St. Louis Rams: Alex Carrington

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When most free agents go shopping for a new home, the priority list usually looks something like money, playing time and a chance to win, in that order.

Carrington
For a free agent like new St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Alex Carrington, who is coming off a torn quadriceps, the money wasn't going to be what he wanted. Playing time would seem to take precedence so that his next contract could provide more cash. So as he sifted through interest from the likes of Oakland, Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, all would seem more appealing than the deep and talented group already present in St. Louis.

Carrington didn't quite see it that way. In fact, Carrington not only chose the Rams despite the presence of so much defensive line talent but because of it.

"I know it’s a pretty heavy rotation with the D-line," Carrington said. "There’s a lot of talented people. Why not be around talent? It helps step my game up and I can learn some things from people."

Those some people include the likes of ends Robert Quinn, Chris Long and William Hayes and tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. After signing a one-year "prove it" deal worth $1.5 million on March 25, Carrington could have reconsidered that sentiment when the Rams used the No. 13 overall pick on another defensive tackle, Aaron Donald.

He didn't.

"I wasn’t really concerned about who they drafted," Carrington said. "I started looking at some stuff about him and he’s a talented kid. I’m glad to be on his team."

And the Rams are clearly glad to have Carrington on theirs. Entering free agency, the team made it clear that they wouldn't be spending big money on the open market, instead searching for potential bargains.

Although defensive tackle didn't jump out as the most glaring need, the Rams viewed it as an important area to upgrade behind starters Brockers and Langford. They identified Carrington as a potential fit right away, noting his positional versatility in Buffalo and the chance to get him at a bargain price as he rebounded from the injury.

The Rams kicked the tires on other possibilities such as Henry Melton and Antonio Smith but Carrington remained right at the top of the list. Upon visiting St. Louis, Carrington felt at home right away after having played his college ball not far away at Arkansas State. He hit it off with coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle and immediately liked their plan for how to deploy him.

"The D-line is a big part of this team and I’d like to be a part of that," Carrington said. "Just hearing stories about the guys before I came was a big part of it. I know they play good, attack defense. I wanted to be a part of that, I really did."

In coming to St. Louis, Carrington will also get an opportunity different than anything he did for the Bills. While Buffalo also fielded a talented group around him, Carrington played a little bit of everything from nose tackle to outside linebacker in the team's ever-changing schemes. Despite that evolving role, Carrington never really got to play in an aggressive system that allowed him to get up the field.

That's why Carrington doesn't come to St. Louis with a particularly impressive statistical resume. In 44 career games, the former third-round pick has a pedestrian 52 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble.

"Here it’s go all the time," Carrington said. "I have been part of more read schemes in the past and stuff like that. Here, we just go. Pin your ears back and that kind of excites me a little bit that I actually get to play a style of football that’s conducive to production."

The question then becomes how many opportunities Carrington will get to contribute. In 2013, backup defensive tackles Matt Conrath and Jermelle Cudjo combined for just 338 snaps. That duo struggled to produce, often forcing the Rams to move end William Hayes and Eugene Sims inside. By way of comparison, Carrington played 155 snaps in only three games.

With Carrington and Donald in place, the Rams should be able to keep Sims and Hayes outside on a more consistent basis and continue rotating their top eight linemen without skipping a beat.

From a health perspective, Carrington says he's close to 100 percent and has spent the recent organized team activities knocking off any rust. And he's left any leftover disappointment from the injury in the past.

"As soon as it happened, I was like ‘No, not right now,’" Carrington said. "Contract year, I’ve got to do this. I was pretty upset about it for 15 minutes, 20 minutes. But then I was like ‘Well, you can’t do nothing but get better from here.’ You can’t get unhurt by being sad about it."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- True to their word, the St. Louis Rams have been one of the least active teams in free agency this year.

Instead of the big, splashy signings of recent years, the Rams opted to be bargain shoppers with the re-signings of offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar as the only deals extending beyond a single year.

That should come as no surprise as the Rams indicated that would be their approach early in the offseason. In sticking to that approach, the team has signed quarterback Shaun Hill, defensive lineman Alex Carrington, receiver Kenny Britt and guard Davin Joseph to one-year deals.

After adding 11 more players through the draft, the roster is mostly set and the initial 53 players to make the team out of camp will probably come from the group that's already in St. Louis. But the Rams could still make a couple of tweaks here and there to add depth, like they did in signing Joseph late last week.

Last year, the Rams continued looking at veteran options deep into the offseason, signing safety Matt Giordano on June 15 and linebacker Will Witherspoon on July 18. Of course, part of the Witherspoon addition later became clear because of a pending suspension for Dunbar, but Witherspoon did provide some much-needed depth behind the starting trio upon Dunbar's return.

Heading into 2014, the Rams have plenty of options at most positions, but linebacker and safety again represent logical positions where veteran depth might be needed.

At linebacker, the starting group of Dunbar, James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree is pretty well set. Ray-Ray Armstrong could push for playing time as he enters his second year, but beyond that, there simply aren't many known quantities in terms of contributing to the defense (and Armstrong isn't really one either). Armstrong and Daren Bates again figure to be core special teams players and the rest of the group includes unknown commodities like Etienne Sabino, Phillip Steward and Tavarius Wilson, among others.

The Rams could use a versatile, reliable veteran capable of playing anywhere in the group. As it stands, Dunbar is the de facto backup to Laurinaitis in the middle but adding someone who could play there as well at outside would make sense.

As for what's left on the market, should the Rams choose to add a veteran, Witherspoon, Pat Angerer, James Anderson, Jonathan Vilma, Desmond Bishop and Dan Connor are among the linebackers still unemployed.

At safety, the Rams have Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald and Maurice Alexander who seem all but certain to land roster spots. They'll probably keep four or five at the position leaving competition amongst the likes of Matt Daniels, Cody Davis and Christian Bryant.

Veteran safeties still on the market include Giordano, Quintin Mikell, Ed Reed, Jim Leonhard, Mike Adams and Will Hill.

Of course, all of the names mentioned above come with some sort of red flag -- age, off the field issues or simple lack of productivity -- which is why they're available this late in the game. The Rams have proved time and again they won't add veterans just for the sake of doing it, so any move made would be because they see an obvious upgrade to what they already have.

As the Rams open organized team activities this week, they'll get a chance to evaluate the players already on the roster. From there, they'll be able to determine if they need to dip their toes back into free agency.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- With the NFL draft and free agency complete, the St. Louis Rams' 53-man roster will probably come mostly from the players already on the team.

With organized team activities less than a week away, we take a look at where each position stands heading into next week. The next in the series continues today by examining the defensive tackles.

Who returns: Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, Matt Conrath

Who is new: Aaron Donald, Alex Carrington, Deantre Harlan, Ethan Westbrooks

Who is gone: Jermelle Cudjo

Projected starters: Brockers, Langford

Pending competition: Much like defensive end, it looks like four spots here are already accounted for with the quartet of Brockers, Langford, Donald and Carrington in firm control. Within that group, there could be competition between Donald and Langford for the starting job alongside Brockers but coach Jeff Fisher has already indicated that Donald will get a lot of his work in sub-packages and passing downs. Really, it doesn't matter who starts the game because both Donald and Langford will play a lot. Carrington is something of the forgotten man but also could play a pass-rushing role on third down and will be in the mix as part of the rotation. Also like defensive end, any additional bodies here will likely be a fifth player who is a developmental prospect. Conrath is an incumbent but might have a bit of an uphill climb to land a roster spot for a third straight season after watching the team add Donald and Carrington and part with Cudjo. Westbrooks is an intriguing prospect, too, and one the Rams think highly of after handing him the largest ($20,000) signing bonus among the undrafted rookies.

Outlook: The Rams have to feel comfortable with the long-term stability and upside they have with Brockers and Donald likely to be around for a long time. Langford is still under contract for two more years and has only improved as he's gotten more comfortable playing inside in a 4-3 defense. Carrington's contract is only for a year but if he plays his role well, he could be brought back. The Rams have made major commitments to the defensive line and those commitments have paid off handsomely the past two years. Led by Brockers and the expected production of Donald, there's no reason to think this position, like end, is in anything but good hands for the foreseeable future.
The past week saw the St. Louis Rams finally dip their toes into the free-agent pool, signing a pair of veterans in defensive tackle Alex Carrington and quarterback Shaun Hill and taking a flyer on under-the-radar youngsters in cornerback Greg Reid and linebacker Etienne Sabino.

It was also a busy week for coach Jeff Fisher, who spent most of the time discussing potential rule changes and alterations at the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Fisher also spent some time chatting with reporters, offering some thoughts on a variety of issues.

A look back at the week that was:

  • [+] EnlargeTavon Austin
    Tony Avelar/AP PhotoThe Rams are hoping to get more out of receiver Tavon Austin in his second season.
    After trading up to the eighth pick in the NFL draft last year, the Rams selected receiver/returner Tavon Austin in hopes that he'd provide a spark to an offense in desperate need of one. In his rookie year, Austin certainly flashed that game-changing ability, especially against Indianapolis and Chicago, but missed time at the end of the year with an ankle injury and fell short of the many lofty outside expectations for him.
But the Rams have no concerns about that. In Orlando, Fisher expressed confidence Austin would take the next step in 2014 and the team would have a better idea of ways to best use him.

“We’re not disappointed in what his production was last year at all," Fisher said. "One of the things that was misleading was he had two or three returns called back -- one against Dallas --and then he got hurt. I think another year in the program, in the offense, OTAs, training camp, you’ll see more production. I think we’ll do a better job of using him now that we know what he’s capable of doing. Kind of looking forward to see him improve from year one to year two."

  • Signing Carrington was no surprise in that the Rams were looking for help on the defensive line. It was a little more of a surprise that he was the team's first free-agent addition from another team. St. Louis saw great value in Carrington, who has the ability to play all over the line and signed a relatively cheap one-year deal.
“We just wanted rotational depth at the tackle spot," Fisher said. "We’ve had over 100 sacks the last two years, so we can rush the passer, I think we can continue [that]. We just wanted some more experience at that spot. It will take a little of the draft pressure off us at some point. Alex has been injured, healthy now and has played a lot of different positions in a number of schemes in the last couple years and hasn’t been able to settle down. We liked him coming out, we thought he would be a disruptive type pass rusher and run defender and we’d like to give him a chance to do that."

Carrington is coming off a torn quad but the Rams have no concerns about his health moving forward.

  • It's no secret the Rams have interest in help on the offensive line as many have linked them to the top three tackles: Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. The first two are expected to go in the top six or so but Lewan's status is a little more of a question mark given some off-field issues.
Fisher didn't want to speculate on how that might change the way the team views Lewan but said it will require a deeper look.

“It doesn’t cause you pause in evaluating, but it certainly going to cause to do more background and research on it," Fisher said.

  • Finally, anytime a player like receiver DeSean Jackson comes available, the obvious question is whether the Rams would have interest in him. Clearly, the Rams could use a No. 1 type of receiver and a proven one like Jackson might make even more sense than taking a chance on even the most talented receiver in the draft.
Jackson is scheduled to visit Washington first and Oakland and Buffalo have also expressed interest. Indications from the Rams are that they won't be involved in this particular conversation in any sort of serious way. While the Rams could use the help, they don't have a lot of salary cap space to use on a player who would probably require another big cap number. Theoretically they could give him a smaller number in the first year but that would require them to backload the deal more than they'd like and eat up valuable space that could be used on extensions for current players in the next few years.

There's also the idea that Jackson would be a bit redundant with Austin, which is to say they are both smaller receivers with games built on speed and change of direction. Not that both players couldn't succeed but it still may not be the best fit.

Beyond all of that, there's the larger X factor of why, exactly, Philadelphia released such a productive player under contract in the prime of his career. One way or another, the Eagles had their reasons and, like Fisher mentioned with Lewan, there will need to be some major legwork done by any team looking to add Jackson.
One of the most popular free-agent buzz terms being tossed around these days is "prove-it contract," as in a player signing a one-year deal in hopes of proving his worth for a bigger, more lucrative contract a year from now.

Carrington
The St. Louis Rams have almost exclusively shopped for players who fall into this category, at least when it comes to free-agent additions from other teams. Defensive lineman Alex Carrington agreed to a deal with the Rams earlier this week and, based on the contract information courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, his deal is the very definition of "prove it."

Here's how Carrington's contract looks for those of you keeping score:

2014

Base salary: $1,000,000
Roster bonus: $500,000 (Paid at signing)
Cap value: $1.5 million
Cash value: $1.5 million
Guaranteed money: $1 million -- the $500,000 roster bonus and $500,000 of the base salary are fully guaranteed.
Two years after they first pursued him, the St. Louis Rams finally landed veteran quarterback Shaun Hill on Wednesday as he agreed to terms on a one-year deal as first reported by ESPN Insider Adam Caplan.

Hill
Hill visited with the Rams more than a week ago and departed St. Louis without coming to terms on a contract as he apparently spent time considering a return to Detroit. He went through a similar decision-making process in 2012 when the Rams attempted to sign him away from the Lions before he ultimately re-signed in the Motor City.

This time, the allure of St. Louis was apparently too much for Hill to ignore. Hill keeps a home at the Lake of the Ozarks and is also close with Rams quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti after they worked together in San Francisco.

In landing Hill, the Rams get the veteran backup for starter Sam Bradford they wanted. Hill replaces Kellen Clemens, who signed with San Diego early in free agency.

The 34-year old Hill originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Minnesota in 2002 but didn't get the chance to throw a pass in a regular season game until 2007 with the 49ers.

For his career, Hill has played in 34 games with 26 starts, throwing for 6,381 yards, 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions while completing almost 62 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 85.9. Coincidentally, some of Hill's best games have come against the Rams. He's started four games against St. Louis, all victories, and posted a passer rating better than 100 in three of those contests.

While Hill doesn't come to St. Louis with the same knowledge of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense that Clemens had, he does represent a clear upgrade in talent and demonstrated production throughout the course of his career. Considering his ties to Cignetti, Hill should be able to get up to speed quickly and offer a solid alternative behind Bradford.

And though Hill is likely to handle the No. 2 duties in 2014, this probably won't preclude the Rams from using one of their 12 picks in May's draft on a quarterback. The Rams have maintained throughout the offseason that they'd like to add a young quarterback capable of growing into a top backup role behind Bradford. Having Hill for a season would allow whoever that rookie is to come in and learn for a season before having to jump into action should something happen to Bradford.

Likewise, Hill provides early-season insurance in case something goes wrong with Bradford's recovery from ACL surgery.

Much like the team's Tuesday addition of defensive lineman Alex Carrington, Hill is a solid, logical addition who isn't going to break the bank. The Rams have remained patient in free agency and though the approach has kept them from filling some of their major holes, it's starting to pay off in the form of solid depth at positions of need.
The St. Louis Rams finally dipped their toes into the free-agent waters Tuesday afternoon, coming to terms on a one-year deal with Buffalo defensive lineman Alex Carrington.

Unlike the recent additions of cornerback Greg Reid and linebacker Etienne Sabino, Carrington is the first player the Rams have added in free agency who has played in the NFL for a different organization. He's also a sound, logical pickup for a team that has clearly coveted more depth on the interior of the defensive line.

Carrington
The Rams showed early interest in Carrington, Henry Melton and Antonio Smith, even going so far as hosting the latter two on visits. When Melton chose Dallas and Smith opted for Oakland, the Rams concentrated their search for help behind starters Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford on Carrington.

Based on all that movement, the Rams clearly viewed additional help on the interior rotation as one of free agency's main priorities. And rightfully so. Backup defensive tackles Jermelle Cudjo and Matt Conrath didn't provide much help behind the starters in 2013. Cudjo had a strong enough 2012 to earn a contract extension last offseason but followed with 11 tackles and not much else in his 209 snaps in 13 games in 2013. Conrath got opportunities to contribute last year as well, playing eight games and 129 snaps with seven tackles and a sack.

Defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims were actually better options behind the starters when they moved inside but that left Robert Quinn and Chris Long taking on larger than expected workloads every week. Adding another piece to the middle should allow more breathers for Long and Quinn.

In Carrington, the Rams are getting just the type of versatile piece that defensive line coach Mike Waufle likes to groom. At 6-foot-5, 301 pounds, Carrington has lined up all over the line in his four years in Buffalo, though playing end in a 3-4 alignment has been his most consistent spot. That spot is common in terms of translation to defensive tackle in a 4-3 front and, in fact, is the same move Langford made with the Rams after coming over from Miami.

Originally a third-round draft pick out of Arkansas State, Carrington played 44 games in four seasons with the Bills. He posted 52 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in that time.

The Rams have been patient in free agency and are the last team to sign an outside free agent. And while this one may not make much of a splash on the surface, it looks the part of another under-the-radar defensive line move the Rams have made under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead (the Hayes signing). Hayes was a fifth-round pick without much on his résumé when he departed Tennessee and has blossomed under the guidance of the well-respected Waufle.

Carrington actually has even less tangible production than Hayes did when he came to St. Louis but it wouldn't be much of a surprise if Waufle and a talented and competitive defensive line group has a similar effect on Carrington.

Rams searching for depth at DT

March, 19, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite showing interest in a handful of free agents, the St. Louis Rams have yet to make any moves on the open market aside from re-signing two of their own.

Eventually, the team will likely add at least one outside free agent, but it's interesting to note the players the Rams have showed interest in during the first eight days of free agency. There's been a veteran quarterback (Shaun Hill), a pair of offensive linemen (Davin Joseph and Daryl Colledge) and a wide receiver (Kenny Britt).

But there's one position where the Rams seem most intent on adding depth and it's not one that ranked high on most outside pre-free agency lists: defensive tackle.

The Rams have expressed interest in, hosted visits for or both for potential defensive tackle options Henry Melton, Antonio Smith and Alex Carrington. Melton completed his free-agent tour Tuesday in St. Louis before deciding to sign with the Dallas Cowboys. Smith was supposed to visit St. Louis but the Oakland Raiders didn't let him leave without signing a deal.

Carrington remains on the market though it's still unclear if he'll visit the Rams. He's had interest from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Oakland and though there have been reports that he would visit St. Louis, it has yet to happen.

Regardless of how things play out with Carrington, it's obvious from some of the players the Rams are vetting that they are looking to upgrade their depth on the interior of the defensive line and they believe they can find a veteran bargain to provide it.

The interest in interior help on the defensive line might have some wondering what it means for the future of starter Kendall Langford, but all indications from the team are that any additional help coming in would be as part of the rotation behind Langford and fellow starter Michael Brockers. Langford has been better than given credit for since arriving in St. Louis and really seemed to settle into his new spot -- he played end in a 3-4 for Miami before signing with the Rams -- the second half of the 2013 season.

Langford
Although Langford carries a $6 million cap number into the 2014 season, the Rams have showed no signs of wanting to part ways with him. And they shouldn't, given Langford's performance. He posted 49 tackles and five sacks last year and was a key in the team's improved efforts against the run in the final eight games.

Instead, added help on the interior would serve as a chance to improve over current backup defensive tackles Jermelle Cudjo and Matt Conrath. Cudjo had a strong enough 2012 to earn a contract extension last offseason but followed with 11 tackles and not much else in his 209 snaps in 13 games in 2013. Conrath got opportunities to contribute last year as well, playing eight games and 129 snaps with seven tackles and a sack.

Defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims actually proved better as options inside behind Brockers and Langford. And though the Rams had plenty of success with the four defensive ends look on third down, the belief here is that they'd like to find ways to lessen the need for Hayes and/or Sims to spend so much time inside and allow them to provide more breathers for Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the edge.

The NFL draft will provide plenty of chances for the Rams to fill some but not all needs. From the looks of things, defensive tackle is one the Rams would prefer not to wait on.

Rams' Day 2 free-agent notes

March, 12, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams were completely silent on the first day of free agency. On day 2, they haven't exactly made much noise but there are at least a couple of whispers of potential activity.

Some quick thoughts on what's going on with the Rams as free agency moves past the first wave of expensive, splashy signings.
  • The Rams aren't swaying from their patient approach to free agency. Wednesday morning, the team saw starting left guard Chris Williams depart for Buffalo while his backup, Shelley Smith, visited the New York Giants. Smith has a visit set up with the New England Patriots for Thursday if he doesn't sign with the Giants. St. Louis had interest in keeping Williams and still has a little (though not much) in retaining Smith. It's likely both will move on. We covered the ground on Williams earlier but for what it's worth, losing Williams and Smith isn't a big deal for the Rams other than it takes away a couple of guys who could provide solid depth. But the Rams can find and develop others to provide that depth. It's the starting five where upgrades are most needed and neither Smith nor Williams would have represented a line getting better had they stayed in St. Louis as starters.
  • Speaking of the offensive line, the free-agent market simply doesn't offer much in the way of options who actually would provide an upgrade to the team's starting five. But the Rams are kicking the tires on at least one veteran option. Tampa Bay guard Davin Joseph is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday night for a visit. Joseph was once one of the league's best interior players but a knee injury cost him the 2012 season and though he played 16 games last year, he was unable to return to his previous form. Joseph does have ties to the Rams as chief operating officer Kevin Demoff was in Tampa for a few years early in Joseph's career. It's hard to imagine Joseph will draw a big-dollar offer so he might be worth a flier on a one-year "prove it" type of deal but anything beyond that would be extraneous.
  • Elsewhere on the interest front, the Rams have expressed some in Buffalo defensive lineman Alex Carrington. Carrington has spent his career as a 3-4 lineman, operating more as a space eater type but would transition inside in a 4-3 defense. The Rams would like to add help on the interior to help lighten the load on backup ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims and join the rotation behind starters Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. Carrington doesn't have much history as a pass rusher, posting four sacks in four seasons, but he might be able to generate more pressure if moved to defensive tackle in an attacking 4-3 defense such as the Rams'. Reports indicate Cleveland also has interest and that might be the more logical fit. Carrington played for Browns head coach Mike Pettine in Buffalo last year.
  • One quick housekeeping note: The Rams opted not to offer the exclusive rights tender to defensive back Quinton Pointer on Tuesday.

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