Rams' deal with Jake Long serves notice

PHOENIX -- The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have snagged the most NFC West headlines during free agency.

Rams Left Tackles Since 2008

The St. Louis Rams, 2-1-1 against those NFC West heavyweights in 2012, should not be forgotten after landing Jake Long on a reported four-year contract.

This move goes a long way toward stabilizing an offensive line that has used 16 different starters over the past two seasons. Long, a four-time Pro Bowl choice in five years with the Miami Dolphins, gives the Rams someone with the credentials to match up against Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin, Calais Campbell and any other pass-rushers NFC West opponents might send St. Louis' way.

The Rams have now filled their No. 1 need heading into the draft. That makes it easier for the team to emphasize value over need when the team uses its eight picks, including two in the first round.

"You never want to go into a draft just desperate because then you will end up drafting a position and those are just two letters in the alphabet," Rams general manager Les Snead said from the NFL owners meeting earlier Sunday. "At the end of the day, it's the player that is playing the position that determines whether he is good, very good, excellent, rare, just above average."

Financial terms of Long's contract cannot be known with much certainty until the deal is on file with the NFL and NFL Players Association.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and NFL Network described the deal as for four years and for as much as $36 million. That sounds like $9 million per season, but if $36 million is the maximum value, the Rams secured Long for less in likely compensation. That would be a victory for St. Louis because it's tough landing top talent from another team in free agency without paying a premium. The fact that the deal spans four years, a relatively short period, suggests the deal carries less bonus money, another advantage for the Rams.

The Dolphins were interested in re-signing Long and it appeared their chances increased when Long returned to Miami without a contract following three days visiting the Rams. But in a conversation earlier Sunday, Snead said the the Rams and Long were "still chatting" and that Long remained in play for the team.

We can score this as another offseason victory for the Rams over the Dolphins. Last offseason, St. Louis beat out Miami in the race to hire coach Jeff Fisher. Two years ago, the 49ers beat out Miami for another high-profile coach, Jim Harbaugh.

Long, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, comes to the Rams with injury concerns. Biceps and triceps injuries forced him to miss six games over the past two seasons. He finished both of those seasons on injured reserve after missing no games over the first three-plus seasons of his career.

Long turns 28 in May. He should be entering the prime of his career, health permitting. The Rams will install him as their starting left tackle. They could move incumbent Rodger Saffold to right tackle, or they could try Saffold at guard if the team's options at right tackle improve through the draft or free agency.

The Rams have now made two substantial investments to upgrade their offense. They signed Tennessee Titans tight end Jared Cook to a deal averaging $7 milion per season, and now they have found a cornerstone for their offensive line. Some will say the team still must upgrade at running back and wide receiver after watching Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola depart, but the Rams do not sound convinced their needs are dire in those areas. More on that Monday.