Who watches the linemen? A conversation with Bryan Douglass (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: I intended to start a conversation with Bryan Douglass (@bpdouglass), Senior NFL Writer at Fanball, around the Rams’ offensive line with a simple question: Are the Rams making a mistake in tendering Alex Barron? What follows are Bryan’s opening remarks, before I could even get a follow-up question in. I think you’ll agree, they’re worthy of their own post.

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images, from Zimbio.com

YESTERDAY Barron’s had a rough go… the kid has obvious talents, especially in pass protection, but as every fan following the Rams can attest, he is a penalty machine. I believe he was the most penalized player in the NFL last season.

Mike Sando’s year-end penalty stats confirm your suspicion.

In the opportunities I’ve had to watch him the skill is there, the athletic prowess is there… dude has speed, seems pretty agile, his lateral mobility is undeniable. I’m not a professional coach but it seems like he is lacking in (a) discipline, and (b) technique. From my humble chair I would put blame squarely on the organization… NOT Steve Spagnuolo, but every coach that came before him. Mike Martz, Scott Linehan, and maybe even Jim Haslett… not sure any of those guys did him any favors at all. It’s been a coaching carousel throughout and I worry Barron has been left to his own devices. He’s had several systems, he’s probably been asked to change what he’s doing several times over, and more often than not players will revert to their own talents to enforce their own consistency.

Ironically, offensive line coach Steve Loney was one of a very few coaches retained by Spagnuolo and Devaney during the changeover. However, he has been in St Louis only two years, and Barron has flipped from right tackle to left — and possibly back again next year — during that time.

Of course, you could note his penchant for false starts and suggest he simply lacks intelligence. I’d be hard pressed to argue with that. The first thing Spags did upon arriving in St. Louis… he drafted Jason Smith and the resulting message was loud and clear. I’d suggest THAT had as much to do with his Barron’s struggles as anything. He has been too deep in his own head, worried about the man gunning for his job, trying too hard… it happens.

TODAY I remember reading in the Post-Dispatch (I come from Illinois man, about 2 hours due east of the Lou) the Rams were “expected to place the highest tender on Alex Barron despite his struggles” and, even with my undying bend towards offensive linemen, I found it surprising. It just seemed odd after Spags sat his ass down against the Niners, figuring he was not viewed as a man to retain.

I live in Denver and Bronco fans can attest: if you have a new coach coming in, you are either one of his guys or you aren’t. I simply figured the Rams might take what has become the typical business approach: take one of several avenues to keep his paycheck humble, move him to the right side, and tender him low to invite interested parties to the trade table. That’s what they did, sticking the 2nd-round tender on him. And now they wait.

TOMORROW You asked if I thought the Rams made a mistake with the decision to tender… and I’m betting that is brought on by the lack of interest in him in the free-agent market.

You are correct sir! No tweets, no news, no rumors, no nothing. Barron is a ghost on the RFA market, at this point.

I would say no, for several reasons.

  • You aren’t going to pay him an outrageous sum to stick around and it’s a one-year deal in an uncapped season. I believe I read the highest tender would have put him at about $2.5 million. THAT would have been a problem, but they slowed the role and came in with a reasonable tender, thus the salary isn’t too offensive (even as a backup).
  • Fans need to understand that illusion of the uncapped season is a myth… if anything, owners are given free reign to HOARD money rather than spend. You have to remember that not only are these teams relinquished of the salary cap, but they are already relieved of worries of the salary floor. They can spend as little as they like. More than anything, teams are hesitant to commit dollars to contracts obligations for NEXT year, fearing the cap will return and the decisions of today will burn tomorrow. THAT is why the free-agent market sucks… if any of these players have significant marks of worry, they won’t get paid, at least not right now. Like I said, I’m in Denver… I can introduce you to Brandon Marshall.
  • You will see the trade market heat up a bit after the Draft. Teams will enter with needs, there will be a few that come up short, and then guys like Barron start drawing interest. Add the belief that time will temper asking price (not sure if that will prove true as it has in years past… I don’t think so, but we will see), the oncoming injuries that will force teams to scurry for options… the market is likely to come back around a bit.
  • I suppose the fact that a tackle as decrepit as Levi Jones finally found a job last season speaks to the inevitability that someone at some point might want to take Barron off our hands. One can only hope.
  • And to be frank my friend… if Spags is so damn good at this job, he should be FIXING this problem, not shipping it off. I understand Barron is commodity you could use to help address other needs, and the Rams… they have plenty of needs. With that said, the number of quality pass protection men is rather low. Most teams are ok at the starting positions, very few have depth. It’s worse at the guard positions (as I’m sure you and other St. Lou fans know), but the Rams could view this is a blessing in disguise.

I’d compare it to the Broncos and Brandon Marshall. There are three scenarios: a team steps up and gives you the draft pick you want, that doesn’t happen and you consider offers after the Draft, and if that doesn’t come to fruition you are still in a good position. You have no long-term commitment if you don’t want it, the cost is reasonable considering the value of the player, and the player has NO CHOICE but to play. That game was played out for three years in a row with Anquan Boldin and he learned the hard way… you cannot sit because it hurts your trade value, it hurts your allure for other teams, and you can’t bolster your value if you aren’t producing.

So I think the Rams are fine, and if you want to criticize, start by asking your coach this: if the only problem is discipline in technique and the penalties, why can’t you fix it?

Editor’s Note: Part two of this conversation will be published soon, featuring some actual volleys back-and-forth, I promise. If you want to read more, Bryan writes great NFL content like this for Broncos Stable, as well as penning excellent Owners Edge columns for the Fanball parent site.