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Report: LA Rams Players Thought 2016 Was A “Free Year”

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I barely know what this means, but I know I don’t like it.

Jeff Fisher in Rams team meeting

Sports Illustrated posted an interview with the showrunner and series director of All or Nothing, and there’s one key, key, key quote (I should probably repeat that four or five more times to accurately reflect how crucial it is) that tells you a lot of where the franchise is and what’s required for new Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay to fix (emphasis mine):

It did not surprise me, the emotion that those guys had that day. Everyone had this feeling that Fisher was safe, himself included. A lot of the players thought this was going to be a free year because they moved and they had a lot of other stuff to go through, so everyone was pretty shocked and I think that emotion was really real that day.

That was director Shannon Furman talking about the day former Head Coach Jeff Fisher got fired, and it gets at one of the central themes for the the Rams over the last decade.

I wrote this back in 2011:

The Rams are poisoned.

In fact, the Rams have been subjected to the kind of chronic poisoning that requires more than just some activated carbon and a bottle of Kaopectate. It's a deep issue that won't be fixed with a coaching change or a general manager change or a quarterback change or any rearranging of deck chairs on sunken boats.

The Rams have been poisoned with the most deadly poison of all: culture.

...

The reality is the poison is widespread. The culture of the Rams as a team, as an identity is shared not just by those who wear the uniform on the field, but everybody involved. It's the team who lays down to itself, to its coach and to its fans in the midst of redressing a 10-3 lead into a 10-20 deficit in about a dozen minutes of gameplay. It's the coaching staff who has misused young talent, overused limited veterans and abused a fan base with an approach that suggests everything is hunky dory.

This isn’t something new. And it’s not something you can just lay at the feet of Fisher as the scapegoat fans are comfortable using for everything wrong with 2016.

A lot of those players who thought 2016 was going to be a free year are likely still Rams. That attitude, the mentality that affords the belief in the existence of a “free year” is still in the hallways.

In December of last year, I wrote this reacting to WR Tavon Austin suggesting that LA is “tough”:

On one hand, his comments feed the growing perception that LA doesn’t tolerate mediocrity, a perception fed into by the Rams immediate failure in 2016 and the subsequent firing of Fisher.

On the other hand, you have to wonder what kind of culture tolerated things “not happening right.”

Where in the NFL shouldn’t it be tough? Where shouldn’t the rope be short? What’s most disconcerting isn’t necessarily the idea that LA has some different set of standards than any other sports market. What’s most disconcerting is the idea that the Rams didn’t feel those kinds of standards applied to them regardless of where they called home. Only 17 players on the Rams have played for another head coach besides Jeff Fisher (and now Interim Head Coach John Fassel). I think it’s fair to worry that his tolerance for mediocre results has seeped throughout the roster to a degree.

The poison’s still there after all these years. Asking a first-time head coach who happens to be the youngest head coach in NFL history to extract it is a tall, tall order. Erasing last year’s “free year” mentality is going to take more than one year, and that’s assuming the conditions and personnel to do so are even in place.

Six years ago I wrote about this. Today I’m writing about this. That should tell you something about the people responsible for the state of the franchise on a day on which the Carolina Panthers fired the general manager that helped them go 40-23-1 record over four seasons, make the playoffs three times and earn a berth to Super Bowl 50.

It’s time to get the poison out. To end the “free” years.