- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was less than a month ago that Jo-Lonn Dunbar was working with the first-team defense in practice at his usual linebacker position. As of early Tuesday evening, he's no longer a Ram.
The series of events that led to the news is a bit on the strange side but the move doesn't come as too much of a surprise given all that's happened since Dunbar's suspension was first announced.
Entering the second year of a two-year deal with the Rams, Dunbar looked poised to have another strong season next to running mate James Laurinaitis and potentially cash in with a nice payday as an unrestricted free agent after the season.
That all changed on Aug. 14 when a league spokesman announced that Dunbar would be suspended for four games because of a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke out the following day and made it quite clear he wasn't happy with Dunbar's mistake.
"First and foremost, we are very, very disappointed in his choices and his decisions," Fisher said then. "It's selfish, it hurts the team but we also see it as an opportunity to learn from a mistake, so we discussed it with the entire squad last night and I think everybody understands the responsibilities that each and every player has as far as taking care of themselves and what you can do and what you can't do."
The Rams moved quickly to demote Dunbar from the first-team defense and plug veteran Will Witherspoon in his spot. Fisher went so far as to say that upon return from his suspension, Dunbar's position would be "re-evaluated" in terms of whether or not he'd get his job back. Apparently that evaluation has already taken place, given Tuesday's news.
Dunbar's workload in the preseason was relatively limited. He played 63 snaps in the four exhibition games, including just three against Green Bay in the second contest. Dunbar's tenuous situation provided opportunities for undrafted free agents Daren Bates and Ray Ray Armstrong to get plenty of work, which each player took advantage of.
Armstrong earned the second most snaps among linebackers behind rookie Alec Ogletree and secured a roster spot with his consistent performance. When the Rams announced their cuts to the 53-man roster on Saturday, Armstrong and Bates made the team, along with fellow undrafted rookie Jonathan Stewart.
All of that came after it had long been established that Ogletree would stay on the field all three downs in nickel packages alongside Laurinaitis, a role Dunbar held in 2012.
While the Rams are clearly high on that trio of youngsters at the position, Dunbar's release probably goes a bit deeper than simply being replaced. Fisher and the Rams have made it repeatedly clear that if given the choice between a veteran and a young player with potential, they prefer not to block the young player from getting the reps needed to get up to speed.
Adding Dunbar's pending free agency to the mix as well as a salary-cap hit that was scheduled to come in south of $2 million but could have gone up to $2.3 million (including expected reachable bonuses) this season for a team tight up against it almost certainly contributed to the move as well. The move should save the Rams in the neighborhood of $1.4 million. After the suspension, it seemed a near certainty that Dunbar wouldn't be back with the Rams.
Parting ways sooner than later allows them more flexibility under the cap and the chance to develop a long-term replacement opposite Ogletree.