Rams watching playoffs again, awaiting news on relocation
The recovery stages: First there's the Super Bowl, then free agency followed by the draft and OTAs. Finally, during the month or so gap prior to training camp, the veteran middle linebacker believes all of the shortcomings will cease bothering him.
''That's when you start to be like `OK, it's a new kind of a reset button,''' Laurinaitis said while cleaning out his locker after a 7-9 finish. ''Until then, it's going to eat at you.''
There's one more possible stage to surmount. Relocation looms, with team owners meeting next week to debate the merits of owner Stan Kroenke's bid to build a new stadium in Los Angeles, along with a competing proposal from the Chargers and Raiders.
Kroenke, labeled Silent Stan for his refusal to negotiate with a group seeking to build a new stadium along the Mississippi River, has been around some in the locker room after games. But players know as much as the general public.
''I wouldn't say we small-talk very much,'' quarterback Case Keenum said.
The Rams just completed their ninth consecutive losing season and missed a chance to finish .500, too, when they sagged in the finale at San Francisco after taking the extra step of spending the final week in Napa, California, to eliminate jet lag. So veterans like Laurinaitis, a second-round pick in 2009 who's the franchise's career leading tackler, and defensive end Chris Long, the second overall pick in 2008, feel that futility most.
The newer additions to the roster coach Jeff Fisher and Les Snead rebuilt from top to bottom in 2012 are hurting, too, from missed opportunities that fed a five-game losing streak starting in November that effectively squashed playoff hopes.
''We put ourselves in position to be home again, and no playoff run,'' defensive end Robert Quinn said.
Fisher is getting a fifth season despite a 27-36-1 record, perhaps because he has experience shepherding a franchise move, having done so with the Titans, who as the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee after the 1996 season. He ended the worst five-year stretch in NFL history, when the Rams were 15-65 from 2007-11, under three coaches, but has done no better than seven wins.
Most coaches are gone after three straight losing seasons, or even sooner. Fisher is getting a fifth year to right the leaky ship despite all those empty seats.
''I believe in this team,'' Fisher said. ''I believe in the direction that we're going.''
Some reasons the Rams are still awaiting their first winning season since 2003:
QB WOES: Nick Foles was heralded as the answer not long after arriving in a trade from the Eagles for former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford. The Rams signed him to a two-year contract extension with nearly $14 million guaranteed before the first preseason game, and now he's basically on the scrap heap. Foles was benched twice in favor of Keenum, who didn't exactly light it up, but will be the man to beat when players return in April - unless the Rams find a better option in free agency or the trade market.
INJURY BUG: Quinn missed half the season with a back injury that required surgery, and had five sacks after reaching double figures the previous three seasons. OLB Alec Ogletree (ankle), the leading tackler in 2013-14, lasted just four games. He was the leading tackler this year, too, for several weeks after getting sidelined. Laurinaitis became the franchise's career leading tackler, but was hampered by a torn elbow ligament much of the year.
YOUNG O-LINE: A pair of injury-prone veterans, tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells, were let go to make room for a bevy of inexperienced replacements, including four draft picks. The line appeared to show some positive signs when the same quintet lined up for the final five games.
It didn't happen fast enough to prop up an offense that was the NFL's worst, with Pro Bowl rookie running back Todd Gurley the only consistent threat. St. Louis was last in the league on third downs, too, with a conversion rate of 25.9 percent.
UNDERACHIEVING D: Sure, injuries were a factor. But even without Quinn there were four first-round picks in the D-line rotation. Team MVP Aaron Donald had such a monster year Fisher touted him for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but there wasn't enough help. The defense was ranked fifth at one point, but tumbled to 23rd by the end of the season.
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