Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams' decision to release linebacker Chris Draft three days before the regular-season opener surprised me. What were the Rams thinking? Coach Steve Spagnuolo may or may not answer that question when he meets with reporters later Thursday. My own thoughts:
Was this move money-related? Yes and no. The Rams asked Draft to reduce his salary from $1.225 million to $900,000. The difference would be insignificant from a cash standpoint, even for a team trying to trim expenses. If saving cash were the sole motivation, the Rams could have found more inviting targets. But if the team viewed Draft as a marginal starter with little more value than, say, newly re-signed linebacker Quinton Culberson, the difference could mean more from a salary-cap standpoint. The team has been tight against the cap all offseason. This is the type of move a rebuilding team makes with an eye toward the long term, not just Week 1.
Was Draft going to start Sunday? I thought so. But if the Rams were willing to cut Draft, they clearly did not value him as a starter. Draft has played significantly fewer than half the Rams' defensive snaps over the last two seasons. The Rams wanted Culberson to start heading into last season.
Why cut Draft now? As a veteran, Draft would have been eligible for termination pay -- up to his full 2009 salary -- if he had spent Week 1 on the 53-man roster. The Rams weren't willing to carry a $1.225 million salary for a 33-year-old linebacker who didn't factor into their long-term plans or help on special teams. They could have saved more than $700,000 against the cap by reducing his salary to the veteran's minimum.
What's the scouting report on Draft? Scouts Inc. calls him "a descending athlete who should only be in backup role at this point. His ability to read and react is above average. He has the intelligence to learn all three LB assignments where he can provide good depth across the board from a game planning perspective should a starter go down due to injury. Draft shows little hesitation reading his keys. He just lacks the speed and burst needed to make plays consistently in space. He has a solid grasp of zone concepts and defensive coverage assignments. He shows good zone spacing and the ability to anticipate after reading the QB. Overall, a descending backup whose instincts are sharp but age is a concern with him at this point."
What about Culberson? Scouts Inc. says he has "good size with below-average speed. He is a backup who has good strength and hand use playing the run. He has good reactions with the ability to play off contact. He is missing top burst and speed in the open. He can deliver a physical hit in tight quarters and does a good job of wrapping up in traffic. He has adequate movement in his pass drops. Culberson is more of a short-area athlete in coverage than a rangy type LB that can cover lots of ground. Overall, he is an adequate backup and part-time starter if needed."
Was cutting Draft a good move? It's probably an inconsequential one for the long term. In the short term, the Rams appear worse at linebacker. I think Draft and the previously released Pisa Tinoisamoa would have been among the five best linebackers on the team. They are both gone. Depth suffers as a result.
In the end, this move affirms the long-term approach St. Louis is taking. The organization made a bottom-line value judgment on an older player.