EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When most free agents go shopping for a new home, the priority list usually looks something like money, playing time and a chance to win, in that order.
For a free agent like new St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Alex Carrington, who is coming off a torn quadriceps, the money wasn't going to be what he wanted. Playing time would seem to take precedence so that his next contract could provide more cash. So as he sifted through interest from the likes of Oakland, Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, all would seem more appealing than the deep and talented group already present in St. Louis.
Carrington didn't quite see it that way. In fact, Carrington not only chose the Rams despite the presence of so much defensive line talent but because of it.
"I know it’s a pretty heavy rotation with the D-line," Carrington said. "There’s a lot of talented people. Why not be around talent? It helps step my game up and I can learn some things from people."
Those some people include the likes of ends Robert Quinn, Chris Long and William Hayes and tackles Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford. After signing a one-year "prove it" deal worth $1.5 million on March 25, Carrington could have reconsidered that sentiment when the Rams used the No. 13 overall pick on another defensive tackle, Aaron Donald.
"I wasn’t really concerned about who they drafted," Carrington said. "I started looking at some stuff about him and he’s a talented kid. I’m glad to be on his team."
And the Rams are clearly glad to have Carrington on theirs. Entering free agency, the team made it clear that they wouldn't be spending big money on the open market, instead searching for potential bargains.
Although defensive tackle didn't jump out as the most glaring need, the Rams viewed it as an important area to upgrade behind starters Brockers and Langford. They identified Carrington as a potential fit right away, noting his positional versatility in Buffalo and the chance to get him at a bargain price as he rebounded from the injury.
The Rams kicked the tires on other possibilities such as Henry Melton and Antonio Smith but Carrington remained right at the top of the list. Upon visiting St. Louis, Carrington felt at home right away after having played his college ball not far away at Arkansas State. He hit it off with coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Mike Waufle and immediately liked their plan for how to deploy him.
"The D-line is a big part of this team and I’d like to be a part of that," Carrington said. "Just hearing stories about the guys before I came was a big part of it. I know they play good, attack defense. I wanted to be a part of that, I really did."
In coming to St. Louis, Carrington will also get an opportunity different than anything he did for the Bills. While Buffalo also fielded a talented group around him, Carrington played a little bit of everything from nose tackle to outside linebacker in the team's ever-changing schemes. Despite that evolving role, Carrington never really got to play in an aggressive system that allowed him to get up the field.
That's why Carrington doesn't come to St. Louis with a particularly impressive statistical resume. In 44 career games, the former third-round pick has a pedestrian 52 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble.
"Here it’s go all the time," Carrington said. "I have been part of more read schemes in the past and stuff like that. Here, we just go. Pin your ears back and that kind of excites me a little bit that I actually get to play a style of football that’s conducive to production."
The question then becomes how many opportunities Carrington will get to contribute. In 2013, backup defensive tackles Matt Conrath and Jermelle Cudjo combined for just 338 snaps. That duo struggled to produce, often forcing the Rams to move end William Hayes and Eugene Sims inside. By way of comparison, Carrington played 155 snaps in only three games.
With Carrington and Donald in place, the Rams should be able to keep Sims and Hayes outside on a more consistent basis and continue rotating their top eight linemen without skipping a beat.
From a health perspective, Carrington says he's close to 100 percent and has spent the recent organized team activities knocking off any rust. And he's left any leftover disappointment from the injury in the past.
"As soon as it happened, I was like ‘No, not right now,’" Carrington said. "Contract year, I’ve got to do this. I was pretty upset about it for 15 minutes, 20 minutes. But then I was like ‘Well, you can’t do nothing but get better from here.’ You can’t get unhurt by being sad about it."