The St. Louis Rams:
This is the first of an intermittent series of articles on how the current-elite teams in the league built their powerhouses.� There has been a lot chat on the relative merits of building through the draft or FA.� Let�s examine the facts.
Throughout the 90�s the Rams drafted near the top of the first round.� Despite that, they selected relatively few useful players.� At present, Ourlad�s depth chart lists only (7) starters who were original picks of this team.� These men are WR Issac Bruce (94/2) and Terry Holt (99/1), OT Orlando Pace (97/1) and Ryan Tucker (97/4), TE Ernie Conwell (96/2), DE Grant Wistom (98/1) and CB Dexter McCleon� (97/2).� That�s (5) on the O-side and (2) on the D-side; in contrast, the Stillers start (6) O-side picks with (7) on the D-side.
In part, this discrepancy arises from St. Louis�s really horrendous record between �94-�96.� Note that only Bruce and Conwell remain from that period (now that Carter is a Titan!).� The Stillers, drafting near the bottom at the time, have (5) starters from those years: Gildon, Breuner, Stewart, Flowers and Holmes.� Though the Ram�s drafts improved from �97 forward, the Stillers found (8) starters in that period and the Rams just (5).� This may change soon; St.Louis probably expects 2001 1st round selections Damoine Lewis, Alan Archuleta and Ryan Pickett to contribute; Tommy Polley has a strong shot at LOLB but it remains clear that the Stillers mid to late-90�s drafts, as bad as they were, do look better than the Rams.�
St. Lousi, at least until this winter, has not been a wild-spending team.� Ourlad�s lists (10) former UFA/CC as starters but, with few exceptions, none could be described as elite-type guys.� They are: interior OL Tom Nutten, Andy McCollum and Adam Timmerman, DT Ray Agnew and Jeff Zgonina (that�ll change), DE Cedric Jones, LB Don Davis and Mark Fields and S Devin Bush and Kim Herring.�� Of those, only Fields is an elite player; Herring and Timmerman are nice players but Jones was a major disappointment in NY and the rest are marginal.� The Stillers will start (7) former UFA/CC including Gandy, Tylski, Hartings, KVO, Jones, DW and Alex/Logan.� I�d regard Hartings as an elite OL, Gandy and DW as quality signings, KVO as a pleasant surprise; the rest (possibly excluding Logan) are marginal.
If the Stillers compare in FA and surpass the Rams in the college draft, how can we account for the difference on the field?� Well, consider this:
It�s better to be lucky than good.� In �98, the Rams drafted Wistrom, Robert Holcombe, Leonard Little and Hakim Az-Zahir.� Not bad but hardly overwhelming.� However, they also got Kurt Warner as a street FA and London Fletcher as a rookie FA.� Those men lead their respective units; they are the difference-makers.� There wasn�t much planning involved; the Rams thought so little of Warner that, prior to the �99 season, they signed UFA QB Trent Green to lead their team.� Like most rookie FA, Fletcher had to have been an afterthought.
The Rams have used trades as a third means to acquire players.� We all know the Bettis story, circa �96 but remember, on draft day �99 (or just before) the Rams swapped #4 overall to Indy for #6 overall.� St. Louis sent a couple picks along and received Marshall Faulk in return.� The Colts moved up to get Edge James; the Rams moved down certain that their man, Torry Holt, would still be available.� A nice deal for both teams; with Faulk gone, Manning�s leadership was undisputed; the Rams got a 2 for 1 acquiring both a proven multi-threat RB and the draft�s #1 WR.
This winter, the Rams made the following deals:
����������� Received a 2nd round pick from KC for Dick Vermeil.
����������� Received a 1st round selection from Tennessee for franchise player Kevin Carter.
����������� Received a 4th round pick from Oakland for RFA TE Roland Williams.
����������� Received a 1st round selection from KC for QB Trent Green and a 5th round pick.
����������� Received CB Aeneas Williams from Phoenix in exchange for a 2nd and a 4th.
Earlier, the Rams did acquire LB Jeff Gooch from TB in exchange for a 5th but that trade was voided when Gooch failed his physical.� In sum, the Rams did two sign and swap deals (Carter and R. Williams) and traded out of their depth at QB.� Aeneas Williams and Faulk will start this year and act as part of the leadership cadre.� Polley, Lewis and Pickett should start, if not now, then in the very short term.�
The Stiller FO has shown little or no initiative in this area; the RB depth has been depleted without return, Coach Cowher will likely be extended for Heinz-naming type money and the Bus, who was paid at a franchise level in 2000, got a big bonus and 6-year deal prior to the start of the FA period, just before the RB market collapsed.
The Rams have forged an identity (the keyword is speed); commitment to this concept has materially aided their recovery from the disaster of �96.�� That year, St. Louis got hosed on the Bettis deal and drafted Lawrence Phillips, Eddie Kennison and Tony Banks.� Despite this catastrophe, the Rams were champs four years later.� The Rams offensive system requires WR who are quick out their cuts and QB who can handle a timing route.� Kennison and Banks didn�t fit the profile and were moved out.� However, players like Joe Germaine and Az-zahir can work the system.� These men have limitations but can contribute in St. Louis.� A good fit since the Rams can get quality contributors on the second day.� Obviously Germaine hasn�t contributed yet but his development on the practice field must have allowed the Rams to make the Green deal.�
Lovie Smith is in from TB to run the Ram�s defense. Last spring, the Rams had (5) picks on day one; all were defenders and all have speed.� Smith likes speed everywhere; I like the Ravens system of speed on the edges and bulk at DT.� Time will tell but, for sure, the Rams have made their priority clear.��
Not so for the Stillers: Hunt is in one year out the next. Clancy was the NT of the future in�00, Hampton in �01.� In 2000, the Stillers passed on character selecting Spike over Urlacher but in 2001, it was character all down the line even when, from the 6th on, the character players seemed to lack the tools to contribute.� It could be said that these reversals demonstrate some learning curve; maybe so but the test will be in 2002.� If the FO stays on course okay but don�t count on it.�
The league is set up for parity; with a little luck and some bold trades the Rams have beaten the odds.� The Stillers haven�t had a lot of luck; maybe that�s just how it goes or, maybe if luck is the residue of design, lacking any over-arching concept, the Stillers are all lucked out.