The league insiders who have been digging in the trenches, trying to find out just what exactly the Rams powers that be might really have up their collective sleeves this offseason, can certainly agree on one thing: Never, it seems, has the team holding the top overall pick in the NFL draft had so many intriguing options at its disposal.
At least Rams GM Billy Devaney was kind enough to narrow the field at this year's NFL Scouting Combine regarding the possible players the team would consider taking, should it decide not to trade down in late April.
Devaney mentioned a "Big Four" group consisting of, in no particular order, DTs Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh and QBs Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen. Beyond that, though, he went out of his way to emphasize that the team's actual game plan is only in its infant stages.
"When you're 1-15, there's a lot of different directions you can go. And we're still trying to figure that out," Devaney said in Indianapolis. "There are pros and cons to whatever decision you decide to go. But we know this: If it comes down to that right now, there are four guys that will be given consideration. But we've got to be prepared for anything.
"If we do wind up trading down a little bit, we have to be ready. We have to have a bunch of guys in the hopper that we feel good about. Those four guys, sure, we like everything about them so far."
Devaney was pressed on the possibility of trading down, with the Rams having so many major needs to fill.
"It's too early for that," he said. "We haven't even gone through the free-agency period. That could alter (it). We're sitting here right now, thinking we need A, B, and C. If we sign a guy a couple weeks from now at that position, it may alter your draft strategy a little bit. So there haven't been any phone calls to any team whatsoever. I would think eventually that'll happen. But it's too early."
Adding to the intrigue surrounding the Rams — with NFL offseason activity just hours away from kicking into high gear with the official beginning of this year's free-agent period — are the trade rumors involving Eagles QBs Michael Vick and, to a lesser extent, Donovan McNabb.
"We haven't talked to the Eagles about any of their players," said Devaney, who has a history with Vick from their days together in the Atlanta organization. "This has come up a lot in St. Louis, and I have to stick to it. I can no more talk about Mike Vick than I can about Drew Brees or Tom Brady. He's a member of the Eagles. And he's under contract with the Eagles. But I can tell you this: We have not talked to any of their guys."
The way we hear it, Vick, who is due a $1.5 million roster bonus from the Eagles on March 10, is a lot more likely option for the Rams than McNabb, whose name raised eyebrows leaguewide when it was mentioned in a March 2 column by St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Bryan Burwell, who wrote that "the Rams have had intense internal conversations with the Eagles" regarding the Pro Bowl QB.
That said, the consensus is that both quarterbacks' names have indeed been brought up in the Rams' boardroom more than a few times.
But we hear the bigger focus for the Rams right now is on the "Big Four" with the Combine having just concluded and individual pro days just around the corner. Not surprisingly, the upcoming workouts of Bradford (March 25) and Clausen (April 9), neither of whom threw at the Combine due to shoulder and toe injuries, respectively, are expected to have a major influence on the Rams' strategy.
One well-known league insider, ESPN's Adam Schefter, went out on a limb recently when he all but guaranteed the Rams had their sights set on Bradford with the No. 1 pick — a prediction that Devaney humorously downplayed at the Combine.
"We feel really good about the health status of Sam Bradford now with Dr. Schefter giving him a clean bill of health and guaranteeing our pick," Devaney smirked. "So we're on to the second round right now."
Truth be told, while Schefter may be right about Bradford, we hear the Rams have a long way to go before they anoint the Oklahoma QB this year's top overall pick after he underwent reconstructive surgery on a shoulder that he initially injured in the 2009 season opener against Brigham Young and hurt again six weeks later on Oct. 17 vs. archrival Texas.
Devaney said that, besides the opinions of the Rams doctors and renowned Birmingham, Ala.-based shoulder specialist Dr. James Andrews, who operated on Bradford, the team would seek a third opinion from an independent doctor.
At the Combine, Bradford, who didn't look nearly as big as his Combine measurements (6-4 1/4, 236) — said he is "about 85 percent healed" from his surgery.
"I think Dr. Andrews is extremely happy with it," Bradford said. "He says I'm ahead of schedule right now — the velocity I'm putting on the ball, some of the throws I'm able to make right now. I feel like with another month's work, by the time my pro day gets here, I'll be able to make all the throws I was able to make before, with probably some more arm strength than I had before I got hurt."
Bradford said he has been throwing the ball every other day as part of his rehab.
"That's the schedule I'm on right now," he said. "When I get back from the Combine, I'm hoping to finish that rehab schedule and get to throw every day."
Bradford added that he has been throwing the ball 20-40 yards, "putting as much as I can on it. I feel like if you want to get your arm stronger, that's what you've got to do. I've gotten stronger every time that I've thrown, and it feels really good right now. No discomfort."
Clearly, he recognizes the importance of his upcoming pro-day performance in Norman, Okla.
"It's extremely important," Bradford said. "Obviously, it will be the first time that I've thrown in front of pro scouts since they've seen me play versus Texas when I got injured. So, I think everyone's really anxious to see my arm and how it looks after surgery."
The way we hear it, Bradford is a stronger possibility to be selected by the Rams than Clausen, who tore two ligaments in his right big toe in the third game this past season against Michigan State and gutted it out the rest of the season on painkillers. But there's no denying Clausen remains on the Rams' radar screen, perhaps as a strong second option in case Bradford can't literally shoulder the load in pre-draft workouts.
"There's a bigger body of work on Clausen (than Bradford)," Devaney said. "The guy is unbelievably impressive, his accuracy and all. We just want to look at arm strength — you just can't judge that all the time looking at tape. The other stuff, we're fine with all that. We just want to see him throw the ball live."
Moving to the other side of the ball, the Rams were able to see a lot more of what McCoy and Suh have to offer at the Combine, where both players scored points with pro talent evaluators by opting to fully participate in all the workouts in Indianapolis.
Former NFL personnel executive and current NFL Network and CBS Sports commentator Charley Casserly said at the Combine that McCoy and Suh were "1A and 1B," respectively, in his estimation.
"I ask two questions: Who's the better athlete, and who's the better pass rusher?" Casserly said. "McCoy comes up more often than not as the 'yes' guy there."
But with a straight face, Devaney said the Rams had both players ranked equally on their board for the time being.
"Oh, man, we're hoping somehow there's separation because in our eyes, there isn't any," Devaney said. "They're great players. They're going to be great players. They're character guys. They love playing football. I hope something happens where there is separation. But in our eyes, there isn't."
In the eyes of most onlookers at the Combine, there certainly wasn't much separation between McCoy and Suh. The consensus was that McCoy, who might have offered the best interview to the national media at this year's Combine, made a much better impression behind the podium than the soft-spoken Suh.
League insiders also have pointed out to us an under-the-radar red flag regarding Suh — the ticket he received last November for hitting three parked cars on a Lincoln, Neb., street on an early Sunday morning with a blood alcohol level of .035, well below Nebraska's legal limit of .08. (It's worth noting the well-documented manslaughter charge that was levied nearly 12 years ago against veteran DE Leonard Little that many team observers and Rams fans have had a hard time forgetting.)
In Combine workouts, though, Suh appeared to have the upper hand, cranking out nine more reps than McCoy (32 to 23) in the 225-pound bench press while each of them basically ran the same 40-time.
The bottom line?
In the days and weeks ahead, we hear it's quite possible that the Rams will change their minds on what to do with the top overall pick so frequently that they will make Brett Favre's indecision about retirement look tame by comparison.
Let the mind games really begin.
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