Conceding that Marc Bulger's right shoulder would not be sufficiently rehabilitated for the final two games of the season, and that little could be gained by pressing him back into action, the St. Louis Rams have placed their starting quarterback on injured reserve.
The move, not totally unexpected, means that Bulger will have plenty of time to work on strengthening his right shoulder, and to prepare for the offseason conditioning program.
Rams officials, until recently, had maintained some hope that Bulger might return to the field late in the season. But the five-year veteran, who has not played since suffering his second shoulder injury of the season on Nov. 20, experienced pain and discomfort in his most recent throwing sessions, and the team decided it was more prudent to simply shut him down for the rest of the season.
"Marc is a warrior ... but it's still swollen up," interim coach Joe Vitt said.
The Rams also placed linebacker Chris Claiborne, signed as an unrestricted free agent this spring, on injured reserve with a knee injury. The Rams' injured reserve list stands at nine players, the most since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995.
Bulger, 28, finished the season having started only eight games, and the two shoulder incidents raised to three the number of shoulder injuries in the last two years. He missed two games in 2004 with a similar problem. His passer efficiency rating of 94.4 is fifth-highest in the NFL and he completed 192 of 287 pass attempts for 2,297 yards, with 14 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
He originally injured his shoulder at Indianapolis on Oct. 17, returned to the lineup after missing two contests, then re-injured it on Nov. 20 against Arizona. The Rams decided not to place Bulger on injured reserve at the time because they were still in contention for a playoff spot and felt he might be able to come back late in the year.
When he is healthy, Bulger remains one of the most precise quarterbacks in the league in an offense well suited to his strengths. It remains to be seen just what kind of offense St. Louis has in 2006, when the Rams will have a new head coach. Some feel that Bulger will prosper even more in a more balanced offense.
Claiborne started in seven of his 14 appearances and posted 38 tackles, one-half sack and one forced fumble. But he was replaced by Trev Faulk in the starting lineup three weeks ago and his playing time has been reduced. Claiborne will likely have offseason surgery to address deterioration in his patella tendon. There is some question as to whether the seven-year veteran, who signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Rams in the spring, will return for 2006.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.