For the most part, the national press never really understands the St. Louis Rams. There's a pretty simple explanation: losing teams in small markets don't get press. National pundits swoop in for one or two games a year, catch up at the Combine and the NFL Draft and then ignore the goings on at places like Rams Park. The latest example comes from the National Football Post (an outfit I really do like) and their franchise rankings that put the Rams dead last, the 32nd worst franchise out of the NFL's 32 total teams.
Even the homers would have a hard time arguing with the ranking itself. Years of front office turf wars, bad drafts and a lack of enlightened football leadership since the middle of the decade have left the Rams with six wins in three years. In that time the team has lost the casual fans needed to sustain ticket and merchandise sales, not to mention national TV appearances that keep the team relevant in the national conversation. The fans that remain have grown exasperated and exhausted with it all, subsisting on a refugee diet of Steven Jackson's fantastic ability and that occasion win.
But now there's hope. Fans have finally seen a few bright spots on the field, productive team drafts and visible signs of progress. It all starts on top where leadership changes have reinvigorated the Rams franchise. Whether fans agree with each individual move or not, it's undeniable that now the Rams finally have a front office steeped in the game and unfolding a cognizant plan for fielding a winning team.
And that's where the franchise ranking piece from the NFP gets it wrong. The offending statement:
Rosenbloom likely won’t be upset that he is ranked last here since he and his sister Lucia Rodriguez are desperately trying to sell this team they inherited in 2008 along with a $200 million dollar-plus tax bill from their late mother Georgia Frontiere. And this is why the franchise is ranked last. Rosenbloom prefers to be a filmmaker than an NFL team owner and he is not making the investments in the franchise to do much more than suit up a team for games. Until ownership stabilizes this organization and reinvests in it, the Rams will be in caretaker mode despite having a talented coach in Steve Spagnuolo.
Yes, it's true Rosenbloom and his sister put the wheels in motion to sell the team within a relatively short time frame after inheriting it from their mother. But it was Rosenbloom who put the franchise back on track. In January 2008, the month Georgia Frontiere died and Rosenbloom was effectively the active owner for that 60 percent share of the team, the Rams hired Billy Devaney as director of pro personnel, bringing him in to save them from another terrible draft that the franchise could ill afford.
The Rams continued their downward spiral in 2008, and four games into the season, the ineffective Scott Linehan was fired as head coach. On the field, you'll remember the Rams had a temporary bump, winning two games before coming back to earth as a team bereft of talent. Immediately following that season, Rosenbloom made the most important move of his tenure, eighty-sixing the inept Jay Zygmunt, reconciling family friend John Shaw to a marginal role as an advisor and hiring an experienced and knowledgable GM in Billy Devaney. From there Devaney was entrusted with the current rebuilding project, hiring Spagnuolo, severing the ties with the recent past and rebuilding the team from the inside out.
Last season was another tough one for fans to suffer through. Tough but expected, as the work of the front office would take time to catch up to the product on the field. Still, those moves were by far the most important moves the Rams could have made considering the woeful state of the neglected franchise. A focused and functional front office was the best investment Rosenbloom could have made. Those decisions will get the Rams franchise much further down the road to respectability than any free agent signing.
And what about the charge that the Rosenbloom hasn't been willing to spend money on the team? History says otherwise. Last spring, the Rams signed two players to bolster their paper thin offensive line, two contracts totaling almost $100 million dollars for free agent center Jason Brown and second overall draft pick OT Jason Smith. The team also re-signed CB Ron Bartell to a $25 million contract, rather than lose the only starting quality veteran they had at the position. This year, the Rams didn't make any splashes in free agency. Instead, they drafted QB Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Any player taken at that spot would command an enormous investment, but a QB drafted at that spot will become the highest paid player in the NFL sometime in the next month, signing a deal worth more than $70 million and likely containing guarantees upwards of $50 million. That doesn't exactly sound like a team clutching tightly to its purse strings.
Let's be honest. These moves were hardly selfless on the part of Rosenbloom. A crippling recession and years of mismanagement put the Rams' value in a tailspin. Rosenbloom had to stem the bleeding in order to maximize the amount he and his sister could receive for their 60 percent share of the team.
Stan Kroenke is set to take the reigns in the near future, upping his 40 percent share to the whole enchilada. That bodes well for the Rams and their fans as Kroenke is a competitive sports owner who understands the value of a winning team.
Once in danger of being tarnished by neglect, the long-time era of Rosenbloom ownership ended on a high note. That trumps any arbitrary ranking from the outside.