Monday, June 29, 2009

Inside Slant

--When Billy Devaney took over as general manager of the Rams and started his search for a new head coach, he knew whoever he hired would be dealing with a roster that needed a major overhaul.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo has spent the offseason getting the roster younger and trying to fill as many holes as possible. They also knew everything necessary wouldn't happen in one offseason.

With training camp approaching, the area that appears to be in most need of upgrading is at wide receiver. Releasing Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, along with the decision not to re-sign Dane Looker and Dante' Hall, left the Rams with a group headed by second-year players Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton, Laurent Robinson, who was acquired in a trade from Atlanta, Derek Stanley, who is battling back from a torn ACL suffered during the 2008 season, and fifth-round pick Brooks Foster. Tim Carter, a former second-round pick of the Giants, was signed in May after not playing during the 2008 season.

The offense will be built around running back Steven Jackson, and quarterback Marc Bulger will have to distribute the ball to everyone. That includes tight ends Randy McMichael and Daniel Fells, Jackson, and fullback Mike Karney.

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Tight end Daniel Fells showed some flashes in 2008 after being signed off the Buccaneers' practice squad, and showed he might be a dangerous weapon during OTAs. Fells has good size, speed and hands, and the West Coast offense being implemented by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will utilize the tight end. The question is whether he will able to produce on the field during games like he has in practice.

LINEUP WATCH: During OTAs rookie tackle Jason Smith and linebacker James Laurinaitis were both working with the second unit. Adam Goldberg was the first-team right tackle, with Chris Draft at middle linebacker. Both rookies are expected to be starting by the beginning of the season. On defense, that could result in Draft becoming the strong-side linebacker. During the offseason, Larry Grant and David Vobora got most of the snaps with the first team on the strong side.

ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: Aside from Smith and Laurinaitis, cornerback Bradley Fletcher showed his athletic ability. When the team puts on the pads this summer, he will be watched closely to see how physical he plays at this level. Defensive tackle Darell Scott is being counted on to provide depth in the rotation. Foster also showed flashes at times, and could have competition from street free agents like Chad Lucas, Nate Jones and Jarrett Byers.

INJURY WATCH: Wide receiver Keenan Burton missed most of the OTAs because of a slight hamstring injury. He was bothered all last season by a knee injury, so he has to avoid being labeled as injury prone. Wide receiver Derek Stanley should be ready for the start of camp after rehabbing from a torn ACL.

CONTRACT TO WATCH: Tackle Jason Smith was the second pick in the draft, and followed quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has already signed with Detroit. The same firm that represents Stafford (CAA with Tom Condon and Ben Dogra), also represent Smith. Also, free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe participated in the entire offseason program without having signed his franchise tender of $6.342 million. July 15 is the last date when franchise players can sign long-term deals.

Notes and Quotes
--Wide receiver Derek Stanley was a frustrated player during OTAs. He would work in individual drills, but as soon as they were over, he would go to the sideline to ride the bike and do other conditioning exercises with the strength coaches.
Stanley suffered a torn ACL during the ACL season, and was anxious to show the team's new coaches what he can do.

Said coach Steve Spagnuolo, "We didn't want to do anything with him throughout the OTAs. The hope is that as soon as we open up training camp, he'll be full-go."

--Spagnuolo stated the obvious when asked about the importance of having rookie tackle Jason Smith signed in time for the start of training camp.

Said Spagnuolo, "Yeah, that's probably a no-brainer. It's important for all the players to be here on time. I think they understand that. There is a business side of this business, so we'll let it run its course. But I'm confident in Jason's group that is representing him and (executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer) Kevin (Demoff) certainly here."

When asked if he has talked to Smith about the contract situation, Spagnuolo said, "I had an initial conversation back when we drafted him, but that's really the business end part of it. I try to stay away from that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's probably a philosophy thing. I guess what I believe in is, you earn anything that you should get. These guys haven't even played in a game yet. We have a lot to find out. We still haven't put the pads on." -- Coach Steve Spagnuolo on first- and second-round picks Jason Smith and James Laurinaitis working with the second team during OTAs.

Strategy and Personnel
The Rams were awarded tackle Renardo Foster on waivers from the Falcons June 19. Although Foster played seven games for Atlanta in 2007, started two, and spent the 2008 season on physically unable to perform, he would be eligible for the practice squad if unable to make the Rams' roster.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Oshiomogho Atogwe: Tendered at $6.342M.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kroenke waiting for move on Rams

One of the more compelling aspects of the Rams' sale is the role of Stan
Kroenke in the proceedings. Rams owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez,
team insiders and other NFL executives and owners are wondering: what is
Kroenke going to do? Is he going to make a play for control of the team? And if
so, when?

Don't expect Kroenke to lay his plan out for us. He's staying underground on
the Rams' front and not returning media calls. He's not about to give away any
clues on his Rams' strategy.

Kroenke, worth an estimated $3 billion, is a busy sports mogul. He owns 40
percent of the Rams. He owns the NBA Denver Nuggets, the NHL Colorado Avalanche
and the Pepsi Center in Denver. He owns the Major League Soccer franchise in
Colorado and the stadium that houses the team. He is the majority shareholder
(28.3 percent) of the prestigious Arsenal soccer club in the English Premier
League. Kroenke owns a pro lacrosse team, an arena football team, and a
Colorado-based cable-sports network.

And Kroenke's real-estate development company continues to prosper, making him
one of the nation's wealthiest individuals according to Forbes magazine.

So does Kroenke want to buy the available 60 percent ownership block and
challenge NFL rules that prohibit cross ownership? Or is he content to hang
onto his 40 percent, oversee his other sports properties, concentrate on
accumulating more Arsenal stock and avoid a skirmish with the NFL?

After speaking to a couple of Kroenke associates — sorry, no names — I think I
have a general handle on his approach. But I can't be sure. Remember, this is
the same Kroenke who made no noise about being interested in the Nuggets and
the Avalanche, only to swoop in and buy them at the end of the process. Kroenke
waited until the collapse of Bill Laurie's tentative deal for the teams, then
made his move. And Laurie is Kroenke's brother-in-law, but Laurie knew nothing
of Kroenke's intentions.

I believe Kroenke will sit and wait for others to make the first move.

It makes sense, because Kroenke has the right of first refusal on the Rams'
sale. He can match any offer for the available 60 percent. By hanging back,
Kroenke won't set the market and take the risk of bidding against himself to
meet Rosenbloom's price. Instead, it's smarter for Kroenke to wait for another
interested party to set the market, then react accordingly.

If another bidder makes an offer on the lower side, and the price is acceptable
to Rosenbloom, then Kroenke can match the offer and get a relative bargain. He
can save millions of dollars on the purchase. If Kroenke gets a great deal,
then he may be more inclined to fight the league over that 60 percent.

And what if another bidder rushes in and pays whatever Rosenbloom-Rodriguez are
asking for? Well, Kroenke can ask to be bought out (his 40 percent) at the same
rate. Or he can keep his 40 percent, satisfied in knowing that the value of his
ownership share just went up. A win-win for him.

And there could be other advantages for Kroenke to remain patient:

— If this process drags out — which it might, considering the struggling
economy and concerns over the league's serious labor issues with the players —
Rosenbloom may have to settle for a buyer that the NFL doesn't like or want.
And the NFL could turn to Kroenke to ask for his help — buy the 60 percent and
pull the league out of a bad situation. In exchange, the NFL would accommodate
Kroenke by waiving the cross-ownership rules.

— If no local buyer comes forward, and the Rams are in danger of being sold to
anti-St. Louis interests, Kroenke could ride in at the end and save the day.
The city's political and business community would be grateful. And that would
serve to help Kroenke in the looming strife concerning the team's lease at the
Edward Jones Dome.

If Kroenke wants the Rams, would he be willing to sell his Denver teams to
comply with NFL rules? I'm told that's doubtful. But I'm told Kroenke will try
to lobby NFL owners to get the rule changed. So he might be willing to
challenge the league over this issue.

In Kroenke's case, the NFL rule is stupid, because he already owns 40 percent
of the Rams. The NFL insists that a lead ownership partner have a minimum share
of 30 percent, and Kroenke already has that, plus another 10 percent. So isn't
this pretty silly?

And why would it matter if Kroenke kept his 40 percent but lined up multiple
investors to purchase smaller shares that add up to the other 60 percent?

Besides, it's not as if Kroenke needs Rams profits to be able to compete in the
Denver sports marketplace against Pat Bowlen, who owns the NFL Denver Broncos.
Kroenke and his wife, Anne, are worth a combined $7 billion. They don't need
Rams' dollars. This is lunacy.

Kroenke is just what the league wants in an owner. He's a successful
billionaire. And he's already in the club.

It will be fascinating to see how Kroenke plays poker. But if history tells us
anything, it's that the cool-headed Kroenke is highly capable of waiting and
watching the other players blow themselves up. That's when Kroenke scoops up
the enormous pile of chips in the middle of the table.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

As sale looms, Rams fans can do their part

If the Rams eventually move from St. Louis, it won't be because of the fans.
The customers have stayed loyal during hard times, buying up about 95 percent
of the seats at the Edward Jones Dome over the last two seasons. That's
outstanding support for a team that has won only five of the last 32 games.

With the franchise for sale, which opens up all sorts of possibilities, the
best thing Rams fans can do is stick by the team and continue to attend games
until help arrives.

That way, no Rams owner will have an excuse to pull the team out of here
because of a lack of support. And with sellout crowds filing into home games,
perhaps this will rally the business community and motivate potential buyers
from the St. Louis area.

There's no reason for fans to get mad or to boycott, just because owners Chip
Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez have decided to sell. Yes, this happened faster
than I had anticipated, but I'm in no position to understand the financial
pressures (taxes) that confront brother and sister as they settle the estate of
their late mother, Georgia Frontiere.

Rosenbloom was always straightforward about his vision. He never denied that he
would sell the team at some point. But rather than sell immediately after
Frontiere's death, Rosenbloom and Rodriguez took time to reorganize the Rams'
front office and football operations. They've installed new leadership in both
areas, and it was the necessary first step of a massive rebuilding project.

Rosenbloom has said often that he wanted to keep the Rams for as long as he
could, but he never put a timetable on it. He didn't actively shop the Rams in
his first year as the managing partner but volunteered that he'd sell if the
right buyer emerged. And that buyer profile included a willingness to keep the
Rams here.

To that end, Rosenbloom gave an individual or group in St. Louis the first shot
at buying the team. Rosenbloom held off interested parties from outside St.
Louis; he hoped that a St. Louis bidder would make an offer.

But it's not happening. And after waiting in vain for more than a year,
Rosenbloom has enlisted the Goldman Sachs investment banking firm to find a

I've received some e-mails ripping Rosenbloom for not sticking with the Rams
for as long as it takes to find a St. Louis-based owner.

What do you expect him to do, take hostages at the next Civic Progress meeting
and force St. Louis corporate titans to buy the Rams?

If no local interest materializes, then the decision has been made for
Rosenbloom. If no financial players from our area think it's worthwhile to buy
60 percent of the Rams to preserve the team for St. Louis — well, there's not
much more to say, is there?

St. Louis leadership still has time to prepare a pitch, but no ZIP codes will
be barred from bidding on the Rams now. It's possible for a Los Angeles
billionaire to swoop in and make an offer that Rosenbloom can't refuse. The
other reality is that a new owner will probably be able to take the team out of
St. Louis after the 2014 season.

But this hasn't changed: Rosenbloom wants to sell to owners who want to keep
the franchise here and work on a long-range stadium plan.

OK, here's what I don't understand:

St. Louis fans love their sports. We're passionate about the Cardinals, Rams
and Blues, who receive tremendous support. You can make the case — sadly, in a
way — that this is the thing we do best. There are problems all over the
metropolitan area, and all sorts of people out of work or suffering in a bad
economy, but we keep showing up en masse to Busch Stadium, the Edward Jones
Dome and the Scottrade Center. You can count on STL fans to give you their
money, their loyalty.

So why is it that the owners of St. Louis professional sports teams are based
in other cities and regions? Bill DeWitt (Cardinals) lives in Cincinnati; Dave
Checketts (Blues) splits his time between Utah and Connecticut; and Rosenbloom
and Rodriguez live in LA.

With St. Louis thriving as a sports town, and with our sports teams serving as
a big source of pride and positive identification for our city, why can't we
get a St. Louisan to actually own one of the teams?

It just seems bizarre to me. For more than a year, Rosenbloom has all but
begged for a St. Louis investor or group to make him an offer for the 60
percent share of the Rams, and this is what he hears in response:

(Crickets chirping) ...

That's why I hope that the great fans of St. Louis continue to pack The Ed for
the Rams in 2009. That's how you can do your part until a new local owner rides
to the rescue.

And a new local owner will ride to the rescue, right?

(Crickets chirping) ...


Rescue time!

(Crickets chirping) ...

Do you know that the Rams could move to LA?

Anybody there?

(Crickets chirping) ...