Since Orlando Pace left the organization following the 2008 season, St. Louis hasn't had the best of luck in finding his long-term replacement. But after four years of searching, Jeff Fisher and Les Snead believe that they have finally found their guy.
Former No. 1 pick Jake Long signed with the organization late Sunday night after being on the open market for six days. Long's four-year contract with the Rams is worth up to $36 million, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It was also reported that Long could have fetched more money by going elsewhere (per Adam Schefter of ESPN), but he opted to choose St. Louis because of Fisher, Snead and Kevin Demoff (via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
I came in for a visit and Coach Fisher and Kevin Demoff and Les Snead were amazing. I just fell in love with their vision and the entire organization, and all the great things they had to say about Mr. (Stan) Kroenke and the way they go about football.
His comments say a lot about how things are now run at Rams Park. Previous regimes, under Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo, would have had to overpay to get a guy of Long's caliber. That sentiment no longer rings true with some of the best football minds at the controls in St. Louis.
However, a couple of key acquisitions in March do not mean the Rams should be setting up their Super Bowl parade just yet. Long, along with 52 other players, will have to jell and come into his own so they can improve upon last year's seven-win season.
Long gone are the days of seven- and eight-win seasons being enough for a playoff appearance in the NFC West. Over the course of the last year, the West has quickly become the best division in football. And it's only getting stronger as the offseason pushes on.
Which ultimately leads me to the biggest question I have surrounding this free-agent signing: How does Long fit in with the Rams, and how does he help them take that next initial step in 2013?
Ever since stepping onto the field for the first time in 2008, Long has been categorized as an elite left tackle by fans and media members alike. Not to mention his numbers stand behind the high praise. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the two-time All-Pro has only surrendered 21 quarterback sacks, 30 quarterback hits and 59 quarterback hurries in five years.
Which are incredible numbers to say the least, but when you break them down even further, the impact of his high level of play becomes even more evident. Through 74 career games, he has averaged 0.28 sacks allowed a game, 0.41 hits and 0.80 hurries. That averages out to 1.49 total pressures a game.
Despite lingering injury issues the past couple of seasons, the Rams are still getting one of the best pass-blockers at a bargain-bin price. Surely, the move can't make current left tackle Rodger Saffold happy, yet his numbers don't back up his argument for owning the left side of the line.
It has been rumored that Saffold may be looking for a trade (per Pro Football Talk) after the Long acquisition, but it's unlikely due to the fact he did play well last year when healthy. One can't blame him based on the fact he will have to play right tackle in 2013.
Right tackle is a less lucrative position than left tackle, and Saffold hasn't played right tackle in either college or the pros. Yet the move may net him some national recognition if St. Louis' offense line shines this upcoming season.
With that being said, Long's arrival may not be pleasing to one player in particular, but his overall fit with the Rams is a slam dunk. Quarterback Sam Bradford has never had a blindside protector of this caliber. Moreover, the former Michigan Wolverine will be 28 at the start of the 2013 season—meaning he has plenty of good football left in him as a franchise left tackle.
If Bradford doesn't perform this year, the Rolodex of excuses won't be around much longer. For the first time in his career, he will have a top-tier left tackle, he will have the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years, and he will have a strong defense that will help give the offense more opportunities.
The arrow is definitely pointing up in St. Louis, and the organization knows it. Yet that doesn't mean things will be a walk in the park. Just like the Rams, Seattle and San Francisco have continuously gotten better during the first week of free agency.
The NFC West is setting itself up to be the most competitive and electric division in football in 2013.