Jim Thomas’ Rams Chat Highlights: Feb. 18

JT’s Chat Highlights

—I think Verner makes a lot of sense. Not only does Fisher now about him, but he blossomed into a Pro Bowler last season when Gregg Williams was a senior defensive assistant. Williams even mentioned Verner at his introductory press conference at Rams Park last week. In fact, I would be surprised if the Rams didn’t make an effort to get him signed. Not as sure on Maclin. How much does he want? Would Maclin be willing to sign a one-year deal (I believe he has indicated he would.) Do you take Maclin over drafting someone in what is said to be a deep WR draft? Do the Rams have any concerns over Maclin’s durability? All questions that would have to be answered.

—I didn’t hear the Mike & Mike segment, but heard about Fisher’s comments. No, it doesn’t impact how other teams view the No. 2 overall pick at all because NOTHING has changed in how the Rams view Bradford all offseason. I liken it to a dog chasing its tail _ over, and over, and over again. There was an erroneous report on CBSsports.com about the Rams not wanting to extend Bradford and possibly cutting Bradford. It was wrong. And the final, revised story on CBSsports was much different than the original, because the original story was wrong. Nonetheless, the original story caused several national media outlets _ who were behind on the story _ to check in with the Rams to see what was the case. So Fisher was on Mike & Mike. Kevin Demoff talked to Mike Silver. Les Snead talked to Ed Werder. Here’s the news flash: “As I’ve said, Sam’s our starting quarterback.” That’s what Les Snead told me and a handful of reporters on Jan. 10. Repeating: Jan. 10! NOTHING HAS CHANGED. The Rams are all-in on Bradford.

—It becomes a question of how much you trust that your current receivers will develop. And how good you think Sammy Watkins is or might be. I talked to a longtime NFL coach the other day who thought Watkins was a better prospect than Julio Jones. If that’s the case, can you afford to pass on him.

—I could understand why the Rams might like to get something in 2015, to spread out the draft picks. The theory being if a lot of these picks work out, they’re contracts won’t all expire at the same time. But you’re right, this is a deep draft class and I think there’s even more of a sense of urgency to make something happen. And 2014 is shaping up as you suggest as one of the best drafts in years. Mike Mayock of NFL Network just said on his conference call that he thinks this is the best draft in the last 10 years, and that having a top 20 pick this year is like having a top 10 pick last year.

—If the Rams Picked Watkins? I would say Watkins and Bailey or Givens starting on the outside, leaving Tavon Austin in the slot. Quick and Pettis off the bench. That’s if the Rams keep six wideouts. If they don’t keep 6 wideouts, playing time from last year would suggest Pettis isn’t back.

—Yes, this will be my 23rd combine. There is a lot of ground to cover at this one. And I’m looking forward to this one as much or more than any combine I have covered over the years. There’s the QBs _ both the elite “first tier” guys (pardon the expression), as well as some of mid-round guys that the Rams are more likely to draft. The WRs (hello Sammyy Watkins). There are 7 Mizzou players that I will try to keep track of. The Michael Sam media session I predict will outdraw Manti Teo’s from last year. I’ll try to hit all of the top offensive tackles (Matthews, Robinson, Lewan). And Sunday will be big with the corners and safeties. If all that weren’t enough, both Snead and Fisher will speak Friday at separate news conferences. Clowney, too.

—I think the Rams are contemplating variable pricing, where certain games cost more than others. For example, the preseason games would cost less than the regular season when Denver comes to town. Obviously, that’s a more complex way to price tickets, so that may be part of the delay. I don’t think it has anything to do with LA.

—One Major FA Signing? If I had to pick one, I’d say Verner as well. Not only do I think you’re in the ballpark. I think you have a pretty good seat.

—Yeah, the Rams went after Delmas pretty hard in free agency. But there are concerns about his knee, and I think that’s why the Rams offered him only a 1-year contract. As for safety overall, my sense is that the Rams are more likely to fill that need in the draft and don’t want to spend a ton of dough on that position in free agency.

—Williams to Influence Draft? Possible. But as you may have read over the weekend, Fisher wants Gregg Williams to be a “Mad Scientist.” He wants him locked in a room working on scheme and the defensive playbook. He doesn’t want him spending time on free agency and the draft this time around. Here’s the link to the story. The Mad Scientist stuff is somewhere in the middle off the story.

—Salary Cap cuts Coming? I think you’ll start to see some movement on that front after the combine. There are a lot of factors that play into the fact that you don’t have to rush into these things. 1.) You can get a gauge on which of your own players that you’re trying to re-sign are likely to return. 2.) You can get a feel coming out of the Combine if there’s potential help at a position where you’re thinking of making a cap cut. 3.) The combine is the official opening of the “tampering season” _ so you can get an idea of who you might have a realistic chance of signing in free agency from other teams? 4.) You can check other team’s cap cuts to see if any of them interest you. All of these things kind of play off each other.

—There’s no doubt Saffold is a lynch-pin to the Rams’ offensive line and to a large degree their entire offeseason. I’m still not optimistic that he’ll be back, but one thing I do want to point out _ and I should have mentioned this earlier _ is the Rams are not going to let him walk out of Rams Park for good without putting up a fight to keep him. He’s easily their top priority in terms of re-signing. Now if some team offers him elite guard type of pay, he’s gone. If that doesn’t happen, the Rams have a chance.

—Givens? Well, he was a fourth-round pick, so I guess the Rams didn’t overrate him. And his production and big-play moments I think gave us all the impression that he could be a difference-maker. I agree with you that he needs to run better routes, and I’d like to see him do a better job making the contested catch and tracking the ball in the air. But he did struggle through some injury issues _ knee and groin, I believe _ that also limited his effectiveness.

—The Ram O-Line Youngsters? The Rams liked Hooey enough that they signed him to the practice squad even though he was injured much of camp. He needs to get stronger and add a little weight. Ultimately he has a right tackle’s frame, I think. For what it’s worth, at the end of last spring, Washington was ahead of Rok Watkins on the depth chart at guard. Washington needs to get stronger and keep his weight in control. He finally got some playing time in the league finale. I don’t know if Washington has starter’s potential, but a good offseason helps his cause. Person seems a little undersized to me for a tackle, but the Rams must see something they like because they hung on to Person through several roster moves (both on the o-line and the overall roster). Jones looked a little bigger and stronger even by the end of the season. He was always one of the first guys in the weight room in the morning during the regular season (he and Harkey). And he volunteered to workout with the practice squad players on Saturday. (Since they don’t play in games, Rams practice squad players do conditioning work, etc. on Sat.)

—Dunbar? If the Rams do re-sign, and I’ve mentioned this before, they’re not going to extend themselves financially. The Rams really aren’t far along on re-signing any of their own free agents. But again, that starts to change at the Combine.

—If you’re thinking of Barr as a replacement for Dunbar at strongside LB, you’re talking about a position that’s on the field only 35-40 percent of the time on defense.

—I don’t sense any groundswell of support to keep the Rams in St. Louis, that’s for sure.

—Watkins has shown very good run after the catch ability, good hands, and he’s _ what _ 25 pounds heavier than Austin.

—I just don’t see Finnegan as having the ideal range to play free safety. And he’s awfully small for the position.

—Value of the #2 Pick? I think it will start to come into focus at the Combine. But I still think it comes down to this: If you’re a QB-needy team, you’ve got to get ahead of Jacksonville at No. 3 overall if you want to make sure you get no worse than the second-best QB in the draft.

—I certainly think that the Rams need to get more than just Cleveland’s other first rounder in a trade.

—Bradford’s Potential Dead Money? It’s actually about $7.2 million. And yes, that figure represents the amount the Rams would be charged against the cap even if Bradford is no longer on the team. No. the Rams are not considering moving Sam Bradford.

—NFC West Team Most At Risk To Regress? I’d still say Arizona. Because to a degree it depends on Carson Palmer. San Francisco has some key aging players. (Justin Smith). Will Seattle have a little Super Bowl hangover?

—Good and Bad Things Going Into 2014? Good things. 1.) Gregg Williams. 2.) The Rams seem to have found their offensive identity. 3.) Another draft class _ 2 first-rounders, four of top 75 picks. 4.) Robert Quinn. On the flip side: 1.) The NFC West. 2.) The NFC West. 3.) The NFC West. 4.) Wide receiver.

—It would be nice to have a reliable change of pace back to Stacy. He got a ton of carries and touches in his 12 games last season. Cook set “St. Louis” Rams records for catches and receptions, but I’d like to see him more consistently involved _ you know, sometimes he’d disappear for parts of a game or entire games. And of course you mentioned the WRs. They need to keep Bradford healthy (obviously), and I’d like to see a young QB added to the mix.

—Rams To Get Younger Next Year? Let’s say seven of the Rams’ current nine draft picks make the roster. (That total doesn’t include any compensatory picks that are assigned at the owners’ meetings in March.) Those rookies obviously are going to replace older players. So that’s how that happens unless the team also replaces some younger players with older free agents, which overall seems unlikely. The new NFL year starts March 11, but you can start cutting players any time after the Super Bowl. Cap savings would be $4.5 million for Wells; $4 million for DahlLet’s say seven of the Rams’ current nine draft picks make the roster. (That total doesn’t include any compensatory picks that are assigned at the owners’ meetings in March.) Those rookies obviously are going to replace older players. So that’s how that happens unless the team also replaces some younger players with older free agents, which overall seems unlikely. The new NFL year starts March 11, but you can start cutting players any time after the Super Bowl. Cap savings would be $4.5 million for Wells; $4 million for Dahl.

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