After a lengthy spell on the sidelines (PaP failed its conditioning test several times after an acrimonious positional dispute ), Play Action Post is back, and we wanted to resume our service in the style we enjoy the most – lambasting continually bad franchises.
So, 'The Infamous Five' series begins today, a quintet of posts detailing the worst five NFL franchises from a season ago: how their offseason has fared, what issues still plague them, and what realistic goals can be set heading into the 2010 NFL season. We'll be breaking down the unfortunate teams in their draft order – Rams, Lions, Buccaneers, Redskins, Chiefs – and debate whether they're heading for a 2008-Dolphins-esque rebound or a Dennis Green meltdown .
Infamous Five, number 1 – St. Louis Rams
2009 record: 1-15
How do you solve a problem like Missouri ? This question, and many others, are facing the Rams heading into the 2010 season. Just ten years ago, the Rams were a dominant offensive powerhouse coming off a Super Bowl victory (against your author's beloved Titans) and scoring points at will. Back then, the offense was Warner, Holt, Bruce & Faulk. Since that brilliant quartet went their separate ways, all has come apart at the seams for the Rams.
The main problem, as is consistent with many struggling franchises, is an inability to find a decent starting quarterback. Here's a list of QBs who have started at least one game for the Rams since Kurt Warner got benched in 2003:
Trent Green, Marc Bulger, Jamie Martin, Scott Covington, Chris Chandler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gus Frerotte, Brock Berlin, Kyle Boller and Keith Null.
Out of those QBs, only Bulger ever performed at a level even vaguely comparable to Warner, and that stretch ended in 2007 (side note: bonus points if you even remember Covington/Berlin and aren't related to them). Bulger is now a backup for the Ravens. Even worse? The Rams had the first overall selection in this year's draft, the last before the end of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and took Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford, who was the best signal-caller available.
Why is that bad? They are now (probably) the last team to shell out megabucks to the first overall pick, and have to pay Bradford, who has never taken an NFL snap and is coming off pretty major shoulder surgery, 50 million dollars. The new CBA will almost certainly include provisions for a rookie pay scale, but the Rams were one year early and have given more guaranteed money to a totally unproven rookie than any player has ever received in the history of the league.
The Rams have picked in the top two in each of the last three years, so now have countless millions tied up in three players – Bradford, OT Jason Smith and DE Chris Long. Add to this the fact that St. Louis is one of the NFL's smaller markets, and you get a problem: how in the world can you attract free agents without a big market or big money?
Well, the Rams have had to answer that question this offseason. Coach Steve Spagnuolo is in his second year, and must be listening to Yazz's classic 'The Only Way Is Up' pretty much daily just to try and stay a little positive, since the (literally and otherwise) biggest free agents he's snared are DTs Chris Hovan and Fred Robbins, both now deep in their 30s and hardly top-end acquisitions: it also hammers home the disappointment of numerous first-round DTs in the last decade, from Jimmy Kennedy to Adam Carriker.
The best thing the Rams did this offseason was to retain O.J. Atogwe, who is now locked up for the forseeable future. Spagnuolo is a defensive whiz, and another year in his system will do wonders for everyone, including the talented safety. The Rams must generate more pressure on the QB to help out a weak secondary, so the development of Chris Long will be key to any defensive improvement: last year St. Louis' pass rush had less bite than a goldfish with just 25 total sacks, third worst in the league.
The Rams will also need some instant rookie production from their solid draft class outside of Bradford, notably from talented tackle Rodger Saffold and hair-obsessed wideout Mardy Gilyard. Of course, any offensive dreams the Rams have go through man-beast-monster Steven Jackson, who'll have to rebound from back surgery for St. Louis to have any shot of more than five wins.
The Rams in 2010 don't promise a lot, especially not with a rookie QB under center and no real offensive talent outside Jackson and speedster WR Donnie Avery. If they muster more than 5 wins, St. Louis should paint a goatee on its logo.
Prediction for 2010: 3-13