<
>

Rams seem serious about Case Keenum as starting quarterback

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It all sounded so familiar.

After another season of quarterback play that was below average or worse, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher stood before a throng of media the day after the season ended and offered an endorsement for Case Keenum as his starting quarterback. Fisher didn't go as far as he did in 2014 when he repeatedly and emphatically said Sam Bradford was his guy, but he did make it clear that Keenum would at least figure into the mix for the starting job in 2016.

As it turned out, Bradford was the team's starter right up until the day the Rams traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles and a second-round pick. So it was only natural to wonder just how invested the Rams were in Keenum, at least until the opening days of free agency when they could begin looking elsewhere for help at the game's most important position.

We're now more than a week into the new league year and the only move the Rams have made at the position has been to offer more than just words about how they feel about Keenum. Scheduled to be a restricted free agent, Keenum received a first-round qualifying offer from the Rams. The move protects them from losing Keenum to another team without compensation, but more than that it sent a message that the Rams' belief in Keenum is more than just lip service.

"It's the first time that I've had a coach believe in me through the offseason like this," Keenum said. "So, I'm excited about the position that I'm in and the position the team is in. I think we're poised to make that next step and be a playoff contender."

To be sure, there's still time for the Rams to explore options. In this free agency period, they've been connected to everyone from Peyton Manning to Ryan Fitzpatrick to Robert Griffin III. But the reality is that they haven't really expressed serious interest in any of them. While that could still change if the price and fit are right, it doesn't appear that the Rams have designs on adding another veteran from another team.

It's also worth noting that for the Rams to add another quarterback, whether via the draft or free agency, they would need to delete one. On the current roster, Nick Foles would be the most logical candidate to go, but the Rams would have to find a trade partner to avoid a large amount of dead money going toward this year's salary cap.

Considering those financial implications, it might be more financially prudent to add a quarterback via the draft, where the low price would help balance the hit of subtracting Foles. Also, none of the quarterbacks on the free-agent market appear to be clear-cut upgrades over what the Rams already have in place. Such is the state of the quarterback position in the NFL.

Which means that if the Rams are going to add another signal-caller, it more likely would come from the draft. By now, you've already seen the Rams tied to Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch with the No. 15 overall pick. They had a sit-down interview with him at the scouting combine so there's at least some interest there. But the Rams also have done their homework on other quarterbacks in this draft class.

At last month's NFL combine, the Rams reportedly scheduled sit-down interviews with Lynch, Cal's Jared Goff, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Michigan State's Connor Cook, USC's Cody Kessler, Ohio State's Cardale Jones and Stanford's Kevin Hogan, among others. At Michigan State's pro day Wednesday, the Rams were spotted spending time with Cook before he went through his workout.

But even if the Rams add one of those players in the draft -- and keep in mind they probably aren't picking high enough to land one of the top two or so -- there's no guarantee that player will be ready to come in and start right away. Even someone like Lynch, who could go in the first round and be available to the Rams.

"Paxton Lynch, two, three, four years down the road, is going to be a really good quarterback," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "You take him. He'll need a little time. If you have the ability and he's afforded that opportunity, he can be really good. If he's going to be expected to be a great quarterback right away, which unfortunately we expect in some cases, maybe you'll be a little disappointed."

All of which is to say that barring a big move up for a top quarterback in the draft, chances are good that Keenum will enter training camp with a chance to follow through on the words of his coach.