The St. Louis Rams signaled their commitment to building a winner right before the start of training camp, agreeing to terms with defensive end Chris Long on a four-year contract extension through the 2016 season.
Getting the deal done before training camp was a priority for Long.
”It’s huge for me,” Long said after a two-hour workout ended early Sunday night. ”You like to know where you stand and I feel really good about obviously their commitment to me. When it turns around, I want to be a part of it.”
Getting other core players locked up is a priority for the new regime led by coach Jeff Fisher.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis could be next on the list given that like Long he’s entering the final year of his contract. The Rams have had preliminary talks with running back Steven Jackson, coming off his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season and signed for two more years.
The Rams were 2-14 last year, tied for the worst record in the NFL, and have averaged just three victories the last five seasons. Under Fisher, back in coaching after a year away from the NFL, they’re spending like winners.
”He’s not the only one we’re working on,” Fisher said about Long. ”We’re just happy. He’s had a great start to his career and we want to give him a chance to really settle in here and be one the mainstays on our defense.”
Jackson, who reported to camp with 5 percent body fat, said he gave Long ”a big hug” when he learned of the new deal.
”I think he was one of the pillars of our defense last year and he’s very deserving of what he just signed,” Jackson said. ”It’s actually nice to see some guys drafted and not move. Actually, we keep them around, so I was really stoked for him.”
As for his future with the Rams, Jackson referenced his career achievements and said he wasn’t worried about it, adding ”I’m here ready to work.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford, signed through 2015, said Long was not just a team leader but one of his best friends on the squad.
”So I’m extremely excited he’s going to be around here for five more years,” Bradford said. ”And hopefully I will, too.”
The Fisher factor seems to have energized fans. An estimated 1,602 attending the opening workout and cheered a few breakaway runs by Jackson.
Chief operating officer Kevin Demoff did his part to drum up excitement. Demoff confirmed the Long deal while clad in a Rams jersey minus facemask and a jersey with his name on the back, before heading outside for a half-hour stint in the dunk tank.
The 27-year-old Long was seventh in the NFL with 13 sacks last year, topping his previous best of 8½ sacks, and had a three-sack game against the Saints. He had been entering the final year of a six-year, $56.5 million contract he signed after the Rams drafted him No. 2 overall in 2008 out of Virginia.
The sixth year of the deal was voided after Long met certain incentives. Although the Rams have plenty of salary cap space, Long’s cap number for 2012 was $18.3 million.
”It’s good to talk about because I’m excited to be here for five more years,” Long said. ”That’s why I like talking about because I’m excited about the future.
”We’ve got a bunch of guys working really hard out here for the same goals, to win a championship.”
Long’s sack total has increased every season. Last year he had a six-game sack streak and totaled 10 in a nine-game stretch despite nursing a high left ankle sprain that limited him in practice. He also led the Rams with 15 quarterback pressures and 16 quarterback hits.
Long’s play was one of the highlights for a 2-14 team. His sack total tied the NFL season best by his Hall of Fame father, Howie Long, who played defensive tackle for the Raiders. Howie Long, an analyst with FOX Sports, had three consecutive years in double-digit sacks from 1983-85.
”He was doing it from a lot of different spots on the line and he’s him, I’m me,” Long said. ”It was nice to get the same number, but winning would have been everything.
”We’re all super excited to be a part of something like this and we’re going to be able to turn this thing around.”
Fisher is energized, too.
”I feel like this is my first one all over again,” Fisher said. ”Every training camp felt like my first one. I’m very excited.”