NFL

NFL AM: Rams Cuts Shouldn’t Be Surprising

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Big Names, Big Salaries, Poor Play

The Los Angeles Rams made some moves over the weekend which surprised many as they let go of former first-round pick defensive end Chris Long, the team’s all-time leading tackler linebacker James Laurinaitis and former free agent acquisition tight end Jared Cook.

“This is the time of year when all NFL teams are faced with difficult decisions regarding their veteran players,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said in a statement. “Chris and James are the epitome of what it means to be a pro in this league and it’s been an honor to coach them both.

“They’ve been the pillars of our defense for many years and not enough can be said of their love for the game and for their teammates. Beyond the field, they took pride in mentoring the younger players and doing their part to make a real difference in the St. Louis community. We will always be grateful for James’ and Chris’ unselfish commitment to the Rams and wish them the best moving forward.”

The team saved roughly $24 million with the cuts and aside from the obvious cap savings these moves were a long time coming.

Long was a former first-round pick, but his reputation has been better than his actual play on the field.  He’s totaled just four sacks over the past two seasons combined while missing 14 of the team’s 32 games.

He took to his Instragram account to issue a statement thanking the team and the fans.

“Just heard that I’m about to be unemployed,” Long said. “I just want to personally and humbly thank the city of St. Louis again for all your support over 8 years. I love y’all so much for sticking with me through the ups and downs.

I also want to thank our LA fans, and although I may never join you in SoCal, just know that I’ll always appreciate you.

Bottom line is- this is a production business. No excuses, the last two years have been shit. It’s been painful to experience because I care deeply about my performance and my responsibility to my teammates. Before the last two years I’m very proud of what I was able to accomplish in St. Louis. I’m not surprised, but it doesn’t make it any easier to leave your family.

I look forward to the next chapter. Hungry and a lot to prove all over again.

First I’m gonna have a beer.

Wishing it shook out differently but eternally grateful,
C Long”

As for Laurinaitis, he was a great story early in his career as he overachieved and became one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL.  In the last few years he’s been out of position and a liability in coverage.

“I was surprised by it, I was shocked at first,” Laurinaitis told ESPN.com. “But I also know this is a business and when you start to move toward the front of the parking spaces and get a little older, all those people in front of you have left so you are not any different than anybody else who is getting up there. I’m going into Year 8, and I’m still 29 and I still feel like I’m playing at a productive level. I was a little shocked from that point of view but man other than that, it’s a business.

“I have seen a lot of things and seen a lot of people go. I have been grateful to have seven years with the same team. That’s rare in and of itself. I’m not bitter about that. Just a little surprised it happened this year, but that’s football.”

Finally, the team moved away from Jared Cook, who signed a five-year, $35 million deal in 2013 after spending the first four years of his career with the Tennessee Titans.

Cook never became the impact player he was expected to be with the Rams as he had his best season in 2013 when he caught 51 passes for 671 yards with five touchdowns.  A lot of his struggles had to do with the Rams unstable quarterback situation.

“Jared made an immediate impact when he joined the team in 2013. It’s been a pleasure watching him grow from the time I drafted him in Tennessee to seeing him set franchise records in St. Louis,” Fisher said in the statement. “Like Chris and James, he’s been a mainstay in the community and his contributions are commendable. We hope for the best for Jared and his family as he embarks on the next steps of his career.”

Where are the best landing spots for the three former Rams?

Long will still have a legitimate market as he’s a pass rusher and despite his last two injury plagued, non-productive seasons, he plays the most premium of positions.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals should all have a level of interest.

As for Laurinaitis, his future is a little more murky.  His play hasn’t been anywhere near what his stats show, and teams obviously know it.  Possible interested teams could be the Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants.

Cook should have somewhat of a market as the New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints may show a level of interest.

Statistical Anomalies: 3rd Down Conversions

One of the most important statistics for quarterbacks revolves around how they perform on third down.

One would assume that a high percentage of third down conversions would equate to a greater percentage of wins, but the stats tell us that isn’t always the case.

The best team at converting third downs during the 2015 season was the New Orleans Saints, who finished 7-9.  New Orleans converted 47.7 percent of their third downs and their defense was the league’s worst last season and that had a bigger say in why they were under .500 for the second-straight season.

The Atlanta Falcons finished right behind the Saints, converting 47.1 percent of their third downs.  Atlanta finished 8-8 and their defense was a major reason why.  They finished 27th in the NFL in third down conversions allowed at 42.9 percent.

Even more surprising than the Saints and Falcons, who have legitimate starting quarterbacks are a few of the other teams that finished in the Top 10 in third down conversions.  The 6-10 Chicago Bears finished with the No. 6 ranking on third down, converting at a 42.5 percent clip.  The 4-12 San Diego Chargers finished eighth in third downs at 42.0 percent, the 3-13 Cleveland Browns finished ninth at 41.9 percent, while the 6-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 10th at 41.6 percent with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s four last-place teams that finished in the Top 10 at converting third downs.

The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos finished 25th in the NFL in third down conversions, making just 35.3 percent of their attempts.

The statistics tell us that it’s significantly more important to defend third downs than make them.  Eight out of the top 10 teams in third down defense made the playoffs, led by the Houston Texans at No. 1 overall allowing just 28.5 percent of conversions.

The only two teams in the Top 10 that didn’t make the postseason were the 10-6 New York Jets (3rd overall) and 7-9 St. Louis, now Los Angeles Rams who finished sixth-overall.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.