By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, Mar. 04 2008
The Rams took what they feel is a substantial step forward in upgrading their offensive line Monday evening, agreeing to
terms on a six-year deal with Tennessee free-agent guard Jacob Bell.
Bell, who started three of his four seasons with Tennessee, visited Rams Park on Monday, spending time with quarterback Marc Bulger and wide receiver Drew Bennett a former Titans teammate. He will sign his contract this morning.
It's a six-year, $36 million deal, and includes a $7 million signing bonus and $13 million in guaranteed money.
Bell, who turned 27 on Sunday, will be the Rams' starting left guard next season, moving into the spot occupied by Mark Setterstrom at the start of 2007.
Left guard has been a trouble spot for Rams the past few seasons because of injuries and other factors. Since the start of the 2004 season, 11 players have started at least one game at the position.
Last season alone, Setterstrom, Claude Terrell, Andy McCollum and Milford Brown all drew starting assignments at left guard.
Health permitting, Bell could be a fixture there for years. A fifth-round draft pick by the Titans in 2004 out of Miami (Ohio), Bell missed only two games in four seasons with Tennessee. He missed one game at the end of his rookie season with a torn knee ligament and was inactive for a 2006 contest with a toe injury.
Overall, he has played in 55 regular-season games for Tennessee, including 46 starts. Forty-three of those starts were at left guard, and three at right tackle. In 2005, his only season when he wasn't a full-time starter, Bell also saw duty at left tackle.
"He's a 'four position' player," coach Scott Linehan said, meaning Bell's capable of playing both guard and both tackle positions. "But he's more suited to guard. He's athletic, and strong, with a great ability to get to the second level."
Linehan said Bell was the highest-rated offensive guard on the Rams'
free-agency board. But the Rams went after Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca first because of the veteran leadership they thought he could bring to the club. Faneca signed with the New York Jets instead.
Bell isn't known as a power blocker, but his strength has improved since his rookie NFL season in 2004. Looking at tape from the 2007 season, Linehan liked the way Bell performed against Carolina's Kris Jenkins and Jacksonville's Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. (Jenkins and Stroud have since switched teams.)
Bell held his own and then some against those big, powerful defensive tackles. And in what undoubtedly ranks as good news for Bulger, he didn't allow any quarterback hits in those contests.
"As the line coaches like to say, he's never on the ground," Linehan said.
In other words, despite being a relatively lean 6-foot-4, 295 pounds, Bell does not get thrown around by 340-pound defensive tackles. Although Faneca is a better run blocker, Bell probably is a better pass blocker, particularly at this stage of Faneca's career. Bell's footwork and athletic ability enable him to recover when beaten by the opponent's first move.
Even with the addition of Bell, the Rams probably aren't done retooling the interior of their offensive line. Whether it be in free agency or via trade, the Rams are still looking for veteran help at center. Last season's starters there, Brett Romberg and McCollum, are unrestricted free agents, and McCollum is contemplating retirement. The only centers on the current roster are 2007 draft pick Dustin Fry and Nick Leckey, who was added to the roster last October as a street free agent.
Former Seattle kicker Josh Brown's five-year, $14.2 million contract with the Rams includes a $4 million signing bonus plus base salaries of $1 million in 2008, $1.8 million in 2009, $2 million in 2010, $2.7 million in 2011, and $2.7 million in 2012.
GREEN'S UP NEXT
Quarterback Trent Green, the Vianney High product who was with the Rams in 1999 and 2000, is scheduled to pay a free-agent visit to St. Louis on Wednesday.
Green arrived in New Orleans on Monday for a free-agent visit with the Saints.
Another former Ram, Jamie Martin, has been the Saints' backup for the past two seasons but is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
CHILLAR VISITS CARDS
Rams free-agent linebacker Brandon Chillar arrived in Phoenix on Monday night for a visit with the Arizona Cardinals. If Chillar doesn't sign with the Big Red, he's scheduled to leave Arizona today and arrive in Green Bay on Tuesday night.