NFL Nation: 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.
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.
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 aspects. 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.
- 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.Long
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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. "Becuase 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."
"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 $13.25 million against the cap in 2013, his third NFL season. The deal Andrew Luck signed with Indianapolis as the first pick under the new labor agreement could count less than half as much when Luck is in his third season. 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?'"
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Overall scene: Owner Stan Kroenke and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff flanked Fisher during the news conference. All three men spoke. They steered clear of specifics, which actually told us quite a bit.
- Purposely vague on power: Fisher would not say whether he had "final say" on personnel decisions. The team still needs to find a general manager. Luring an executive away from another team becomes easier if the Rams can offer the powers associated with the GM position. Clearly stating that Fisher has full control of personnel would complicate the process. Fisher will almost surely have control of the 53-man roster, at least.
- Why no word on staff: Fisher is familiar with process. He would not name coordinator candidates, because he had signed his own deal only recently. He alluded to having solid options. Gregg Williams is expected to become defensive coordinator. Brian Schottenheimer and Hue Jackson are potential candidates for offensive coordinator.
- No commitment to St. Louis: Kroenke had an opportunity to assure Rams fans that the team would do all it could to remain in St. Louis. He did not do that. He pointed to his long tenure in St. Louis, one reaching nearly two decades. But he also alluded to a stadium lease that can end following the 2014 season. "We'll see how that process sorts itself out," Kroenke said. Fisher was even more qualified when asked whether the team's future played a role in his decision to take the job. Fisher: "The future of this franchise right now, in this moment, is in St. Louis."
- Grasp of history: Kroenke noted that the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl team really lost just one game, against Fisher's Titans. Kroenke correctly noted that the Rams rested starters in their Week 17 defeat to Philadelphia. Those Rams did also lose to Detroit, however.
- Fisher's immediate goal: Fisher pointed to becoming competitive within the NFC West as his top priority. The Rams were 0-6 in the division this season. Fisher said he would field a "disciplined, tough, physical football team" that can win in the division. He wants to field a team that runs the ball, protects the quarterback and forces turnovers.
Those were a few of the key talking points. Fisher projects confidence and credibility.
- Polian's availability: Bill Polian's departure from the Indianapolis Colts as team president comes while the St. Louis Rams are seeking new leadership. This could be an intriguing fit. Polian succeeded in acquiring weapons for a franchise quarterback. Other aspects of the Colts' roster suffered for the tradeoff. Rams owner Stan Kroenke and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff are leading the efforts to find a coach and general manager. Owners sometimes consult with league brass in putting together short lists of candidates. If Kroenke were to take that route, I would expect Polian's name to emerge. Polian has vast experience, but he's also nearer the career finish line than most other candidates.
- Fisher's status. Former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher remains a logical candidate in St. Louis. Demoff's father is Fisher's agent. Fisher coached several hours' drive away in Tennessee and never seemed to care about coaching in a glitzy market. His long track record with the Titans would make him a high-percentage play for the Rams, who took a chance on a first-time head coach when they hired Steve Spagnuolo before the 2009 season. Fisher is expected to interview with the Miami Dolphins and the Rams. He sounds like the early favorite.
- What to do with McDaniels. All but one Rams assistant coach appears on his way out with an expiring contract. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the exception. He could become a candidate for jobs elsewhere. For now, he's a Rams asset. If that remains the case,the team's next GM and/or head coach would likely decide whether McDaniels remained with the team.
- Greg Roman's prospects. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has held up his coordinators as strong candidates for head coaching jobs. Reports suggest Penn State might have been listening. Losing Roman would hurt, but Harbaugh's presence as an offensive-minded head coach would protect the 49ers from the turmoil that ensued when they lost offensive coordinators under defensive-minded head coaches previously.
- Matt Flynn's appeal. The Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback tossed six touchdown passes against Detroit in Week 17. The Seattle Seahawks will be looking for a long-term quarterback prospect even though Tarvaris Jackson is expected back. Their GM, John Schneider, was with the Packers when Green Bay drafted Flynn. Schneider would have a good feel for Flynn. Would the Seahawks make an offer substantial enough to trump their interests in a quarterback through the draft? I'd be a little surprised. They pick 11th. The team did not, by all accounts, push to acquire Flynn by trade when deciding to go after Charlie Whitehurst. Has Flynn shown enough in limited reps to become a legitimate option? That is the question. The Packers have no realistic way to keep Flynn from testing the market. Naming him their franchise player would force them to pay him more on a one-year basis than Aaron Rodgers is earning. The money would become guaranteed if Flynn signed the franchise offer.
Those are a few of the issues percolating around the division. Back with more in a bit.
- ESPN issued a statement saying Gruden remains committed to "Monday Night Football" for many years to come. Of course, people sometimes change their minds, particularly when vast sums of cash are involved. Stan Kroenke, the Rams' owner, has vast sums of cash to offer. He also has a young franchise quarterback and a power running back suited for the offense Gruden has run in the past.Gruden
- Landing Gruden would be a great get for the Rams. Critics will correctly note that Gruden won in Tampa Bay largely with Tony Dungy's players. The bottom line, though, is that he won. Gruden also won in Oakland, something no one had done since Art Shell's run as coach there. Gruden's track record would give the Rams welcome profile in St. Louis and beyond. His offense bears similarities to the one Sam Bradford and the Rams ran in 2010, so that would help in the short term.
- Gruden and Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer, worked together in Tampa Bay from 2005-08. That gives Gruden a direct connection to the Rams' current power structure. Demoff's father, longtime agent Marvin Demoff, represents another potential coaching candidate, Jeff Fisher. There's another name to keep in mind if the Rams change coaches.
- There is no opening in St. Louis just yet. Steve Spagnuolo's run as head coach could be ending, but no decision has been announced. Kroenke has been called "Silent Stan" because he doesn't volunteer information freely. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that those informing reporters on these matters are connecting dots more than they are relaying hard facts.
- The Union-Tribune report suggests Chargers general manager A.J. Smith would land in the same capacity with the Rams, and that Smith would be the key to bringing Gruden to St. Louis. This paints Smith in a flattering light. It suggests the Chargers might want to think twice before letting such a power broker slip away. I am not sure what would make Smith the key to landing Gruden. Kevin Acee notes that Gruden and former Raiders/Bucs executive Bruce Allen are close friends.
- Smith has been a polarizing figure, especially with players. Does his personality lend itself to connecting with a rightfully skeptical fan base in St. Louis? It wouldn't really matter if Gruden were head coach. Gruden would be the face of the franchise in that case. His personality would set the tone for the organization. Smith would remain in the background. His track record in personnel is mixed. The Chargers have enjoyed a run of relative success in recent seasons, but they'll be watching their former quarterback, Drew Brees, in the upcoming playoffs.
- Acee's story mentioned Spagnuolo as a possible candidate to become defensive coordinator in Philadelphia if the Rams make a change. That makes sense on multiple levels. Spagnuolo has coached under Andy Reid previously and would, at least in theory, be a candidate to replace him at some point down the line.
That's it for now. I just finished discussing this and other NFC West matters with Bernie Miklasz on our weekly conversation via 101ESPN St. Louis. I'll post that audio in a bit.
Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.
The Cardinals' leadership team remains basically unchanged for a fifth consecutive offseason.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt is the face of the organization, even during the draft, in part because general manager Rod Graves keeps a low profile. Both earned contract extensions last offseason. Whisenhunt was coming off back-to-back division titles and had been to a Super Bowl at that point, so his profile within the organization was growing. One losing season hasn't changed that.
Whisenhunt, Graves, team president Michael Bidwill and player personnel director Steve Keim are the primary decision-makers. Whisenhunt appears most prominent among them.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers pulled a surprise of sorts when they named Trent Baalke general manager and made him the No. 1 personnel decision-maker in the building.
The feeling previously had been that the 49ers might have to hand over personnel power to their next head coach if they were serious about landing Jim Harbaugh or another top candidate. That did not happen. Baalke, whose profile became more prominent following Scot McCloughan's departure from the organization one year ago, will make the call during the draft.
The rapport between Baalke and Harbaugh appears much stronger, by all accounts, than the relationship between Baalke and former coach Mike Singletary. That is natural because Baalke played a leading role in hiring Harbaugh; he wasn't part of the process when the team promoted Singletary.
Coach Pete Carroll has the final say on personnel matters. It's in his contract, but not something he flaunts. Carroll played a role in hiring John Schneider as general manager last offseason. Their personalities mesh and the two worked together well in making multiple draft-day moves in 2010.
This is the Seahawks' most comfortable front-office arrangement in recent memory, largely because Carroll and Schneider were brought in together. Each is invested in the other to a degree that did not exist when Mike Holmgren was working with Bob Whitsitt, Bob Ferguson and Tim Ruskell over the years.
The Seahawks' decision-making process has more clarity heading into this draft now that Alex Gibbs has retired as offensive line coach. Gibbs' strong preference for a very specific type of offensive lineman affected how the team approached personnel decisions, especially at guard. His retirement has freed the team to more comfortably pursue the bigger guards its personnel department preferred.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have new ownership with Stan Kroenke purchasing a majority stake, but the day-to-day decision-makers remain in place for a third consecutive offseason.
General manager Billy Devaney takes the lead in personnel matters with input from coach Steve Spagnuolo and executive vice president/chief operating officer Kevin Demoff.
Kroenke hasn't said whether the team will eventually hire a president. It doesn't matter heading into this draft.
The organization is coming off a transforming 2010 draft in which it landed quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Rodger Saffold with its first two choices. Two other recent high picks, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, are also working out well.
That has to work in Devaney's favor as Kroenke assesses where the organization stands.
"Nobody is being absurd; everything is within reason," Demoff told the radio station. "But there are some points to iron out and some feelings we both have on the way this wants to go. Those aren't necessarily public discussions. The goal is to come to an end product that makes sense for both sides and I think we'll do that."
Demoff pointed to the fact that there's lots of precedent to work with. Lots of quarterbacks have been chosen first overall. Bradford's agent, Tom Condon, has experience in these situations.
"You try to piece together what you like and some of the changes you'd like to make maybe in the language or different spots," Demoff said. "But this isn't Mideast peace or putting a cap on an oil well. This is essentially trying to figure out the right number and trying to create a contract that lives for a long time. A lot changes in that time period and you want a deal that both sides don't wake up after a couple years and say, for better or worse, 'We don't like this.' "
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: The decision-makers.
President Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves are the highest-ranking personnel people, but the draft is clearly a collaborative effort in Arizona.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has earned additional input after helping Arizona produce back-to-back division titles and a Super Bowl appearance. A stronger say in personnel was reportedly part of the understanding when Whisenhunt recently agreed to a contract extension through the 2013 season.
Director of player personnel Steve Keim plays a leading role in identifying talent at the college level. Keim and Graves have been together in Arizona since the late 1990s.
This appears to be a stable situation.
San Francisco 49ers
The situation in San Francisco appears far less stable than the one in Arizona.
Scot McCloughan's abrupt departure as general manager five weeks before the draft raised legitimate questions about how the power structure would shake out -- both in the long and short term.
Player personnel director Trent Baalke has taken over for McCloughan. It's clear the 49ers want Baalke to serve as a stabilizing force through the draft and probably longer.
It's still fair to wonder how draft day might go.
Coach Mike Singletary has stepped up his role in scouting. Team president Jed York and executive vice president Paraag Marathe remain influential. Their profiles are higher than they were a couple years ago.
What will it all mean when the 49ers are on the clock and various draft scenarios are playing out at full speed? That's a little tough to say at this point, though the 49ers appear determined to prove they'll proceed as usual.
Coach Pete Carroll is the highest-ranking football decision-maker in the organization and that's fine by GM John Schneider, whose role should be significant nonetheless.
Most head coaches with strong personnel power lean heavily on their GMs and scouting departments. Carroll's recent experience at the college level makes him more personally familiar with the talent in this draft, adding an important dynamic to the Seattle front office, particularly in this first draft under Carroll.
The Seahawks did maintain significant continuity in their personnel department. Will Lewis, Ruston Webster, Scott Fitterer and Mike Yowarsky remain in prominent roles. Each has been with the team for several years or longer.
St. Louis Rams
General manager Billy Devaney, executive vice president Kevin Demoff and coach Steve Spagnuolo are the primary decision-makers for a second consecutive draft.
One question in St. Louis is to what degree the pending ownership change might affect the team's thought process. There are no indications so far that the Rams will do anything other than proceed as they normally would.
Devaney, Demoff and Spagnuolo appear unified. They've been together for a couple of seasons and seem to have a good working relationship.
It's not just that general manager Billy Devaney's teams have never drafted a quarterback in the second, third or fourth rounds. Mostly it's because the Rams can't afford to invest a high choice in a quarterback without feeling strongly about getting a franchise player in return. Taking a quarterback they're less sure about should not come at the expense of immediate needs.
"One thing that should be noted is the success rate of quarterbacks drafted in the second round is far worse than that of those drafted in the first round," Rams executive vice president Kevin Demoff wrote during a March 4 chat. "The only second-round quarterback to make the Pro Bowl in recent memory was Drew Brees, and he would have been a first-rounder if there had been 32 teams in the NFL when he was drafted."
Such a cold recitation of facts hardly came off as a smokescreen. As noted, Kordell Stewart (1995 draft) and Jake Plummer (1997) went to Pro Bowls as second-round choices, although neither enjoyed exceptional careers by elite quarterback standards.
"I believe at the end of the (2009 season), 18 of the 32 quarterbacks starting in the NFL were first-round picks, and the next most prolific round was undrafted," Demoff wrote in the chat. "If you look at the playoffs last year, nearly all of the starting quarterbacks were first-rounders, with the exception of Brees, Brady and Warner, who all could be in the Hall of Fame. The percentages are much better in the first round, but with the reward comes great risk."
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