Quinn only behind Houston's J.J. Watt, who is at No. 1 on the list, and Seattle safety Earl Thomas, who is No. 3. I have little doubt that Quinn's trajectory will only continue to point him upwards as these rankings continue. What's scary for the rest of the NFL is he's only 24 and still scratching the surface of what he can do.

Camp Confidential: St. Louis Rams

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
11:00
AM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As one of the few training camps in the league at which music doesn't regularly blare through temporary speaker setups, the soundtrack to the St. Louis Rams 2014 camp is limited to the sounds of pads cracking and the ensuing trash talk.

It's a drastic departure from last year's camp, when the Rams attempted to turn their offense into a spread-based passing attack flinging the ball all over the field.

That experiment failed miserably but also cleared the path for the Rams to forge their current identity, which is regularly on display on the Rams Park practice fields.

At an early August practice, the sight of running back Zac Stacy and tight end Cory Harkey consistently dropping their pads and creating collisions with defenders set a physical tone that manifested into a fight between cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and receiver Austin Pettis.

As residents of the NFL's toughest and most physical division, the NFC West, the Rams permanently adopted the approach they used in the season's final 12 games. Which is to say, they want an offense based on a power-rushing attack and an aggressive defense.

If that plan sounds similar to what Seattle and San Francisco do, it's because it is. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

"Obviously, that's the way we're built," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We've always been built that way. That's what we're going to be based on -- play great defense, run the football. Our play-action game comes off of that."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Defensively, the Rams have the pieces in place to be one of the league's elite groups in 2014. Coordinator Gregg Williams gives Fisher's Rams the chance to move from a middling group to a top-10 or even top-five unit in the NFL. Even without Williams' aggressive guidance, the Rams have combined for more sacks than any team in the league over the past two seasons. With the additions of defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Alex Carrington, the defensive line is the deepest and best in the league. Defensive end Robert Quinn is already one of the best pass-rushers in the league and should get better. That group should be good enough to wreck game plans on a weekly basis.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoSam Bradford is on track to be fully recovered from injury when the regular season begins, and he has an offensive line with the potential to be among the league's best.
2. The aforementioned shift to a run-centric offense should be buoyed by the offseason addition of No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason, as well as the retention of guard Rodger Saffold. With a line built to run the ball and an offense that now knows what it should be, the run game should be better and more consistent.

3. The advancements in modern medicine should benefit the Rams, as quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long are on track to be ready when the season begins. Both are coming off major knee surgery, but you'd hardly know it from watching them move around on the practice field. Bradford is facing a huge season and knows this is the time to finally prove he's the long-term answer at quarterback. Long played at a Pro Bowl level for most of the past season, especially in the run game, and is critical to ensuring that Bradford stays healthy. Having both back this early would have been a big surprise in the past but is a welcome sight in St. Louis.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. For the second straight season, the Rams' offensive line has the potential to be among the best in the league. But the dark injury cloud hovering over that projection remains. Long, center Scott Wells and Saffold are each either coming off an injury, have a lengthy injury history or both. Although line coach Paul Boudreau has a gift for making it work with whoever is playing, he has a group of question marks behind the starters. Guard Davin Joseph is the only backup on the line with substantial experience.

2. Among the many positions in which the Rams are young, perhaps none are of greater concern than the secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is headed into his third season and third as a starter, which makes him the elder statesmen of the group. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safeties Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald have experience, but they've also been spotty in terms of performance. The Rams are banking on the pass rush to help the secondary, but it's unrealistic to think the defensive backs won't have to stand on their own in key moments.

3. Attempting to project what any team will do in a season based on the previous year's result is a fool's errand, but it's hard to ignore the on-paper strength of the Rams' schedule, particularly in the NFC West. Like last year, it's possible the Rams will be better than the past season but left with nothing to show for it in terms of record or postseason appearances.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeSam
    Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesThe media circus expected to engulf Rams rookie Michael Sam at training camp has not materialized.

  • All that talk about defensive end Michael Sam being a distraction for this team has been just that: talk. Sam has earned nothing but positive reviews from his teammates and coaches for his work ethic and desire to improve. He still faces a battle to make the roster, but aside from a couple days of increased media attention, the circus many expected has never materialized.
  • Once again, the Rams are almost wholly unproven at wide receiver, but they believe they are ready to change that this year. Kenny Britt has been a pleasant surprise, both in performance and leadership, and has had a particularly positive effect on Brian Quick. Breakout is a relative term with this group, given that the Rams won't be airing it out like other teams, but big plays will be needed to complement the run game.
  • The Rams will miss young receiver Stedman Bailey as he serves a four-game suspension to start the season. He's been the most consistent wideout in camp and looks poised for a much bigger role upon his return.
  • Donald might not start, but he is going to play a lot. He has wowed coaches and teammates with his advanced technical skills and maturity. Some in the organization believe he could become Defensive Rookie of the Year.
  • Looking for an undrafted rookie or two who could win roster spots? Look no further than tight end Alex Bayer and defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks. Both flashed potential in the spring, and it has carried over into training camp and the preseason.
  • Although Stacy and Mason garner most of the attention at running back, Benny Cunningham should not be overlooked. The Rams like him a lot, and he returned to St. Louis bigger, stronger and faster. He's another year removed from a serious knee injury and could play a more integral role in his second season.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Forget for a moment the freakish athleticism. Put aside the elite speed. Don't acknowledge the explosive ability to transition from quickness to power.

All of those things combine to form the pass rushing terror that is St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn.

Now consider Quinn just turned 24 in May and members of his coaching staff still believe him to be something of a pass rushing neophyte.

[+] EnlargeRobert Quinn
Jeff Roberson/AP PhotoDespite a 19-sack 2013 season, Rams end Robert Quinn still says there are areas of his game he wants to continue working on.
That thought is where a full night's rest for offensive coordinators and tackles goes to die.

"It's scary for offensive tackles, not scary for us," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's got a great future ahead of him."

Quinn's past and present are none too shabby in their own right. Now entering his fourth season, Quinn's breakout 2013 caught on as fast as he bends the edge around helpless offensive tackles. By the time Quinn was through destroying offensive game plans, he had 57 tackles, 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Quinn earned first-team All-Pro honors and made his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In about a year, he's not only landed on various top players lists but found himself near the top. Grantland's Bill Barnwell ranked Quinn as the seventh-most valuable player in the league in his trade value rankings. ESPN's Mike Sando and Mel Kiper Jr. placed Quinn second on their list of the 25 best players under 25 years old.

But the scary part of Quinn's age isn't the number itself so much as the potential for continued growth that accompanies it.

Put simply, Quinn can and will get better. For proof, one needs only to see his growth as a run defender in 2013. While his pass rushing abilities have never been a question mark, his struggles against the run often resulted in a rotation which took him out of the mix on obvious running downs.

Quinn clearly improved in that regard in 2013, coming up with 26 run stuffs (solo tackles on plays considered an offensive failure) according to Pro Football Focus.

That's also the area of his game Quinn still sees in need of most improvement. Quinn spent his offseason working on a little bit of everything. He says he added strength and made it a point to work on increasing leverage and hand usage.

"(I want to) be more stout in the run," Quinn said. "I'm a smaller end so they might attack me a little more, so I constantly want to push myself to be the best complete player I can be and try to take any weakness out of my game."

While Quinn's ability to stop the run is important, let's be real here, it's his ability to get after quarterbacks that will earn him a mega payday. For the record, the Rams have him under control for less than $10 million total over the next two seasons, but don't be surprised if the Rams start extension talks with him next offseason.

When that time comes, however, there's a very real chance Quinn will have done nothing but increase his standing as the league's best 4-3 defensive end.

Quinn's speed off the edge and agility to bend around tackles is so jarring that he often beats offensive tackles by simply running around them. But there are ways he can better use his hands to disengage blockers, and he'd like to add more counter moves to his arsenal.

"Pass rushing is an art and you can get better at it," Fisher said. "You can anticipate, you can get better with counter moves, get better on each opponent. He's taking a lot of time, studying, and I think he knows how to approach each opponent week in and week out, he understands the system very well. One would think he'd probably have better numbers than he did last year."

Improving upon 2013 will be tough but if he can do it, Quinn has a chance to approach Michael Strahan's season sack record of 22.5.

One way that could be possible is for the Rams to more consistently build a lead in games. Nine of Quinn's sacks came with the Rams leading and four more came in tied games in 2013.

On the rare occasions when the Rams held a double-digit advantage, Quinn was at his best. Six of his final eight sacks came with the Rams leading by at least 10.

And though Quinn figures to draw more attention from blockers, the Rams have plenty of other linemen more than capable of generating pressure and a defensive coordinator in Gregg Williams who can create it with blitzes if necessary.

Fellow end William Hayes, who is part of that defensive line depth, doesn't believe additional attention will affect Quinn. He's just too much to handle.

"Rob's not just cool with what he had last year," Hayes said. "Rob wants to be the best. Rob's the best football player I've ever seen in my life. I'm saying at any position. He does stuff I've never seen. He's special."

In discussing his goals for 2014, Quinn has played coy. He offered a resounding "maybe" when first asked if he was targeting Strahan's record. After asking if he could plead the fifth when asked again, Quinn acknowledged that it's at least crossed his mind.

"I'm sure any D-lineman or anybody coming for sacks wants to take down that record but you've got to go one sack at a time," Quinn said. "I've got a lot of work to do to better myself."

For those who stand in his way, it's a terrifying idea. What makes it worse is that it's true.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- This summer, Pro Football Focus ranked the NFL rosters from one to 32 and drew the ire of St. Louis Rams fans for placing the team at No. 31 in the league.

In part, that ranking was the result of the fact that much of the team's roster is young and largely unproven. On Wednesday, the Football Outsiders offered the opposite side of the PFF coin when they revealed their rankings of the team's with the most under-25 talent in the league. You didn't have to look too far to find the Rams in Football Outsiders' rankings as they topped the list Insider on the ESPN Insider post.

Quinn
The rankings of the teams with the most young talent in the league were based on a number of factors, including the number of games started by players under 25 in 2013, relative positional value of the young players playing those games and snaps, the expected number of key starters and reserves under 25 projected for the 2014 season, and the team's recent track record of developing young players.

With the Rams at the top, Football Outsiders pointed to the big trade they made with the Washington Redskins in 2012 as giving them a leg up on adding top young talent. From the Insider piece:

"The real reason behind what powered the Rams to the top here: There may not be a better front seven in the league. ... It was really (Robert) Quinn's All-Pro season with 19 sacks that edged St. Louis to the top. There are several players with great potential here, but Quinn's the one to actually have started building a track record. If more Rams can follow his lead, then this team will compete in the tough NFC West."


In some sense, it should be no surprise to see the Rams at the top of this list solely based on how they fit the criteria. They have been the youngest team in the league each of the past two years and could be again this year. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead have been unafraid to not only devote resources to young players, but also give them ample opportunities to play.

The hope is that those young players will turn that youth and potential into production, something the Rams have targeted for the 2014 season since Fisher and Snead arrived.

Put simply, it's nice to have a lot of young talent so long as it develops. Some of it, especially Quinn, has taken off under the guidance of this coaching staff, but there are plenty of others who still have a lot to prove. If the bulk of the young players in prominent roles take the next step, this roster can move from topping lists based on potential and climb on lists about actual production.

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In nearly every possible way -- except one -- defensive end Michael Sam's fit in St. Louis should be easy and comfortable.

But the exception is a big one, the one that matters most when it comes to Sam's long-term future in the NFL.

For any defensive end, whether added through free agency or in the 2014 NFL draft, cracking the Rams' two-deep depth chart at defensive end figures to be a difficult task. For Sam, a seventh-round pick who doesn't come with the "find him a place to play" pedigree of say South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, it's going to be even tougher.

Put aside Sam working to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster after the Rams used the 249th overall selection on him Saturday night, he's joining one of the league's most crowded defensive line rooms, particularly when it comes to his position on the edge.

“Well, it’s going to be very competitive for him, as it will be for some of the other guys, the later picks, because of the depth and the talent level at the position," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s going to have to come in, and like the rest of his new teammates, these rookies, they’re not in shape. Not in the condition our veterans are in. He’s going to have to work to get in great shape and we'll blend him in the offseason program and we’ll go.”

Forget for a moment that Sam is a seventh-round pick in an 11-man draft class and there's no guarantee any of the team's four seventh-round selections will make the roster. Looking closer at the quartet sitting in front of him, Sam has his work cut out for him.

Here's what each of the four players in front of Sam brings to the table:
  • Robert Quinn is the reigning Pro Football Writer's NFL defensive player of the year, a first-team All Pro and coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. Quinn had 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013.
  • Chris Long is the most tenured veteran on the team, entering his seventh season in the league. Since his arrival in 2008, Long has 50.5 sacks, which is sixth among defensive ends in that period.
  • William Hayes is one of the most productive backup ends in the league and is paid as such, receiving a three-year deal for $10.5 million in the 2013 offseason. Hayes, who has often moved inside on passing downs, has averaged six sacks per season the past two years and is one of the better run defenders among ends in the league.
  • Eugene Sims might be the least acknowledged of the group, but like Hayes, possesses the versatility to play all over the line. He, too, was rewarded with a two-year contract extension last offseason.

But just because Sam is joining a crowded and talented group doesn't mean all hope is lost.

Of the 48 players drafted in the seventh round in 2013, 47 were on an active roster -- though not many seventh-rounders make the game-day active roster. Over the past five years, 240 players have been picked in the seventh round, 60 of them played in Week 1 as rookies.

Although the Rams have a solid quartet in front of Sam, there's also no guarantee they'll only keep four at the position. Fisher's affinity for defensive linemen, especially pass-rushers, has seen the Rams carry more than a simple two-deep.

In 2012, the Rams carried nine defensive linemen into the opening week of the season though they had an extra body at tackle, not end.

Last year, however, the Rams went heavy on defensive ends, carrying nine linemen with a fifth end for 14 games.

Undrafted rookie Gerald Rivers was that fifth end and on the roster for 13 games before injuries at other positions near the end of the season led to his release. Rivers was only active for two of those 13 games but made the roster as a result of his pass-rush abilities.

Sammy Brown, a pass-rushing type who the Rams stashed on the practice squad most of the year, was called up for the final game of the season but was inactive.

In keeping an extra end, the Rams have seemingly preferred noticeable upside as a pass rusher but as with all late-round picks, special teams value might be the golden ticket to the 53-man roster.

Contributions in that regard will be part of the plan for Sam.

"He will," Fisher said. "Everybody that we selected [Saturday], with the exception of the big guys, will make some kind of contribution to our special teams.”

Many have wondered if there will be additional pressure on the Rams or any team drafting Sam to keep him for fear of public backlash. Fisher quickly put that to rest when asked about it Saturday.

“I would say no because we picked him within the process and we’re going to reduce this roster within the process," Fisher said. "So, I don’t see that being an issue.”

Fisher and general manager Les Snead insist Sam was drafted for purely football reasons. Those same reasons will make it difficult for him to stay.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams made the glaringly obvious choice to pick up the fifth-year option for 2015 on defensive end Robert Quinn on Monday.

For anyone who didn't see Quinn single-handedly wreck offensive game plans and get starting offensive tackles benched in 2013, just know that a simple glance at his stat sheet and list of postseason honors would be enough to make this decision. He posted 19 sacks to go with seven forced fumbles and was vastly improved against the run on his way to first-team All Pro honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Quinn
Exercising the option not only guarantees that Quinn will be under the team's control for two more years, it also ensures that the team's best player will double as one of the league's best bargains.

The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only and will pay Quinn $6.969 million in 2015. For perspective, that number is actually about two-thirds of what Quinn's total rookie deal was worth when the team chose him No. 14 overall in 2011. Even taking that into account, having your best player making south of $7 million a season is nothing short of an absolute steal.

Over the next two seasons, Quinn's total salary-cap charge will come in at $9,971,381 when you pair this year's charge of $3,002,381 with the pending 2015 option total. His cash payout is even less, combining his $1,661,734 in 2014 with the $6.969 million figure for 2015 for a total of $8,630,734.

Assuming Quinn continues on his current career trajectory, it's a safe bet that his next contract will pay him far more than that two-year total on a yearly basis immediately after it's signed.

In the meantime, the Rams can continue to reap the benefits of a bargain price for one of the league's best players while allocating resources to other players who can help the cause. It's a luxury a team like Seattle has used as a core principle in building a championship winner.

Of course, the key to that is not only building through the draft but drafting well when you come on the clock. It remains to be seen if the Rams will get elite production for cheap prices from any of their other recent draft picks. But here's a statement as obvious as the Rams' decision to pick up Quinn's option: the more that do, the better off they'll be.
The 2011 NFL draft class is, perhaps, one of the most talented to come along in many years. In the first 15 picks alone, emerging superstars dot the landscape with Pro Bowl berths in abundance.

Soon enough, the teams drafting those stars are going to have to pay up to retain those players and the low-cost production they're getting now will turn into debating if that production can continue on potential record contracts.

Quinn
The good news for the St. Louis Rams is they are included in the group of teams with an emerging star in defensive end Robert Quinn. The bad news is they're going to have to fork over what could become a record-setting type of deal to retain him when the time comes.

In this week's edition of "Inside the Huddle" with John Clayton, he explores how teams can plan for the future now by banking some of their excess dollars and cap space with the knowledge that those big paydays are on the horizon.

If you're a Rams fan, the good news is that Quinn can't hit the market for another two years. While he signed a four-year deal, the team has an option for a fifth season so long as it chooses to exercise it by May of this year. We covered all of that back in January, but it's worth a reminder in the context of free agency.

With the salary cap expected to continue rising to record levels the next two years, the Rams can afford to take on a high-priced free agent or two this year, but they would have to backload a deal a little more than they normally do to make it work. That's fine so long as they can get the bulk of any big money paid out in the next couple of years, but with Quinn the gem of the 2011 class coming and a potential extension for quarterback Sam Bradford (at least that's what the team claims it wants right now), there's going to be some space needed to make it work.

For now, it's a no brainer for the Rams to exercise the option on Quinn and hold his rights through the 2015 season. At some point, though, the bargain that wears No. 94 is going to get what's coming to him.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of the weekend's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In Saturday's Ram-blings, we discussed the importance of this offseason and the 2014 season for the Rams. ... Next, we reviewed the film from an active Friday chat in which we talked all things Rams for a couple of hours. ... Finally, we rounded up the rumors and speculation from the first 24 hours of the free-agent negotiation window.

Elsewhere:

At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas offers a note on the Quinn situation discussed above.

Thomas also provided his list of the top 30 available free agents.

One more from Thomas, he posits that the Rams likely won't be very active when free agency starts.

Jeff Gordon talked some Rams in his weekly chat.

This NFL.com report focuses on the offensive line plans of Miami and Arizona but also makes mention of a new suitor for Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The Rams made two key moves in 2013 to ensure their depth on the edge continued moving forward when they signed talented backups William Hayes and Eugene Sims to contract extensions. Those contracts guaranteed that the Rams have Hays, Sims and starters Chris Long and Robert Quinn under team control through the 2015 season (so long as the Rams do as expected and exercise the option for Quinn's fifth year).

Defensive end is clearly one of the Rams strongest positions, if not the strongest. Quinn is coming off a dominant season and Long remains a talented counterpart opposite him. Hayes and Sims are versatile pieces who can move all over the line.

The Rams did lose promising undrafted rookie Gerald Rivers to waivers late in the year but they do still have Sammy Brown, who has spent most of his first two years on the practice squad. The Rams think enough of Brown to have put two years into his development, though, so they at least see some potential in him.

Pending free agents: None

What’s needed: There's really little reason for the Rams to add to this position, at least through free agency. Clearly, the discussion about the possibility of adding South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the NFL draft will persist through May but that's solely a function of Clowney's talent as opposed to the team's need at the position.

Possible fits: Just because it's worth throwing out an option here, former Saints defensive end Will Smith is familiar with new coordinator Gregg Williams from their time together in New Orleans. Smith is a 10-year veteran who probably still has something left in the tank and he knows the defense.

Verdict: Simply put, the Rams are loaded at this position. I don't expect them to add a defensive end in free agency.

MVP replacements: St. Louis Rams 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Quinn
There is little doubt that St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn was the team’s most valuable player in 2013. His ascension in his third year elevated him to status as one of the league’s best defensive players.

Quinn has another year left on his rookie contract, and the Rams hold a team option for a fifth season, but they could find themselves in a spot where they have to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league or risk losing him.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has long operated with the belief that you can never have too many pass-rushers, but he also doesn’t have any other players on the level of Quinn.

Behind Quinn, the Rams have one of the best third ends in the league in William Hayes, and a solid fourth end in Eugene Sims. The Rams could likely make do in the event of an injury to Quinn, but would undoubtedly miss his dominant presence.

The question for the Rams might not be whether they have enough insurance behind Quinn, but whether they can resist the temptation to add a piece that would make their backups better than most teams’ starters.
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn managed to wrangle every postseason honor possible going into Saturday night’s NFL awards show.

There was the Pro Bowl bid, the All-Pro honors; even the Pro Football Writers of America tabbed him as the Defensive Player of the Year. But the biggest award of all, the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, managed to do what most quarterbacks couldn’t in 2013: avoid Quinn.

Quinn
Quinn came up short in his bid for the most widely recognized award for a defensive player Saturday night as the honor went to Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

That Quinn didn’t win the award shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given his team’s relative lack of success and the fact that Quinn plays in one of the league’s smaller markets.

Past that, Quinn not taking home the prize also shouldn’t serve as impetus for outrage. While I believe Quinn was the best defensive player in the NFL in 2013, it wasn’t so clear cut that his not winning should be considered some sort of conspiracy.

For those of us fortunate enough to watch Quinn rack up 19 sacks, force seven fumbles, stuff the run consistently and generally wreak havoc on some of the game’s elite offenses, it’s easy to look at Quinn and believe he should have been the winner. I’m included in that group.

But there were plenty of other defenders, Kuechly included, who had outstanding seasons.

Had Quinn closed the deal and managed to get to 20 sacks and won the first Deacon Jones award as the league’s sack leader, I believe it would have been enough for him to get the nod.

As it is, Quinn will have to wait to reach the highest level of the defensive player podium. Considering that Quinn is only 23 and entering his fourth season in the league, it’s probably safe to assume his name will become a fixture in this race every year.

Quinn couldn’t quite take home the award this year, but make no mistake, his time will come.
Robert Mathis, Richard Sherman and NaVorro BowmanAP Photo, USA TODAY SportsIndianapolis' Robert Mathis, Seattle's Richard Sherman and San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman have all put up numbers that could result in defensive player of the year honors.
Denver's Peyton Manning broke passing records with his arm. Kanas City's Jamaal Charles was a treat to watch running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Detroit's Megatron (Calvin Johnson) was simply incredible with his freakishly athletic skills at wide receiver.

But there were some players on the other side of the ball who deserve to be honored for their play this season.

The problem is deciding who deserves it more than the other players.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year will be named this weekend.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the top candidates for the award.

Wells: Bill, it appears that defensive player of the year is a wide-open race this season. There are a number of different players who deserve to win it. Robert Mathis in Indianapolis, Carolina's Luke Kuechly, St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Seattle's Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, who you cover on a regular basis. Who do you think deserves the award?

SportsNation

Who deserves to win NFL defensive player of the year honors?

  •  
    7%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    47%
  •  
    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,271)

Williamson: Yes, Mike, there are some very solid candidates. But I have to go with the player I saw dominate for 19 weeks. Bowman is simply unbelievable. He stood out in every game. He set the tone for one of the NFL's finest defenses with his dominant play from a 3-4 inside linebacker position. Bowman had 143 tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, one he returned 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' playoff-clinching win. Bowman excelled against both the run and the pass. He's a football player's player. Sadly, his season ended in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game when he suffered a torn ACL. In typical Bowman fashion, he was hurt by stripping the ball at the goal line. Mike, a player you cover, Mathis, is considered the favorite to win the DPOY. Do you think he deserves it?

Wells: I'm sure some people will call you and I homers, but I've got to give the edge to Mathis because he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. It was personal and team oriented for Mathis. He wanted to prove the he could still be a force without playing alongside of Dwight Freeney. Mathis had no problem talking about how that added fuel to his already flaming fire. He backed it up by leading the league in sacks with 19.5. He ended up accounting for 46.4 percent of the Colts' sacks this season because they only had 42 as a team. Mathis used his infamous chop down on the quarterback's passing arm to force a league-leading eight fumbles. Those eight forced fumbles led to 35 points for Indianapolis. The Colts struggled at times defensively during the season. They would have been really bad if they didn't have Mathis on the roster. You covered games involving Seattle's Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman three times, including the NFC Championship Game. Is there a legitimate argument for either one of them to be DPOY?

Williamson: Oh, certainly on both Seattle players. Again, lots of great candidates here. Sherman and Thomas are among the best defensive players in the league and they are a big reason why the Seahawks are preparing to play in the Super Bowl. Thomas is a tone-setter at the back end of a special defense. Sherman is probably the best cornerback in the NFL and one of the best players in the game regardless of position. The 49ers tested him with the game on the line in the NFC title game and they lost because of it. There are really no wrong answers here. I can't knock Mathis or any of the other candidates. But I just think Bowman deserves to win the award because of his overall impact on the game. There's really no way for offenses to avoid him. Mike, do you think Mathis is a complete player or is he a top candidate solely on his pass-rush prowess?

Wells: This is where the argument doesn't favor Mathis. He rarely dropped back into coverage because he's a pass-rushing linebacker. I'm not saying he isn't capable of being in pass coverage, but I haven't seen him do it enough because coach Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense is all about getting after the quarterback with Mathis. His ability to pressure the quarterback trickles down to players like linebacker Jerrell Freeman and the entire secondary. It allows them to gamble on the ball more defensively. Some may consider Mathis a one-dimensional defensive player, but he does that one thing well. Seattle's Russell Wilson and Manning, the two starting quarterbacks in this weekend's Super Bowl, can validate that because Mathis sacked both of them during the regular season.

Is Bowman's ability to defend pass coverage the main reason you give him the edge over Mathis?

Williamson: No, it's just his overall game. Again, he impacts it in every way. Look at his stat line: There's nothing he didn't do. He was making plays on first, second and third down. And, yes, he was just as apt to make a play 15 yards downfield as he was at the line of scrimmage. In fact, on his interception return for a touchdown, he was supposed to blitz but he read the play and darted back into coverage. He had 118 solo tackles, the second most in the NFL this season. Again, there are no wrong answers here, but for me Bowman is the best answer.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider