Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Time for Rams to get busy


Linebacker David Vobora was working out at a Chesterfield fitness center when he got the news Monday: NFL Players Association player reps had approved a new 10-year labor deal with the owners.

Immediately, his phone blew up with text messages, including one from his grandmother back home in Oregon.

"Believe it or not," Vobora said, laughing. "It might take her over an hour to formulate one text message, but yeah, I got a text from her."

It read something like this:

Congrats on being employed yet again. Love, Grandma.

As a restricted free agent, Vobora plans to sign his one-year tender offer as soon as they let him. No waiting around to see if any outside team makes him an offer. Not this year. Not after a 4½-month lockout. And not with the Rams' preseason opener against Indianapolis just 19 days away.

"It's all football now," Vobora said. "I'll be excited to have that (contract situation) behind me and just focus on the X's and O's and the playing on the field."

Similarly, Rams player rep Adam Goldberg is glad to have all the labor agreement stuff behind him.

"I'm ready to throw my phone down the storm drain and never see it again," Goldberg said. "I'm so tired of talking on the phone, and doing emails and conference calls and interviews — no offense. I'm ready to go back to my anonymity as just another grunt offensive lineman and get the labor stuff out of the limelight."

There are still some important procedural tasks remaining before the "labor stuff" is completely out of the limelight. Like all 32 NFL teams, Rams players still need to vote on re-certifying as a union, and then vote to approve the new collective bargaining agreement.

"All we did (Monday) was approve the terms of the settlement, and part of those terms are us re-certifying as a union," Goldberg said. "In order to re-certify, we've got to get to training camp because we've got to have a meeting where everyone's present."

Even though the doors of Rams Park are open this morning to players on an "unofficial" basis, the first day the Rams are able to meet as a team and can vote to re-certify is Friday — the first day of training camp.

Only meetings and physicals are allowed Friday. The first practice of Rams training camp is Saturday, but as specified in the new agreement, the first practice in pads cannot take place until the fourth day of camp — which is Monday for the Rams.

"We're going to try to get (re-certification) done as quickly as possible," Goldberg said. "We're going to try to get it done in a matter of days."

Unlike several clubs around the NFL, no Rams officials were made available to the media Monday. Coach Steve Spagnuolo, general manager Billy Devaney and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff were holed up in their second-floor offices at Rams Park embarking on the task of taking a roster frozen at 51 players throughout the lockout and building up to the 2011 training camp limit of 90 players.

All teams could begin negotiating with rookies, whether drafted or undrafted, on Monday after the NFLPA player reps approved the labor deal. The Rams drafted eight players in April, and normally sign between 10 and 15 undrafted rookies. With the roster limit at 90 this year instead of the usual 80, the Rams could end up signing 20 to 25 undrafted rookies this season.

So it's quite possible that by sometime this evening, the Rams will have signed at least two dozen rookies — drafted and undrafted. The actual official signings cannot take place until 9 a.m. today.

When asked Monday evening if he would be signed today, third-round draft pick Austin Pettis said: "That's hopefully in the plans."

Pettis, a wide receiver from Boise State, took part in informal player-organized workouts in late May (at Lindenwood University and Lutheran South High) and in early June in the Phoenix area. Other than that, has been back home in Southern California working out on his own.

The offseason, Pettis said, "Was a little weird. Since high school I've never really had this much time off not playing the sport. Especially going through college those four years, there was a lot of stuff going on in the summer. It's been kind of an adjustment. But I'm excited it's all over and I'm finally going to get to work."

Pettis plans to fly into St. Louis on Wednesday. Many other Rams, particularly veterans, will be filing in today.

"Be there bright and early (Tuesday)," texted cornerback Ron Bartell.

Even Goldberg, who's an unrestricted free agent, plans to be at Rams Park today. Unrestricted free agents are allowed to talk to teams starting today, so Goldberg figures he can do his talking in person to the Rams.

"I think here in St. Louis we have a great football season ahead of us," Goldberg said. "I just hope to be a part of it. I love the locker room. I love my teammates. I love playing for Spags. I love my line coach (Steve Loney). I'm excited to play in (offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels' system. I think it'll be explosive and dynamic.

"So this is obviously a great situation for me. Then again it's a business, so we'll have to see how things work it."

Players aren't the only ones at Rams Park happy to see the new deal. Assistant coaches were docked what one league source said was 50 percent of their pay during the lockout. But because no games were missed (the Hall of Fame game apparently does not apply since it was an extra game scheduled after the coaches' contracts were written), all of that money is automatically refunded to the coaches.

No other Rams Park employees were asked to take pay cuts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Faulk could get gipped on Hall of Fame week

Bryan Burwell

When he was in town last weekend, Marshall Faulk had a lot of time to 
think about what he believes will be one of the best weekends of his 

As he sat in a restaurant in the Four Seasons glancing out at the 
shimmering Arch in the distance, the greatest player to ever wear a St. 
Louis Rams uniform was asked to contemplate what it will be like for him 
in a few weeks when he is on that big stage in Canton, Ohio, being 
enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Will you cry, someone wondered?

"I don't know," he said with a quick shrug of the shoulders. "We'll see. 
I'll just let the moment happen whichever way it happens. I just know 
it's going to be a wonderful day, a wonderful time."

I suspect that he's right about that. There can be few events more 
professionally rewarding than to be honored as one of the best there 
ever was. That's the way we feel about him here in St. Louis, where we 
got to see him every Sunday do remarkable things that dropped our jaws, 
shook our heads and allowed us to marvel at his athletic brilliance.

And now the Hall of Fame has come calling, and on Aug. 6 it will open 
its doors to the first member of that sensational championship team 
known as The Greatest Show on Turf.

If you have never been to pro football's Hall of Fame weekend, you're 
missing a treat. From the Friday night dinner, to the Saturday morning 
parade through downtown Canton, to the steamy enshrinement ceremony 
outside the Hall doors, it is a fantastic celebration of the NFL's best 
and brightest stars.

But the darned NFL lockout is threatening to short-change Faulk and all 
his followers of the full experience. The longer the lockout drags on, 
the more likely it is that Faulk's spectacular week in Canton will not 
be as wonderful as it should be. The latest reports coming out of the 
collective bargaining talks now predict that a deal could be ratified by 
next week's owners meetings.

That's good news for everyone but the Rams and Marshall Faulk fans, 
because that might be a week too late to save the Hall of Fame game 
between the Rams and Chicago Bears.

The Rams are scheduled to report to training camp July 22. But if the 
lockout doesn't end until next week, that won't be possible. The owners 
meeting is scheduled to begin July 21 and it's unlikely that the 
contract would be ratified and all league business taken care of in 
enough time for the Rams to report to camp the next day or two.

That means unless the lockout ends this week, the chances are high that 
the NFL will be forced to cancel this year's Hall of Fame game, and that 
would be a shame. One of the rare treats of the Hall of Fame weekend is 
when the streets of the city are full of fans from the two teams that 
are scheduled to play, and both teams have a former player being 

This year, with the Rams and Bears scheduled for that Sunday afternoon — 
Aug. 7 — nationally-televised contest, it figured that there would be 
quite a few car caravans rolling across I-70 from the 'Lou and the Windy 
City to pay tribute to Faulk and former Bear Richard Dent.

I suspect with or without the game, there still will be plenty of 
blue-and-gold clad Rams loyalists in Canton for Faulk's enshrinement. 
But how much better would it be if the celebration of the first St. 
Louis Ram to reach Canton isn't cut short by a day? How much better 
would it be if Faulk were given the full HOF treatment, complete with a 
roaring ovation when he is introduced during the game? How much better 
would it be if he was accorded the full Canton experience like every 
other member of the Hall has received over the years of its existence?

I hope over the next few days, the owners and players alike are properly 
motivated to close this deal in a hurry. I'm hoping that most of all the 
owners don't decide that the Hall of Fame game is the one preseason game 
they can afford to blow off, because it's not a home preseason game for 
the Rams or Bears and won't dip into their revenues as much as a regular 
preseason game.

I hope that they are motivated to get this deal done now because if they 
wait much longer they are at risk of losing all or part of the preseason 
schedule and with it a potential loss of an estimated $800 million. 
That's some serious motivation, isn't it?

That's why economics professor Dr. Patrick Riche predicts the owners 
will get the deal done as early as this weekend, because they don't want 
to mess around with the chance of losing a significant chunk of the $9 
billion revenue they've been haggling over with the players.

According to Riche, an associate professor at Webster University's 
Walker School of Business and a sports business writer for Forbes.com, 
he estimates that in fan expenditures alone (preseason tickets, 
concessions, merchandise and parking), the owners would lose $389.9 
million in preseason revenue and between $349 million to $436 million in 
lost television and radio money if the preseason goes away because of 
the lockout.

They've been squabbling over this giant revenue pie for months now, and 
I can't imagine why it has taken this long to figure it out. I know none 
of them are thinking about the fans when they're behind closed doors, 
but maybe just once I wish they would. Rams and Bears fans deserve to 
have that moment of glory on Hall of Fame Sunday.

Thinking about the fans at a time like this may not be that big a 
motivation for the owners. But isn't that part of the problem in the 
first place?