With good reason, we have a football inferiority complex here in St. Louis. The football Cardinals never hosted or won a playoff game during their 28 years in town, and then they left. The Rams have been here for 17 years, and had four winning seasons, and five playoff seasons. Now, owner Stan Kroenke won’t come out and publicly commit to keeping the team in town, so we’re a little bit on edge.
Heading into the final week of the season with a 15-64 record since the start of 2007, and a 10-37 mark under Steve Spagnuolo, it would seem that a change in coaches is imminent. And St. Louis sports fans understandably ask, “Why would a coach want this job?” It has a dome that may not be good enough to keep the team in St. Louis; it has a fan base that is disenchanted to the point of averaging a little over 56,000 fans a game.
So I was, and maybe you were, surprised when Peter King said on NBC’s Football Night in America pregame show Sunday that the Rams job would be the best available this year if Spagnuolo is let go, and that if he were Jeff Fisher, that’s the job he would want.
When King joined us in The Fast Lane on Thursday, I said I wanted to talk to him because he said “perhaps the Rams job would be the best available this offseason.” King said, “Randy, it isn’t perhaps. It’s absolutely the best job out there. And the reasons are threefold.”
King’s reasoning? “This all takes into account that I believe Sam Bradford is going through a bad year, and is not a bad player. If you look back two years from now and you say ‘he’s missed 25 of the last 32 games with injuries,’ then I’ll have a different feeling. But right now, the Rams basically, I think, have a quarterback of the future, they’re going to have the first or second pick in a draft that is going to have at least one very, very highly rated quarterback, so that if they want to, they can ransom off the first or second pick. And then beyond that, they’re going to have so much cap room in what is going to be a very tight cap society in the NFL in the next couple of years.
“They’ve got so much cap room that they’re going to be one of the few teams that good players like, and who knows who’s going to be unrestricted and free in a couple of years, but say a running back like Arian Foster is out there, you could get him. Or you need a defensive end and there’s Calais Campbell out there. So many teams are going to be tight against the cap in the next couple of years because it’s not going to go up a lot,” that the Rams will have a dramatic advantage. They’ll have the most cap room of any team in the NFL after next season.
An interesting and hopeful take. With the knowledge that the Rams will have a lot of cap room in a fruitful free-agent market and a system that requires teams to spend to 99 percent of the cap, there certainly should be a lot to work with.
This regime has set the organization back a bit. The fact that the Rams have gotten virtually no impact from draft choices beyond the second round over the last four seasons really hurts. To win in the NFL, you need to find players that provide impact throughout the draft. It was notable to me that the Steelers’ players voted 2010 sixth-round pick Antonio Brown as their MVP this year. The Packers are starting 2009 fourth rounder T.J. Lang at guard, 2010 fifth rounder Marshall Newhouse at tackle (albeit because of injuries to their starters) and have 2010 sixth-round choice James Starks getting lots of carries at running back.
The 49ers are getting solid work out of rookies Kendall Hunter and starting fullback Bruce Miller and 2010 third rounder NaVorro Bowman (who is sensational) and sixth rounder Kyle Williams.
So the Rams have some catching up to do. But King thinks the top pick, Andrew Luck, will garner the team holding the choice at least three first-round picks if they choose to trade it. If that is indeed the case, if the Rams could get four premium picks for their No. 1, a good personnel man could speed up the retool (not necessarily rebuild) process in a big hurry. If Cleveland, which offered their entire draft for Bradford two years ago, would be willing to give up their two No. 1 picks, their No. 3, and a No. 1 one next year, as King suggested, the Rams would be off and running.
Bottom line; coaches are in business to make money and to win. If they do win, the fans respond, the stadium is filled, and nobody complains. If Kroenke is willing to go for it with a winning coach and effective personnel man in charge of the draft, things can happen in a hurry.
And all of a sudden that inferiority complex will go away, and St. Louisans can revel in high quality football once again, for the first time since 2003.