NFL Nation: Les Snead


EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Poor Nick Foles. Surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of a glorified pep rally Friday afternoon at Rams Park, Foles was supposed to be the center of attention as the new, albeit possibly temporary, face of the St. Louis Rams franchise.

But Foles' first chance to meet with the St. Louis media went largely under the radar as coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead attempted to offer explanations of how the seismic shift in their quarterback room came about.

After Fisher surprised the staff in attendance by trotting out about to sign defensive tackle Nick Fairley, he introduced Foles before turning it over to Snead. For those who might not remember, it was at February's NFL scouting combine and in the week before it in which Snead and Fisher had repeatedly and emphatically expressed their confidence in Sam Bradford as the quarterback.

Although the Rams had been rumored to have interest in Foles as early as the Senior Bowl in January, it was at the combine where plans for Bradford started down a path that would lead to Philadelphia.

In Indianapolis, a rumor popped up that Bradford was being shopped around. At the time, the spin was that Bradford's camp was being given an opportunity to shop around to get a better gauge on what his value might be for a pay cut. Because Bradford was due to count $16.58 million against the cap in 2015, the Rams had been very clear that they wanted that number reduced. The theory was getting a chance to shop Bradford, to find out his value to other teams, might yield a middle ground.

Although it's unclear exactly how much of a pay cut the Rams wanted Bradford to take, there have been strong indications that the numbers came in below what he might have been able to fetch on the free-agent market.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonNick Foles (center), flanked by head coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, said he started hearing rumors about the Rams' interest in him at the Super Bowl.
Back on the Lucas Oil Stadium podium, speaking to reporters, Snead was taken aback by a question about Bradford's availability and made the comment that "deleting" Bradford wasn't the best move for the team. Fisher followed two days later by declaring reports about Bradford's availability were "inaccurate" and had previously noted that Bradford was involved in the hiring of Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator and Chris Weinke as quarterbacks coach.

According to Snead, soon after his turn on the dais he began receiving calls about Bradford, gauging the Rams interest in a trade.

"We went to the combine, we had never heard anything about a trade, nobody had mentioned wanting to trade for Sam Bradford," Snead said. "Deleting him wasn’t going to be the solution. Obviously when news like that breaks, guess what? Some other teams start babbling. I think the first team approached me at the combine at some point and said, ‘Hey, when you get off the elevator, can we chat?"

As Snead tells it, the Rams started getting interest only after the "news broke" that the Rams were interested in trading Bradford. But that "breaking news" wasn't made up; it had to have come from somewhere, right? Bradford's camp was caught off guard by the rumors, which likely means it wasn't that side leaking the information.

"I was at the podium," Snead said. "I forget who asked the question. I’m not sure where he got it from. You’ll have to figure out who asked. It’s been squirrely."

In the meantime, no progress was made on reducing Bradford's salary. The longer that stalemate lasted, the more the Rams began looking at their options.

"It was an issue, and it was an issue that was addressed for quite some time," Fisher said. "And it was not an issue with respect to the transaction as far as they were concerned."

Asked if Bradford would be in St. Louis had he agreed to a pay cut, Fisher responded, "probably not." Fisher spoke to Bradford on Tuesday morning and informed him that they were discussing trades and which teams they were discussing them with.

For his part, Bradford told the Philadelphia media he knew of a possible move to the Eagles about three or four weeks ago. Foles told 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis he had started hearing rumors of going to St. Louis around the Super Bowl.

Fisher said two hours after his conversation with Bradford, the deal with Philadelphia was consummated. It was a deal that was probably in the works much longer than the Rams let on, but they insisted Friday that acquiring Foles was the key to it all.

"When we said deleting Sam wasn’t the answer, that was true," Snead said. "When Coach Fish said that was his QB, that was true because at that moment there was no trade and there was definitely nobody like Nick coming in the building."

Fisher has declared Foles the starter and offered a strong commendation on Case Keenum, whom the team reacquired from Houston for a seventh-round pick soon after the Bradford trade. Foles and Keenum join Austin Davis (who has been tendered but not signed) as the three quarterbacks on the current roster, though none of the three are under contract beyond this season.

When asked about his comfort level with the quarterback position as a whole and whether the Rams had designs on adding another in the draft, Fisher gave a vote of confidence to the current group while ignoring the draft piece of the query.

"It’s a different room right now," Fisher said. "It’s a fresh start."

As we dive further into the silly season, deception and misdirection are part of the deal and it's clear there was plenty of it that went on before the swap. It's a deal that makes plenty of sense for the Rams on multiple levels.

But it should also serve as a reminder that any statements made about the team's comfort level in its quarterbacks, or just about anything else, are only as true as the amount of salt you're willing to ingest it with.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In terms of draft capital, there's been no wealthier team than the St. Louis Rams in the past three years.

Since making the blockbuster trade with the Washington Redskins before the 2012 NFL draft, the Rams have made multiple trades and received enough compensatory choices to make a combined 28 picks in those drafts. Even in 2013, when the Rams actually traded some of their picks to move up for receiver Tavon Austin at No. 8, they still had seven selections.

This year, however, things figure to be quite a bit different. Compensatory picks won't be divvied up until next month's owners meetings and the Rams could receive a choice or two. But for now, they only have five picks to work with in this year's draft.

"I feel like we're drafting on a diet," general manager Les Snead said. "So I don't know how that's going to go. But I think we've evolved to the point where the glaring needs are probably less and less. We're always the kid in the candy story, you're going to want a lot. The 'wants' are always going to be there. But we're getting to the point where we've got to use each pick strategically in trying to build our football team."

The Rams dealt their fourth- and sixth-round selections to Tampa Bay for safety Mark Barron during the season and their original seventh-round choice went to Atlanta as part of the trade down that yielded linebacker Alec Ogletree in 2013. As it stands, they hold picks in each of the first three rounds, one in the fifth round and New England's pick in the seventh round from a trade for receiver Greg Salas.

Of course, since trades are what got extra picks for the Rams in the first place, it's entirely possible they could make more trades to add more picks as the draft nears. To this point, neither Snead nor coach Jeff Fisher have ruled out the possibility of a trade, even if it meant moving up and having fewer picks.

"I think you always plan now that you’re going to have five and you could always, the only way you are getting more picks is trading back," Snead said. "You can plan somewhat for that but you have got to have a dance partner. I think the way you sell that is, OK, that plan is there, there’s multiple players at one (spot) and if there’s multiple then maybe you trade back and get picks. That’s a game-time decision."

Given the team's needs, particularly on the offensive line and at quarterback, it also could become something of a dangerous game where they try to shoehorn needs into their few picks at the expense of more talented players.

That's become something of a common occurrence when it comes to quarterbacks where teams will overextend themselves to get one. Snead said he hopes to avoid falling into such a mistake.

"You have got to value the quarterbacks the way you do any position," Snead said. "If one’s there and you think he’s got a future, I think it would definitely be time to take him. I don’t think that would be a waste at all."
INDIANAPOLIS -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher offered strong support for quarterback Sam Bradford last Friday as he introduced Frank Cignetti as the team's offensive coordinator. On Wednesday, general manager Les Snead did the same at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Bradford
Bradford
Amidst reports that the Rams gave Bradford permission to seek a trade, Snead was asked repeatedly where he sees Bradford in the team's future. And each time, his answer was clear.

"I did say deleting him is not our answer," Snead said. "I don't know that that (trading him) solves our riddle. ... He's a good player. If some team was interested I certainly don't blame them. But I'll stick to what I said earlier, deleting him is not the answer."

If indeed the Rams believe that to be true -- and everything they've said and done this offseason would indicate it is -- then reports of a trade have little to do with actually trying to trade Bradford and everything to do with helping to gauge what his price tag will be for 2015.

As it stands, Bradford is scheduled to count $16.58 million against the cap. The Rams have made it clear that's a number they would like to reduce. And though in-person discussions with agent Tom Condon might not happen this week, the line of communication between the two sides is open.

"We’ve had dialogue with Sam and his people so you might need to talk to his people about that," Snead said.

So, what then, does either side have to gain by allowing Condon to see Bradford's value in potential trades? Well, the Rams wouldn't say no if a team came and blew them away with an offer but the more likely outcome is that Condon's side can use the time to figure out what a realistic price for Bradford would be if he were to hit the open market.

Once that's established, the two sides could then use that number to come to a fair agreement to keep Bradford in St. Louis. In short, there's still some work to be done in terms of bringing Bradford back at an agreeable price but the fact remains that barring a major upset, he'll remain in St. Louis with plenty of other options behind him.

"So let's don't delete him," Snead said. "I don't think that's the answer. I think the answer is providing insurance in case we do go through more bad luck. Let's rehab (Bradford). Let's see if he can reach his potential. But let's do insure the position."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Given the up in the air status of the St. Louis Rams when it comes to their future in the city, it stands to reason that their goal of improving the team through free agency could be made more difficult this year.

But general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher don't believe that the possibility of the Rams moving to Los Angeles after the 2015 season will have much of an impact on their ability to sign free agents.

[+] EnlargeLes Snead
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonLes Snead and Jeff Fisher say that the Rams' uncertain future in St. Louis shouldn't hurt the club in free agency this offseason
“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue," Fisher said. "I really don’t. I went through it before. I went down that path before and we didn’t have any problems with uncertainty because that’s what you’re talking about right now is uncertainty.”

Snead points out that most players on the free-agent market are already going to be going through a move if they choose to go elsewhere and many players don't set up a permanent home in the NFL city in which they play.

"I’m going to say no in that we have gotten to this era of free agency, especially with the window of early negotiation where players aren’t taking visits anymore," Snead said. "So what you’re finding is that money is one and usually it’s who is coaching them next. Players are like anybody. They will do their research with their peers, other peers and they are either going to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on that coach. You’re seeing it with that first wave. Players aren’t taking visits and being wooed like in years past."

Asked about older veterans who might have children and a family and want to buy a house, Snead offered a moment of honesty about the reality of the situation.

"I think with the dynamic going on with that particular player, that would be a good discussion they would have," Snead said. "I betcha they’re not buying a house. Now what you’ll probably find with an NFL player is they’re used to being a transient."

As with most things when it comes to the business of the NFL -- and frankly the reason the Rams might be on the move in the first place -- money trumps all. The old hip hop axiom "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" applies in this context as well with the coaching staff in a given place coming in a distant second.

"That’s usually what you've found," Snead said. "The money has got to be very similar. There’s no hometown discount. There is, but it’s not significant. That’s the way it’s been, you bring them in for the physical and they’ve already agreed. That’s this generation. A facility is a facility. Heck, nowadays when you get drafted and come to the NFL, the facility is a downgrade. That’s when you have the most problem, it’s 'Oh, this is where I’m working.'”

In other words, any success the Rams have in free agency this year will be a direct result of how much money they're willing to spend for a given player. Just like any other year.

Rams push pause on trading ways

May, 12, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the first two years with general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher in charge of their drafts, the St. Louis Rams earned a reputation as a team always looking to make a deal.

It was a logical necessity for a new regime looking to rebuild a roster that was mostly dreadful when it arrived after the 2011 season. In each of those first two drafts, the Rams made six trades, four of which were moves down in order to stockpile picks. Add picks, add bodies, improve the roster. That was the clear plan.

Now that the roster has grown and improved -- though it's still not where it needs to be in the difficult NFC West -- the Rams took a different tact in this year's NFL draft.

Trades were few and far between as the Rams consummated just one deal, a move up in which they sacrificed just a fifth-round pick to Buffalo to move up a few spots to secure Florida State defensive back Lamarcus Joyner in the second round.

That isn't to say that Snead and Fisher cut off connection to other teams but it's clear they weren't as interested in making deals as they have been in the past.

“I think we’ve said all along we like the roster," Snead said. "Obviously, it’s young and obviously we’ve still got to develop. We’ve still got to continue to evolve. So that’s not necessarily the reason why you just held pat. There was a few times we tried to make a move and couldn’t."

Instead, the Rams spent most of the draft patiently waiting for players they hoped would fall to them. More often than not, the player did.

As the picks dwindled on Saturday, the Rams targeted Mizzou cornerback E.J. Gaines. They briefly considered packaging some of their seventh-round picks to move up, potentially back into the fifth round to secure his services.

Ultimately, they decided against it and Gaines fell into their lap in Round 6.

"Instead of using picks to go get him, we said, ‘Let’s hold pat,’" Snead said. "We did a little research and felt he might fall, and then you’re able to utilize more picks in the seventh.”

In the early rounds, the Rams never legitimately considered any potential trade-down options. Buffalo touched base with the Rams at No. 2 before making a deal to move up to No. 4 with Cleveland but the Rams weren't interested in moving seven spots to No. 9 and losing out on one of their elite six players.

The Rams also considered a bold move back into the first round. They attempted to deal with Baltimore at No. 17 after adding tackle Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald already. The target was Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin and it would have been costly but the deal died when Dallas took Martin at No. 16.

There were also rumblings of interest in the Rams moving back into the first round later for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel but again the price was going to be prohibitive and Cleveland was in better position to finalize a deal while only moving up four spots to take him at No. 22.

All told, the Rams added 11 players through the draft. The chances of all of the drafted rookies making the roster aren't good, which is just another indication the Rams have a lot of faith in their current roster.

Rams sit still to add quality

May, 10, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the past two years under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, the St. Louis Rams have undergone a complete reconstruction of a roster that was one of the worst in the league.

On Friday night, the Rams offered two more indications that they are saying goodbye to frantically moving down in the draft to accumulate picks and hello to a brave new world in which the chronically trade-happy decision makers can sit still and simply select the best player available.

"It's been, I don't want to say easy, but it's been good," Fisher said. "The board is good, the value is there and we feel good about where we are and we also feel good about finishing strong tomorrow."

The Rams threw their first curveball of this year's draft Friday night when they opted to pass on more obvious needs and choose a running back in the third round.

Not that the Rams couldn't use another back, but the selection of Auburn running back Tre Mason with the 75th overall pick was a prime example of the prism through which the team now views itself. Almost since arrival, Fisher, Snead and most others associated with the Rams quietly held to the idea that 2014 would be the team's breakthrough season.

That vow moved closer to a promise this offseason as the previously silent notion became an open discussion. A mostly inactive free-agent period offered one clue that the Rams believe the current roster is close to taking the next step.

The first three rounds of this draft has offered more evidence.

With other positions of more clear need available to them with the 75th pick, the Rams selected Mason to add to a backfield in which Zac Stacy, the team's leading rusher a year ago, already resides.

When asked why the Rams opted for Mason with the third-round choice, Fisher offered a telling response in making it clear that Mason was too much value to turn down.

"That was the nature of the pick," Fisher said. "That's where we are right now is we just couldn't pass him up."

In the Rams' first two drafts under Snead and Fisher, the team made six draft-day trades, moving down four times and up twice. Aside from a late-round deal in 2013 to land Stacy, all of those deals have been in the early rounds of the draft.

The idea was simple: accumulate as many picks as possible even if it meant sacrificing possible quality in favor of quantity. If the success of a draft pick is a veritable coin flip, the Rams wanted to flip as many coins as possible.

The progress on the field has been evident as a team that won 15 games over the previous five seasons won 14 the past two years but it still has been far from enough. A lack of true difference makers the caliber of star defensive end Robert Quinn has kept the Rams from reaching the next level.

Nobody knows for sure whether players like Mason, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or defensive back Lamarcus Joyner will turn into that type of player, but the stay-at-home attitude the Rams have adopted for most of this draft would indicate they believe roster spots are hard to come by and game changers were there to be had in their original spots.

Perhaps in fear of developing a nervous tick by having to wait so long to make some sort of deal, Fisher and Snead did make one deal on Friday night, trading up three spots to nab Joyner at No. 44 overall before Tennessee could pick him. Even that move indicates the Rams are placing a premium on the player rather than a pile of picks.

It's a trend that will continue Saturday when the Rams make their remaining seven choices.

"We're going to look at our roster, who fills a role and whatever role that is, if it helps us become a more successful team, that's kind of what you try to do," Snead said. "You'll have fun with the last picks."

For the first time in awhile, the Rams' insistence that they're close is backed by their actions. Only time will tell if they're right.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As so often happens during draft week, rumors and speculation have moved to a different stratosphere, and the St. Louis Rams' potential interest in Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is at the eye of the storm.

In the past 48 hours, much has been made of the potential for the Rams to execute a franchise-altering move that would see them draft Manziel and potentially part ways with incumbent Sam Bradford.

Manziel
Bradford
Bradford
Late Tuesday afternoon, Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher took questions from the media and joined their front-office counterparts around the league in tap dancing around questions. It's all part of the game at this time of year, but there's no doubt that Manziel and the quarterback spot were at the top of the agenda.

As they have since January, Fisher and Snead again provided a vote of confidence for Bradford. But for those who choose to read between the lines, there is some room for wiggling should the team truly intend to make the boldest move of all.

"Johnny was probably one of a dozen quarterbacks that we worked out over this process. And with respect to Sam, he is our starter," Fisher said. "As you guys know, that’s the reason I took this job ... because of Sam [as] our quarterback, and we have all the confidence in the world that he’ll be back.

"But we also have the responsibility to continue to upgrade this roster. As it would suggest, we are interested in the right guys there to help in a backup role to Sam, and we’ll make sure we’ve done our due diligence."

As we sit down to play this little poker game, we can look at the use of present tense in that phrase and suggest that indeed Bradford is the quarterback of the team right now. There's no disputing that.

The next question was more direct, asking if the Rams are shopping Bradford. Fisher said no, which aligns with everything the Rams have said in the past 48 hours on the subject.

Fisher was then asked if something could change between now and the first round on Thursday that would possibly change Bradford's status?

"Anything can happen," Fisher said. "Good question, but I think it’s highly unlikely. We’ve identified six to eight players that we think could potentially fit us at 2. And then we’ve gone on with the additional process at 13."

Highly unlikely is about where I've placed the odds on the Rams taking Manziel or any quarterback at No. 2 or 13 for most of this process. It's also not the same as saying no way, no how. And for those paying attention, it's never wise to make definitive claims such as that on anything in the NFL, something the Rams' reunion with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams should've reminded us of a few months ago. And when it comes to the NFL draft, all bets are off, as smokescreens and misinformation rule the day.

But for the Rams to make the move on Manziel, they'd have to be fully convinced he's their franchise quarterback of the future. Could he slide to No. 13 and be the pick there? Sure, but that would also fall into the category of highly unlikely. Which means the decision has to be made as to whether the Rams think enough of Manziel to pull the trigger on him at No. 2.

The argument can be made that, because it's a quarterback, if you like him at 13, then you like him at 2. For most positions that's not true, but for the most important one on the field, it is.

Back in January, Snead said the Rams taking a quarterback at No. 2 would be a bit "too far out of the box." Asked Tuesday whether that's still the case, he didn't exactly echo the sentiment.

"When you’re picking 2, you have got to figure out who all has got to be in play for all kinds of scenarios, whether it’s trading and all of that, so I think at any point with your football team you try to do what’s best," Snead said. "It’s Friday [of a theoretical game week], I’m not going to tell you our first 10 plays."

Or any of them, for that matter. When all is said and done, I believe the Rams do have some genuine interest in Manziel. They might not even know yet whether that interest is strong enough to make the type of move that would send shock waves through the league.

Of the many words Fisher and Snead spoke on Tuesday, much of them carried little meaning, but the one that I keep coming back to is "unlikely." As we trudge toward the first round and the drama it holds, it's worth remembering that "unlikely" isn't synonymous with "impossible."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Les Snead wasn't even a month into his new job as the St. Louis Rams general manager when he made the move that, for better or worse, will define his tenure.

Hired on Feb. 14, 2012, Snead and coach Jeff Fisher worked to orchestrate a trade that sent the No. 2 overall pick in that draft to the Washington Redskins for a haul of draft choices that included first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. The deal was finalized and announced March 13.

Two years later, the final piece of that puzzle will fall into place during Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft. In the past two drafts, Snead, Fisher and the Rams have made a habit of using their additional capital to manipulate the draft with more trades, moving up and down the board regularly.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergIt's time for the Rams to collect on their trade with Washington and get a difference-maker.
Stockpiling picks the past two years was logical for a team that had one of the worst rosters in the league when Snead and Fisher were brought on board. While the jury remains out on how most of those players will develop, the Rams have seen better results on the field even if it means being mired in mediocrity rather than muck.

To take the next step, the Rams should consider making the transition from quantity to quality.

So far, the results of the trade with Washington have been mixed. After moving to the Redskins' spot at No. 6 in 2012, the Rams traded down again, this time with Dallas to No. 14 and selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers.

Using the second-round choice the team acquired from Washington, St. Louis selected cornerback Janoris Jenkins and followed by trading the choice from the Cowboys to Chicago to move back five spots in the second and add a fifth-round pick. The Rams used those picks on running back Isaiah Pead and guard Rokevious Watkins.

Brockers is off to a promising start and is a candidate for a breakout third season. Jenkins flashed major playmaking potential as a rookie but took a step back in 2013, Pead has been relegated to a special teams role and Watkins lasted only one injury-plagued season on the roster.

Last year's draft saw the Rams trade Washington's pick, No. 22 overall, and a seventh-rounder to Atlanta for the 30th pick plus third and sixth-round selections. From there, the Rams used No. 30 on linebacker Alec Ogletree, the third-round pick on receiver Stedman Bailey and the sixth-round choice as part of a deal to move up for running back Zac Stacy.

Early returns on those moves are decidedly positive with Ogletree improving as the year went on, Stacy emerging as the starting back and Bailey flashing starter potential near the end of the season.

All told, the Rams' current return on the initial trade with Washington and the many ensuing moves appear to be mostly good, solid additions. Which is precisely the point; the Rams have plenty of good and solid on the roster. Good and solid has translated to 7-9 and 7-8-1.

What they need is transformative.

Defensive end Robert Quinn is the only every-down player on the roster who currently qualifies in that blue-chip category. Sure, others could ascend to that level, as Quinn did in 2013, but the need for more remains.

Looking around the brutal NFC West, a team such as Seattle can boast seven or eight legitimate All-Pro caliber starters. San Francisco and Arizona are not far behind.

That's not to say Snead should switch his cellphone to airplane mode should teams come calling for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft.

While each team views the draft class differently, the Rams probably would be happy to come out of the draft with any one of six elite talents, a group that includes South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.

Should any trade offers come their way, it would be risky for the Rams to move any lower than No. 6, where previous trade partner Atlanta currently sits. But in a year when there's no franchise quarterback teams are eager to trade up for, would it be worthwhile for the Rams to trade with a team such as the Falcons knowing they might have to settle for the player they rank sixth in that group?

Why not, barring a Godfather offer from another team, stay at No. 2 and walk away with the player you believe has the best chance to be a true difference-maker and potential Hall of Famer?

With all of the extra premium picks, the Rams have been an April power broker the past two years and will be again this May. Now is the time to cash in those chips to become one in January.

What Clowney's big day means for Rams

February, 25, 2014
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Nobody who has followed his football career closely should have been surprised by the Superman impression South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney put on Monday when he went through the on-field workout portion of the NFL scouting combine.

Officially, Clowney finished the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, a time that is considered good for 210-pound receivers and 220-pound running backs. It's thought to be superhuman when a 266-pound defensive end does it.

Beyond that, Clowney didn't do everything in the workout but what he did, he did better than just about anyone else at his position.

Over the weekend, we discussed the difficult decision the Rams could face if Clowney doesn't go No. 1 overall to Houston or another team moving up to get him. Clowney's performance in his workout proved again why he's considered the best talent in the class. Were it not for questions about his work ethic and desire to be great, he'd also be considered the best player in the class rather than just the guy with the most physical gifts.

If Clowney is there at No. 2, the Rams have to weigh whether it's worth it to use such a lofty pick on a player who is potentially a franchise piece. With Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims under contract for at least the next two years, the Rams are loaded at end but it would be unwise to draft for next year or the next two years.

I suspect the Rams weren't at all taken aback by Clowney's performance in Indianapolis. They already know what his physical gifts are. Clowney told me after his media interview Saturday that the Rams had recently sent a contingent to South Carolina to do some homework on him. Clearly, there's at least some level of interest on the Rams' part.

What remains to be seen is whether the Rams' interest is genuine or they simply want to make sure everyone knows they aren't afraid to draft Clowney, and if you want him, you should probably make them an offer. It's long been assumed that Rams coach Jeff Fisher subscribes to the theory that you can never have too many pass-rushers. He confirmed those beliefs last week.

“We've proven in the last (two) years we can get pressure on the quarterback specifically with a four-man rush,” Fisher said. “And we've gotten pressure and effective rush from our backups. You can't get enough guys that can (rush).”

Rams general manager Les Snead has said on multiple occasions that the team's biggest need is experience. That would lend credence to the idea that if the Rams have to make a pick at No. 2, they wouldn't shy away from simply drafting the best player available.

But at the end of the day, it's hard to shake the thought that the Rams' ultimate goal is to auction off the second pick for a bounty of other picks and address a more pressing position on the offensive line, in the secondary or at receiver.

Clowney's big day might not have changed anything in terms of how he's viewed by talent evaluators, but it at least confirmed that if you're a team that wants him, you better be prepared to pay the price to move up.
ST. LOUIS -- Since taking over as the St. Louis Rams general manager in 2012, Les Snead has proved quite adept at pulling off the draft day trade.

Regardless of who sits across from him at the negotiating table, Snead and the Rams have been one of the most active teams in the league in the past two drafts. The team has made six trades involving draft picks in those two years, three in each. Buffalo, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston comprise the list of teams trading with the Rams in that time.

There's no common thread there, aside from the fact that all of them were interested in making a deal. Which is to say, though Snead obviously has his share of close ties around the league after having worked closely with guys like Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Cleveland GM Ray Farmer and Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell, it doesn't mean they're any easier to work with than anyone else.

"That helps, (but) that may be overblown though," Snead said. "You know just about everybody, so you don't pick up a phone and say, I'm calling a stranger. This is gonna be a cold call. But yeah, some relationships you have maybe make the initial calls easier. But I think it's a little overblown that the relationship is gonna get the deal done."

This year, those relationships might draw even more attention than in recent years simply because there are so many general managers with ties to Snead picking close to the Rams' No. 2 selection. Caldwell's Jaguars have the third pick, Farmer and the Browns hold the fourth choice and Dimitroff's Falcons sit at No. 6. Any of those teams would make sense as a possible trade down partner.

What could be more interesting is to see the outcome if more than one of the teams with a GM close to Snead wants to make a move up. Of course, the top priority is always to get the best deal for your team but in this case it's possible that those many close ties could actually make Snead's job more difficult on a personal level.

Keeping Saffold is Rams' top priority

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Be it now or after the start of the NFL free-agency period on March 11, the St. Louis Rams intend to keep offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.

At least, that was the company line coming from general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher on Friday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Rams have a handful of unrestricted free agents poised to hit the open market in a couple of weeks, but none are more important to shaping the offseason than Saffold. That's why the team is expected to meet with Saffold's representatives here this weekend and get further understanding of what it will take to retain him.

Saffold
In the meantime, Fisher and Snead emphasized the importance of bringing him back when asked about it Friday.

Fisher even went so far as to reveal the team's plan for Saffold in the event the Rams can get his signature on a contract.

"Obviously it’s important for us to get that done," Fisher said. "He’s expressed serious interest in coming back as well. So it does give us flexibility. But I think ultimately he’s going to be an outstanding guard in this league. Now that doesn’t mean you say he could not play either tackle, because this year he stepped in when Jake [Long] went down and stepped in and played some really good football at tackle."

That's a sentiment Snead willingly echoed.

"He's definitely a priority this offseason for us," Snead said. "Those situations, they're gonna run their course, and in time we'll know."

Considering the many moving parts on the Rams' offensive line heading into the offseason, keeping Saffold would be an obvious move to lessen the burden. Saffold's ability to be, as Fisher puts it, an outstanding guard, makes him appealing. His ability to play both tackle spots and hold his own there makes him a necessity.

Starting left guard Chris Williams is also scheduled for free agency, center Scott Wells and guard Harvey Dahl are potential cap casualties, and left tackle Long is recovering from a torn ACL and MCL. That leaves plenty of question marks along the offensive line. Having Saffold in the mix could potentially alleviate some of those concerns.

"I’ve learned from people wiser than me that being versatile is something," Snead said. "The ability to be versatile at guard and left tackle and right tackle, usually it’s maybe both guards and center, but that’s a nice piece or asset to have."

It's also an asset that other teams wouldn't mind having. Other teams have already expressed interest in Saffold's services. The fact that teams and agents spend the week together in Indianapolis will do nothing but further fuel that fire.

Beyond that, as teams begin using the franchise tag to retain their own key players, Saffold's status as one of the top available linemen should only grow.

The hardest part for the Rams will be determining what a fair price is, but also what price will get a deal done to keep Saffold off the market. With free agency so close, that figures to be a difficult proposition.

Saffold's injury history -- he's missed 17 games and parts of others in four seasons -- is a red flag that could give the Rams and others some pause before handing over a big contract.

Despite the expected interest from other teams and the cost it would take to keep Saffold from testing the market, Fisher seems optimistic about the Rams' chances.

"It’s not an easy thing to do what he did, and then go back and play tackle at a high level and then go back to guard," Fisher said. "He is very athletic, he’s very talented. He’s good with that. He understands that. He’d welcome the opportunity to come back and play inside."
ST. LOUIS -- As college football 'All Star' games go, this week's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is the most well regarded among NFL teams.

Senior Bowl week began in earnest Monday morning with the weigh-ins for the players and will really get rolling Monday afternoon with the first pair of practices for the two teams. From a St. Louis Rams' perspective, this week represents the culmination of the first phase of the offseason, the aptly named 'All Star' season as general manager Les Snead likes to call it.

With the Medal of Honor game, the East-West Shrine game and the NFLPA bowl all in the books, all that's left is the Senior Bowl. For the Rams, it's a game that's been quite meaningful since Snead began leading the scouting and drafting efforts.

In 2012, the Rams drafted cornerback Janoris Jenkins, receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead after they appeared in Mobile. Safety T.J. McDonald became a third-round pick for the Rams last year after playing in the game.

For the better part of the past month, Snead and his staff have been working through this phase by using the college all-star games to confirm or possibly bolster grades for different players who will be available in the coming draft.

"As an example, if we've got a guy that's a college free agent, and all of a sudden he's getting a lot of checks through this offseason process, then we may go take a separate guy and go watch him from his game tape," Snead said. "And go, you know what, we may have missed and let's move him up."

The Senior Bowl is generally populated with players expected to land higher in the pecking order than college free agents or the seventh round, though some of those players do make their way to Mobile. This year's roster took some major hits late with players opting out by choice or by injury. The record-setting proliferation of underclassmen to declare also will likely keep the number of Senior Bowl players to land in the first round lower than usual.

That doesn't mean the game can't be a springboard for some. Last year was a perfect example, especially for players from a smaller school who might not see top competition every week.

"Eric Fisher last year, that Senior Bowl helped him," Snead said. "He goes from Central Michigan, and really, he probably had played Michigan State. Each of those schools play somebody good, and then all of a sudden he goes down there and has a good Senior Bowl against some better comp, and I'm sure that helped him rise. It really didn't say, 'Hey, make him a first-rounder,' but all of sudden he's a top 5-10 pick."

Each team varies in how it chooses to approach the game. The Rams will have their entire scouting staff in attendance and since they already have what they call the "Ram grades" on each player, each scout will be assigned a position to watch. From there, they'll use the opportunity to sort of cross-check what they've already seen. Likewise, they'll also make time to talk to many of the prospects in attendance, even if just for a few moments.

It's unlikely that the week of practices will do enough to cause a major shakeup of the Rams' general idea of players, but there's certainly value to be found in the game.

"We've got a little system, a process that we grade the practices and the game, that are totally separate from their team grade going into this whole process," Snead said. "So what may happen in this whole deal is you may have a guy where it says take him in the sixth round, take him in the seventh round, college free agent, all of a sudden he's got those checks for good all-star game, good practice. And we've got a lot of other different factors that we'll do that with. And all of a sudden you look at this guy and here's this name amongst 20 others but he's got six out of 10 checks. The other guy only has one, well maybe that breaks the tie. So that's a little bit what the all-star game can do."

Rams still in need of top receiver

January, 16, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- Less than 24 hours after the St. Louis Rams' 2013 season had come to an end with a blowout loss to Seattle, coach Jeff Fisher was asked how his team can catch up to the Seahawks and the rest of the NFC West.

The Seahawks’ dominant defense, much like Arizona’s and San Francisco’s before it, had stifled the Rams' offense. After spending another afternoon stuck in the mud with just 158 yards of total offense, Fisher pointed to the obvious solution.

“All three teams play really good defense, and we’ve got to play better offense and score more points to compete with them,” Fisher said.

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis and Tavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastThe Rams used a first-round pick on receiver Tavon Austin last year, but that doesn't mean they will shy away from receivers early in the upcoming draft.
As the Rams prepare for free agency and the NFL draft, those words should loom large in determining the direction they take. It should also yield an added emphasis on finding more playmakers at wide receiver.

St. Louis finished 30th in the league in total yards and 22nd in offensive points scored in 2013. In some sense those numbers were skewed by the absence of starting quarterback Sam Bradford, and some strange scenarios, such as the Houston game where the Rams jumped to such a big lead and got so many big plays from the defense and special teams that the offense wasn’t needed.

The Rams played nine games against the top seven defenses in the league in terms of total yards allowed. Clearly, that’s a big reason for the Rams’ lack of production. It’s also a big reason the Rams need to get better offensively, considering three of those defenses are in the NFC West and not going anywhere anytime soon.

After the offense’s aborted attempt to go to a more wide-open attack in the first four games, Fisher and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer returned to their run-heavy roots in Game 5 with rookie back Zac Stacy in the lead role.

That attack gave the Rams a chance week to week, but it was exposed by defenses capable of stopping the run. Never was that more evident than in the season finale against Seattle when the Seahawks shut down Stacy and forced Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens to try to beat them through the air.

Clemens, who had most of his success when the run game was working, simply wasn’t able to take advantage. Not all the blame for that should go on Clemens. Those struggles exposed a bigger issue that has remained a problem for the Rams since the heyday of Torry Holt: the lack of a top receiver capable of regularly creating separation against top cornerbacks on the outside.

Chris Givens led Rams receivers in yards with 569. For greater context, the Rams haven’t had a wideout reach even 700 receiving yards since Holt in 2008, nevermind 1,000 yards, which Holt hit in 2007. A total of 57 receivers -- not including tight ends and running backs -- finished with more yards than Givens in 2013.

Asked last week how he views a receiving corps with so little production, Rams general manager Les Snead said he still has faith in the team’s young group.

“Statistically, you’ve heard me say teams win, individuals don’t,” Snead said. “We’re in this fantasy football type age, and I think if you look at seven of the top 10 pass-catchers, seven of the top 10 didn’t make the playoffs. So there’s three of them who are in. So yes, those guys are really good individual players, had great seasons, it didn’t mean their teams made the playoffs.”

Actually, four of the top 10 receivers in terms of yards made the postseason, but it’s also worth noting that nine of the 12 teams making the playoffs had a 1,000-yard receiver. The three that didn’t -- Seattle, Carolina and Kansas City -- each had at least two pass-catchers more productive than the Rams’ leader regardless of position, tight end Jared Cook.

Of course, it’s also important to note that the Rams played the 2013 season with the youngest group of skill position players in the league, especially at receiver. Austin Pettis, in his third season, was the team’s most experienced wideout.

With that youth came plenty of growing pains, including a variety of dropped balls, route-running troubles and miscommunications. Bradford’s absence also has to be accounted for in looking at the numbers.

Still, the lack of production at wideout doesn’t seem to faze Snead, as evidenced by his response to the question on whether he believes the team still needs a No. 1 receiver.

“I go back to this and the answer is really 'no' on that,” Snead said. “I think our receivers right now, I truly believe as they progress and the oldest guy just finished his third year, we cannot have another receiver around here and we’re going to be a good football team.”

Rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey showed flashes of promise in their first season, and should figure prominently into the plans for 2014. The Rams seem prepared to remain patient with Brian Quick, and Givens certainly fills a role as a deep threat.

While Snead likes the progress of the receivers, it also doesn’t mean the team is necessarily averse to adding at the position. As is common at this time of year, Snead, Fisher and Co. are playing their cards close to the vest.

In the past two drafts, the Rams have used four picks on wideouts, including the No. 8 overall choice on Austin a year ago. But that doesn’t mean they should stand pat at the position.

Even if it means using a premium draft pick to add one, for the Rams to have a chance to overcome the elite defenses in the division they must find a way to add a consistent difference-maker at wide receiver.
ST. LOUIS -- As the offseason approaches, there's no spot on the St. Louis Rams' roster with more questions than the offensive line.

Of the five linemen who opened the season as starters in 2013, it's possible that none will be available for opening day in 2014.

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceRodger Saffold's versatility on the offensive line is a major reason why the St. Louis Rams will work to retain the fourth-year pro in 2014.
Rodger Saffold and Chris Williams are set to become unrestricted free agents. Center Scott Wells and right guard Harvey Dahl are under contract, but with salary cap numbers projected at $6.5 million and $4 million, respectively, either or both could become salary cap casualties.

To top it off, left tackle Jake Long suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 15 against Tampa Bay and at the very least would be cutting a return for the opener awfully close.

Put simply, the Rams have much to figure out in free agency and the draft.

"That's what the offseason is for," general manager Les Snead said. "We have got a plan so it's not a stressful situation. It's something that has got a lot of moving parts that we've got to address and keep them from moving."

As is often the case with offseason plans, Snead declined to elaborate on what the Rams' strategy for the line is moving forward. Regardless, it's probably a safe bet the Rams will be making some changes and adding some new pieces one way or another.

While decisions on Wells and Dahl may be the first order of business, figuring out a way to retain Saffold is the one piece of the puzzle Snead made clear the Rams are looking to figure out.

Saffold moved to right tackle in the offseason and started the year there before a knee injury cost him four games. He returned and began rotating with his replacement, Joe Barksdale, for a few weeks before settling in at right guard when Dahl suffered a knee injury.

There, Saffold showed the ability to be a potentially elite guard. Coach Jeff Fisher even acknowledged that Saffold's unique skills when pulling made him a good fit for the spot long term.

Asked directly if Saffold's versatility makes retaining him an important cog in the offseason plans, Snead acknowledged that it did.

"I would say yes," Snead said. "You love versatility on your offensive line. Take it broader than that, a lot of times you're keeping seven and eight up on game day, so when you've got a lot of versatility you can keep seven up and now your special teams are stronger."

The question then becomes how Saffold is valued around the league and whether teams see him as a guard or tackle and pay him as such. Snead believes the delineation of value among the line spots has blurred in recent years, making that an issue that may not matter much when it comes to Saffold.

"I think today in the NFL, it's not like it (used to be)," Snead said. "Now you see right tackles getting paid if they're really good, you see guards getting paid if they're really good. A lot of teams probably, it's not utopia so your best two players might be your right tackle and right guard so those teams usually pay them. I think it's a little broader now."

One more way for the Rams to fill possible line vacancies is from within. Snead expressed confidence in the development of rookie lineman Barrett Jones and the Rams have other young linemen such as guard Brandon Washington and tackle Mike Person in whom they've invested plenty of time and effort.

Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has proved more than capable of bringing along young linemen and putting them in position to succeed. Barksdale's success in 2013 is a prime example.

The Rams will add to the line in the offseason, likely through the draft. Whether they use a high pick on a lineman remains to be seen, especially given Fisher and Snead's short two-year track record of not drafting linemen early.

Still, with the Rams having an extra first-round pick and likely obvious needs on the line, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make it a priority in this draft.

By the time the draft rolls around in May, the Rams will have a good handle on what form the line is set to take. The contract situations will be decided and free agency will be complete.

For now, it's obvious Snead and the Rams aren't worried about the possible line alterations.

"One will be a rehab situation; one is an unrestricted free agent," Snead said. "Of any group I was most proud of, it was that group this year. I have a heart for offensive linemen because that's your basketball team. It's not just one great player. It's five guys working together."

The question for the Rams in 2014 is who those five will be.

Rams seal second pick from Redskins

December, 29, 2013
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When St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher arrived as head coach after the 2011 season, he made a promise to Rams fans everywhere that his team would not hold the second pick in the NFL draft again under his watch.

That’s a promise Fisher will be happy to break after his team added the No. 2 selection in the 2014 NFL draft to the ever-growing haul it received from the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

The Redskins’ 20-6 loss to the New York Giants dropped them to 3-13 on the year, the second worst record in the NFL and wrapped up the second spot in the pecking order.

Of course, it’s a pick Washington now must hand over to the Rams as the final piece of the 2012 pre-draft trade that sent the No. 2 overall pick to Washington in exchange for a package of picks, including the Redskins’ first-round choice in 2014.

While the Rams have a chance to finish the season 8-8 with a win against Seattle on Sunday, they already have a big victory in the form of that pick from Washington.

Since the Rams were officially eliminated from playoff contention early this month, the speculation about what they’ll do in the draft began in earnest. Now, the four-plus month silly season can really begin.

There are a lot of things that have to play out between now and the draft in May but it’s probably safe to assume that Rams general manager Les Snead and Fisher will look to turn the last pick of a big trade into another big haul that can continue to perpetuate itself for the next few years.

What isn’t known at this point is whether there will be enough interest in the No. 2 pick to make another big deal. It’s unlikely there will be a player of as much interest as Robert Griffin III was before the 2012 draft and thus the Rams probably won’t be able to get three first-round picks and a second-rounder out of prospective trade partners.

That doesn’t mean the Rams won’t find interest. A top quarterback or possibly South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could draw a nice return for the Rams which could allow them to slide down a few spots, pick up some more picks and still land a player at a position of need such as Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to go through the many options and permutations that await between now and the draft.

For now, the Rams and their fans can be happy that they’ll be drafting second overall for the fourth time in eight years but this time they won’t have suffered through the monumental losing to acquire the pick.

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