QB Kyle Boller, FB Mike Karney, WR Ronald Curry, WR Laurent Robinson, TE Billy Bajema, C Jason Brown, DT Hollis Thomas, S James Butler.
OT Jason Smith, ILB James Laurinaitis, CB Bradley Fletcher, DT Dorell Scott, WR Brooks Foster, QB Keith Null, RB Chris Ogbonnaya.
RB Travis Minor, FB Brian Leonard, FB Dan Kreider, WR Torry Holt, WR Drew Bennett, WR Dane Looker, TE Anthony Becht, OT Orlando Pace, OT Brandon Gorin, C Nick Leckey, C Brett Romberg, C Cory Withrow, DE Eric Moore, DT La'Roi Glover, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, ILB Gary Stills, CB Fakhir Brown, CB Jason Craft, CB Ricky Manning Jr., SS Corey Chavous, KR Dante Hall.
2009 St. Louis Rams Offense:
Even if you're not a Rams fan, it's difficult not to feel sorry for Marc Bulger. Here are the number of sacks he's taken since 2003: 37 (15 games) in 2003; 41 (14 games) in 2004; 26 (8 games) in 2005; 49 (16 games) in 2006; 37 (12 games) in 2007; and 38 (15 games) in 2008.
Thanks to Mike Martz's flawed protection schemes, and massive injuries and/or lack of talent up front, it finally caught up to Bulger, who had the worst season of his career in 2008. Bulger completed 57 percent of his passes (career-low), threw just 11 touchdowns (career-low) to 13 picks, and maintained a laughable YPA of 6.2 (as you can guess, career-low). It's apparent that all of those hits have added up; poor Bulger probably has nightmares where pass-rushers debacle him from behind. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Meanwhile, poor Rams fans will be stuck with Bulger for at least another year. Bulger signed a 6-year, $65 million extension in July 2007, so his 2009 base salary of just $6.5 million made it impossible to cut him. Bulger is due $8.5 million in 2010, and with another year off his contract, he'll be very easy to release, especially given that he turns 33 a few weeks prior to the 2010 NFL Draft.
I should note that if Bulger bounces back with a strong 2009 campaign, he'll stick around. But the question is if he can actually throw more touchdowns than picks for the first time in 2006. My guess is no.
That said, it's apparent that general manager Billy Devaney clearly understands positional value, and he consequently made it an effort to upgrade the offensive front. In March, he signed Jason Brown, one of the better centers in the NFL. He then selected Jason Smith with the second-overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Smith will play right tackle this season before transitioning to the blind side in 2010 or 2011, a position currently occupied by the infamous Alex Barron.
Barron is known to be a major liability in pass protection; he yielded 7.5 sacks and was whistled for nine penalties in 2008. Believe it or not, those nine infractions were a career-low; he's had 16, 14 and 13 the years prior to 2008. On the bright side, Barron has been better at left tackle (and not by default), so with Orlando Pace gone, he'll have first crack at keeping opposing right ends from debacling Bulger. Still, if I'm Bulger, I wouldn't be too confident that I'm going concussion-free in 2009.
Two major holes up front are at the two guard positions. Right guard Richie Incognito embarrassed himself by surrendering 6.5 sacks and getting called for 11 penalties in 2008. Left guard Jacob Bell signed a 6-year, $36 million deal a year ago, but was a huge disappointment in his first campaign with the Rams.
Aside from the offensive line issues, Bulger lacks a No. 1 receiver. Donnie Avery played extremely well last year as a rookie, catching 53 passes for 674 yards and three scores. However, with Torry Holt gone, Avery will be drawing more coverage from No. 1 corners, and he'll also see tons of extra attention because there's no one proven across from him. Keenan Burton (13 career receptions) and Laurent Robinson (the No. 4 wideout in Atlanta) will be competing for the No. 2 job.
At tight end, Randy McMichael figures to bounce back from a disappointing 2008 campaign; he suffered a leg injury in October and played in just four games. McMichael, now 30, will be in his contract year, so he should be able to have his best season as a Ram. If he doesn't, the coaching staff likes Daniel Fells, who caught seven passes late in the season. Fells reportedly has looked great in minicamp.
If the Rams want to be a surprise upstart, one player who can't get injured is Steven Jackson. Jackson has missed eight games the past two years. In those eight contests, the Rams were 0-8, and their opponents outscored them 256-85. Jackson is one of the top running backs in the NFL; he has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards and 1,250 total yards in the last four seasons. It should be noted that his YPC in that span was never higher than 4.4, which should change with the additions of Jason Brown and Jason Smith.
2009 St. Louis Rams Defense:
Aside from the Lions, St. Louis' stop unit has been the laughing stock of the league the past few seasons, and 2008 was no different. The Rams ranked 31st against the run, 30th versus the pass, 31st in points allowed and 28th in yardage surrendered.
On defense, everything starts with getting to the quarterback, which would explain why the Rams couldn't stop anyone. The team as a whole generated 30 sacks, and no player had more than six. The two sack leaders, James Hall and Leonard Little, are 34 and 32, respectively.
However, that doesn't mean St. Louis will be even worse at getting to the quarterback in 2009; I really expect Chris Long to have a big year. Defensive ends almost always struggle as rookies, which would explain why Long had just four sacks in 2008. He has the talent to reach the double-digit plateau this season. Meanwhile, Adam Carriker should be able to collect a few sacks in Steve Spagnuolo's scheme. Carriker is no longer being asked to play nose tackle, so he'll able to focus squarely on getting to the quarterback.
St. Louis' secondary gave up an 8.2 YPA in 2008, but with an improved pass rush, that number should drop by at least a half a yard. Unfortunately, the secondary still has major issues. The Rams' top defensive back is Ronald Bartell, but they have no proven corner across from him. The horrifically inept Tye Hill is currently penciled into that position, but fans will be hoping that either second-year Justin King or rookie Bradley Fletcher will pass him on the depth chart.
Meanwhile, free safety O.J. Atogwe tends to get picks, but can really be a liability in coverage. Strong safety James Butler is used to Spagnuolo's scheme, but he was easily the weakest link in the Giants' secondary during their Super Bowl run. Butler is good in run support, but like Atogwe, he can easily be burnt by receivers.
Aside from signing Butler, the Rams have done a few things to improve their run defense. They acquired defensive tackles Dorell Scott (fourth-round pick) and Orien Harris (trade with Bengals) to beef up the middle. At 6-4, 320 pounds, Scott could eventually take over next to Carriker. Harris, meanwhile, can provide pass-rushing depth for Spagnuolo.
More importantly, the Rams used their second-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft on James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis, who could have easily gone in the first round, can be the leader that St. Louis' stop unit has needed for years. Rookie linebackers tend to thrive right away, so I'll be disappointed if Laurinaitis doesn't make an instant impact for the Rams.
Playing next to Laurinaitis, Will Witherspoon is a very solid weakside linebacker who played in the middle last year. Unfortunately, St. Louis has a huge hole at strongside linebacker; Pisa Tinoisamoa occupied that role in 2008, but was cut because he doesn't fit Spagnuolo's system. Because of this release, the Rams will have to endure the play of Chris Draft, Larry Grant or Quinton Culberson at that position for a year - which is more than enough to give Bulger yet another concussion.
2009 St. Louis Rams Schedule and Intangibles:
Remember when the Edwards Jones Dome was such a huge advantage for the Greatest Show on Turf? Now, not so much. Of St. Louis' five victories the past two years, three were on the road. Its lone home wins came against Joey Harrington's Falcons and Brad Johnson-led Cowboys. The team lost as hosts to numerous non-playoff squads in 2008, including Buffalo, Seattle and San Francisco.
On the bright side, of the Rams' final five losses, four of them were decided by four points or less. That was a welcome change from the beginning of the season, when St. Louis was outscored 147-43 in the first four weeks.
Josh Brown predictably did a great job replacing Jeff Wilkins, nailing 31-of-36 attempts, including 6-of-8 from 50-plus. Guess kicking in a dome is much better than doing so in the Pacific Northwest, huh?
Donnie Jones bombed punts on an incredible 50-yard average. He hit 21-of-83 kicks inside the 20.
The Rams failed to secure a touchdown on special teams, but at least they didn't give up a score; they surrendered five returns for scores in 2006 and 2007.
Looking for some winnable games, St. Louis has: Green Bay at home (Week 3), San Francisco on the road (Week 4), Minnesota at home (Week 5), Jacksonville on the road (Week 6), Detroit on the road (Week 8), Arizona at home (Week 11), Seattle at home (Week 12) and San Francisco at home (Week 17).
2009 St. Louis Rams Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 St. Louis Rams Analysis: The Rams still have a lot of work to do, but for the first time in years, they're heading in the right direction. General manager Billy Devaney clearly knows what he's doing, and unlike the previous regime, he and Spagnuolo have a legitimate plan.
I expect that 2009 will be the final season in a long while that St. Louis won't be competing for a playoff spot.
A year ago, I was laughing at the Rams for playing mini-golf the night before the draft to determine whom they would select at No. 2. Now, I'm disappointed that I can no longer laugh at their incompetence.
Unlike the previous regime, St. Louis now appears to have a plan. It found its franchise left tackle with the second pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. In the second round, the Rams took the best defensive player off the board. After that, they addressed a huge defensive need with corner Bradley Fletcher. And in Round 4, they strengthened their defensive line.
The Rams still have a long way to go. They'll need a franchise quarterback if Marc Bulger gets hurt yet again. They'll also have to acquire more offensive line and defensive help. But they clearly appear to be moving in the right direction for the first time in years.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
2. Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
In the NFL, you need a quarterback; you need to protect your quarterback; and you need to get to the other quarterback. The Rams couldn't take Mark Sanchez because they have too much money invested in Marc Bulger, and cutting/trading him would result in a huge penalty. So, this was a no-brainer. (Pick Grade: A)
35. James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State
James Laurinaitis becomes a leader of this defense. He was one of the top players available. It certainly looks like Billy Devaney knows what he's doing. (Pick Grade: A)
66. Bradley Fletcher, CB, Iowa
Yet another solid pick by the Rams. I didn't have Bradley Fletcher in the third round of my mock re-draft, but he certainly could have been there. St. Louis is taking solid value and addressing positions of dire need. I love what Billy Devaney has done thus far. (Pick Grade: A)
103. Dorell Scott, DT, Clemson
Wow, I'm not used to the Rams drafting so well. Unlike some other teams, the Rams understand that you have to either take high positional and/or draft value. (Pick Grade: A)
160. Brooks Foster, WR, North Carolina
You knew the Rams were going with a receiver at some point in this draft after cutting Torry Holt. This is Brooks Foster's draft range. Solid pick. (Pick Grade: B)
196. Keith Null, QB, West Texas A&M
New regime means new quarterback. Steve Spagnuolo wanted a developmental quarterback in the later rounds. (Pick Grade: B)
211. Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Texas
The Rams had to find an insurance policy for the suddenly oft-injured Steven Jackson. The value was right for Chris Ogbonnaya in Round 7. (Pick Grade: B)
Four-and-a-half months before the season began, the St. Louis front office went mini-golfing to determine whom it would take with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Well, the person who didn't hit the windmill and eventually won voted for Glenn Dorsey. However, the owner stepped in a couple of hours before the draft began and decided on Chris Long because his father, Howie, was a friend of the family. Is anyone out there shocked that the Rams went 2-14 and are currently in a crappy cap situation?
Lions sign WR Dane Looker
Raiders sign CB Ricky Manning Jr.
Seahawks sign C Cory Withrow
Rams sign DT Hollis Thomas
Ravens sign WR Drew Bennett
Rams acquire WR Ronald Curry from Lions for DT Orien Harris
Rams announce retirement of DT La'Roi Glover
Rams announce retirement of QB Trent Green
Saints sign OT Anthony Davis
Bears sign OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa
Rams cut OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa
Rams acquire DT Orien Harris from Bengals for RB Brian Leonard
Rams re-sign G Richie Incognito
Jaguars sign WR Torry Holt
Rams re-sign Victor Adeyanju
Broncos sign OT Brandon Gorin
Rams acqure WR Laurent Robinson from Falcons. Teams will swap picks in 5th and 6th rounds
Rams sign QB Kyle Boller
Cardinals sign FB Dan Kreider
Bears sign OT Orlando Pace
Rams sign TE Billy Bajema
Rams re-sign OT Adam Goldberg
Cardinals sign TE Anthony Becht
Saints sign C Nick Leckey
Rams re-sign G Mark Setterstrom
Rams re-sign DE Eric Moore
Rams cut WR Torry Holt
Rams cut TE Anthony Becht
Rams sign FB Mike Karney
Rams cut OT Orlando Pace
Rams sign S James Butler
Falcons sign C Brett Romberg
Rams re-sign CB Ronald Bartell
Rams sign C Jason Brown
Rams tender G Richie Incognito (3rd round)
Rams cut QB Trent Green
Rams cut WR Drew Bennett
Rams franchise FS O.J. Atogwe
Rams cut SS Corey Chavous
Rams hire HC Steve Spagnuolo
Two Offensive Tackles: Per the St. Louis Dispatch, the Rams are shopping Orlando Pace for a third-round pick. Whether they trade him or not, they need a long-term replacement like Eugene Monroe aft left tackle. They also need to replace Alex Barron at right tackle. Drafted Jason Smith
Center: The Rams have been desperate for a center for a while now. Something tells me they're going to overpay for the old and declining Matt Birk. Signed Jason Brown
Inside Linebacker: With Will Witherspoon likely moving to weakside linebacker, the middle of the defense is one of a billion positions that must be addressed. Drafted James Laurinaitis
Strong Safety: Todd Johnson replaced Corey Chavous at strong safety this season. Chavous' unborn grandchildren will never live this down. St. Louis needs a new strong safety like Patrick Chung or Emanuel Cook atop Round 3. Signed James Butler
Wide Receiver: Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton look like they're going to be solid receivers in this league, but the Rams will need a true No. 1 wideout once Torry Holt moves on, which could be in a few months or less. Michael Crabtree, the top prospect in the 2009 NFL Draft, is an intriguing choice at No. 2 overall. Traded for Ronald Curry and Laurent Robinson; drafted Brooks Foster
Strongside Linebacker: Brandon Chillar was missed this season. The Rams have a gaping hole at strongside linebacker that they need to fill.
Cornerback: Assuming St. Louis re-signs Ronald Bartell, the team at least has one legitimate starting corner. Unfortunately for the Rams, two are required in the NFL. Fakhir Brown, Tye Hill and Ricky Manning Jr. aren't the answer. Drafted Bradley Fletcher; re-signed Ronald Bartell
Quarterback: Marc Bulger played like he pretty much didn't care anymore. Bulger has been hit way too many times and has developed the classic deer-in-the-headlights look whenever he's in the pocket. Unfortunately, the Rams have way too much money tied into Bulger to pursue a quarterback via free agency or early in the 2009 NFL Draft. Signed Kyle Boller; drafted Keith Null
Running Back: It seems like Steven Jackson is always hurt, so the Rams will need a solid back once Jackson goes down in 2009. Drafted Chris Ogbonnaya
Defensive End: James Hall and Leonard Little led the team with six sacks each. Little is 35 in October, while Hall just turned 32. Something tells me the Rams are going to have problems getting to the quarterback (outside of Chris Long) in 2009.
Defensive Tackle: Not a top priority, but the Rams could use help at defensive tackle. Drafted Dorell Scott
Fullback: Sadly, even fullback is a need for the woeful Rams. Signed Mike Karney
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Jason Brown, C, Ravens. Age: 26. Signed with Rams (5 years, $37.5 million; $20 million guaranteed)
One of the top young centers in the NFL, Jason Brown will either be franchised or offered a huge contract this offseason.
Mike Karney, FB, Saints. Age: 28. Signed with Rams (3 years, $3.6 million)
A top-notch run-blocker. Not an offensive weapon at all.
James Butler, S, Giants. Age: 26. Signed with Rams (4 years, $14 million)
James Butler, the starting strong safety for the Giants, wasn't a big liability or anything, but he certainly wasn't a strength either. New York could use an upgrade at the position.
Kyle Boller, QB, Ravens. Age: 28. Signed with Rams
Kyle Boller probably deserves a shot with a coach who actually knows what he's doing (i.e. not Brian Billick), but he probably won't get one.
Hollis Thomas, DT, Saints. Age: 35. - Signed with Rams
Billy Bajema, TE, 49ers. Age: 26. - Signed with Rams
St. Louis Rams Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 13): $8 million
Ronald Bartell, CB. Age: 27. Re-signed with Rams (4 years, $28 million)
Ronald Bartell has been a pleasant surprise for the Rams and one of the few bright spots on a horrific defense. St. Louis can't afford to let Bartell get away.
Torry Holt, WR. Age: 33. Signed with Jaguars (3 years, $20 million)
Torry Holt had a poor season in 2008, catching just 64 passes for 796 yards and three touchdowns. As a comparison, Holt had 93 receptions, 1,189 yards and seven scores in 2007. The 6-0, 190-pound wideout still has a few quality years in the tank; you can attribute his lacking production to Marc Bulger's struggles and the offensive line's inability to pass protect.
Orlando Pace, OT. Age: 33. Signed with Bears
The Rams had to cut Orlando Pace because he was making a ridiculous amount of money. At 33, Pace is still very effective - assuming he's healthy. Pace has missed 25 games the past three years.
O.J. Atogwe, FS. Age: 28. Franchised by Rams
Overrated, thanks to his 13 picks in the past two seasons. O.J. Atogwe sometimes gets lost in coverage, which really hurts the Rams. However, he occasionally makes up for it with a big play. Atogwe gambles a lot and can come up with a huge interception, but he just as easily hurts St. Louis on the next drive.
Pisa Tinoisamoa, OLB. Age: 28. Signed with Bears (1 year)
Led the Rams in tackles last year. A 4-3 weakside linebacker.
Brock Berlin, QB. Age: 28.
At this point, Brock Berlin could be the best quarterback on St. Louis' roster. He needs to be given a chance to compete for the starting job next year; Marc Bulger has been knocked around so much the past few years that he's developed the David Carr deer-in-the-headlights syndrome.
Richie Incognito (RFA), G. Age: 26. Re-signed with Rams (1 year)
Featured in a story that sounds like it came right out of the 2013: Emmitt on the Brink, Richie Incognito was criticized for sitting out a game for a fake illness. Jim Haslett was so frustrated that he actually slapped a candy bar out of Incognito's hands on the sideline. If Incognito can't find a job, perhaps he and LenDale White can start the Eating on the Sidelines Appreciation Society.
La'Roi Glover, DT. Age: 35. - Announced retirement
Mark Setterstrom (RFA), G. Age: 25. - Re-signed with Rams
Nick Leckey, C. Age: 27. - Signed with Saints
Fakhir Brown, CB. Age: 31.
Corey Chavous, SS. Age: 33.
Victor Adeyanju (RFA), DE. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Rams (1 year, $1.01 million)
Brandon Gorin, OT. Age: 31. - Signed with Broncos
Brett Romberg, C. Age: 29. - Signed with Falcons
Jason Craft, CB. Age: 33.
Cory Withrow, C. Age: 34. - Signed with Seahawks
Drew Bennett, WR. Age: 31. - Signed with Ravens
Dane Looker, WR. Age: 33. - Signed with Lions
Ricky Manning Jr., CB. Age: 28. - Signed with Raiders
Dante Hall, KR. Age: 30.
Adam Goldberg, OT. Age: 29. - Re-signed with Rams
Anthony Davis, OT. Age: 29. - Signed with Saints
Travis Minor, RB. Age: 30.
Anthony Becht, TE. Age: 32. - Signed with Cardinals
Divisional Rival History: Arizona Cardinals: Arizona has won the past five matchups in this series. Its last three victories have been by a combined score of 116-42. San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco has claimed six of the previous eight battles in this NFC West rivalry. All but one of those games have been decided by seven points or less. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks have won all eight matchups after the Rams knocked them out of the playoffs in 2004.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)