Nov 24, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) is introduced before a game against the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated Chicago 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

James Laurinaitis One Of The Most Overpaid Players In The NFL? Nowhere Close.

Within every organization in any sport, there are always “polarizing” figures. For the St. Louis Rams, there are only a handful of truly debate-worthy individuals, headed by the not-so-cap friendly Sam Bradford. However, other names have crept up from time to time to spark some headed debates among fans. One of those players is James Laurinaitis…

Laurinaitis has been a pillar in the Rams defense since being drafted at the top of the second round by St. Louis back in 2009. At the end of 2012, the former-Buckeye signed a five-year/$41.5 million contract extension, giving him what is currently the 6th-highest average annual salary in the NFL among inside linebackers (roughly $8.3 million per season). A combination of perceived “poor performance” and that massive contract have proven to be the proverbial flint and stone that sparks debate about the Rams defensive signal caller. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Tyson Langland recently named James Laurinaitis one of his five “most grossly overpaid” players in the NFL. Here are his thoughts:

“… Laurinaitis does in fact make more money on a yearly basis than both [Daryl] Washington and [Derrick] Johnson.

I know, it doesn’t seem plausible since Laurinaitis finished the 2013 season with 13 missed tackles and an awful run-defense rating of minus-5.7, but that’s what happens when an organization overpays for a mediocre player.

At the time of Laurinaitis’ $41.5 million extension, the team was starved for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Furthermore, the Rams didn’t have a player to fill his shoes in the middle, so their only choice was to keep him.

If Laurinaitis wasn’t a total liability against the run, St. Louis could justify his bloated salary. But that’s simply not the case. Don’t be surprised when the Rams move on from him at the end of the 2014 season. ” – Tyson Langland

Regardless of your personal view of James Laurinaitus, labeling the Rams inside linebacker “mediocre” is a tough sell.

Since his inception into the NFL, the St. Louis’ signal caller has ranked Top 10 in the NFL in solo tackles in four of his five seasons; the last player to accomplish that feat in his first five seasons was Patrick Willis. In his most recent season, despite being dethroned by Alec Ogletree for the tackle title in St. Louis, Laurinaitis ranked Top 15 in nearly every other meaningful category, including sacks, fumble recoveries, pass deflections, interceptions, and, most importantly, defensive stops. He was also one of only two inside linebackers to play at least 75% of total defensive snaps and not allow a touchdown in coverage, despite dropping back on 50.8% of his defensive snaps last year.

However, to directly address some of the issues mentioned in the article by Langland…

The post does make an interesting point on “missed tackles,” but throws that figure into the equation without much context. To be fair, Laurinaitis did, in fact, miss 13 tackles last season. However, Derrick Johnson, who was ironically used as a contrasting figure, lead the NFL in missed tackles, while Luke Kuechly, the reining AP Defensive Player of the Year, missed 14 tackles during the 2013 regular season. To put that number into even greater context, Laurinaitis also ranked Top 10 in tackling efficiency versus the run among inside linebacker that played at least 75% of the team’s defensive snaps; ahead of both Kuechly and Johnson. Context.

Langland also dredges up Laurinaitis’ putrid -5.7 run stoppage grade, which comes courtesy of Pro Football Focus (PFF). However, PFF has been known to significantly undervalue 4-3 linebackers, made blatantly obvious by Kuechly grading outside of the Top 5 overall inside linebackers in the NFL last season. In fact, the Carolina Panthers’ master defender graded out 20th overall among linebackers, according to PFF, with 15 of those “superior” linebackers playing in a 3-4 base. Moreover, despite subjectively grading Laurinaitis 41st overall among inside linebackers against the run (out of 55),  he ranked 20th overall in run stop percentage (i.e. the percentage of a player’s run defense snaps where he was responsible for a run stop), easily trumping players like Daryl Washington and Patrick Willis.

In fact, using run stop percentage as a reasonable metric for an individual’s ability to “stop the run,” Laurinaitis has ranked in the Top 20 in four of his five NFL seasons, and within the Top 10 twice, including 3rd overall in 2010. While the might not seem impressive, Patrick Willis, who is widely regarded as one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL, has broken into the Top 20 only twice in the last five seasons, and has never ranked higher than 18th in run stop percentage since 2009.

To compare those “run stoppage” numbers to some of the other top paid inside linebackers, the five players averaging a higher annual salary than Laurinaitis ranked 4th, 9th, 16th, 32nd, or did not play enough snaps to qualify (Brian Cushing) for a ranking last year; the five players directly below Laurinaitis’ annual salary ranked 1st (Paul Posluszny), 24th, 28th, 29th, or did not play enough snaps to qualify (Sean Lee) for a ranking last year.

To put it simply, Laurinaitis has produced at a rate well worth the amount of money he is being paid by the St. Louis Rams. Despite having a “mediocre” supporting cast for the vast majority of his career and being forced to play in the nickel package more than any other inside linebacker in the NFL, the former-Ohio State superstar has consistently put up Top 10 figures across the board. Assuming that most would base players’ annual salaries on “their numbers” on the field, Laurinaitis is right in the ballpark of where he should be getting paid. Better yet, he’ll only be averaging $6.1 million from 2015 through 2017, which would barely notch his annual salary within the Top 15 inside linebackers in the league. Bargain.

…oh yea! James Laurinaitis has only missed 13 total defensive snaps since 2009 (out of 5,449).

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  • Natedogg265

    JL is a weak link in this defense.

    • Nathan Kearns

      Based off of…

      …opinions are opinions, but you aren’t going to find much to support that “weak link” claim.

      • Natedogg265

        Yeah I know you guys love him. He’s like middle of the pack good, at best.

        • Nathan Kearns

          Waiting for something that supports your case, my man!

          • Natedogg265

            What was his ESPN rating again?

          • Calvin G Suddeath

            ESPN is the worst place to cite your justification.They’re too busy watching the Patriots and the 49ers.

          • Natedogg265

            Yeah, lets not count the ratings we don’t like.

          • Calvin G Suddeath

            In all the years I have been watching ESPN(before you were born),They have always had a band wagon mentality.Overall they have shown great disdain for the Rams.

          • mason

            RATING JUNKIE!!!! how about you formulate your own opinions for once, instead of trusting someone else (who has their own biases) to think for you lol….

          • cesarnoel

            ESPN has been biased against the Rams since before.

    • MichaelNupe Thompson

      Every rams article you always throwing negativity. Are you a fan or not cause I can’t tell. Wusup with all the negativity. We all are tired of the rams losing and of course we know we over value some of our stronger players. But they all we got… I see you bash Bradford, now laurianitis.

      • Calvin G Suddeath

        He’s always on different Rams sites but he spends more time bashing the coaches and the players and he’s never satisfied.I don’t get it.

  • Fangface

    Good read.

  • jj

    Great article, coincidentaly i read the salary article on bleacher report recently and found out why bleacher report bashes the rams all the time. The main office is located in san fran.

  • Ric

    These numbers tell a fair story indeed. I really liked JL till the talent around him caught up, then kinda fell off his wagon. After checking your numbers though, and they don’t lie, I will tip my hat to him. Neither of the last two coaches has even remotely brought in competition to challenge him at that position. That’s a lot of trust. I do know they keep replacing people around instead of him, that’s not by accident.

    • Nathan Kearns

      That is an excellent point that far too many people overlook. Laurinaitis has received nothing but praised by the Rams revolving doors of coordinators and head coaches. More importantly, they have supported that praise by not even considering bringing in someone to “compete” for his starting spot.
      I fully expect Laurinaitis to play out the duration of his contract, and wouldn’t be surprised if he signed an extension at the end of that deal…

  • UhhDuhh

    He is the leader of the defense and gets the young ones lined up where they are supposed to be. Whether they do their jobs is up to them and you can’t really put a price tag on his leadership. At this point, I wouldn’t trust anyone else but Laurinitis in the middle.

  • Benjamin Clark

    how are you going to say he’s over paid numbers are numbers but remember people we didnt have a defense line that could keep them lineman of out linebackers JL is only going to get better now that williams has taken over watch and see if someone is Over paid its Bradford we all know it. James has done way more in his Position then bradfords done an we’re talking second round steal over a 1st round bust

    • Benjamin Clark

      not to mention Washington is a PED junkie and him and johnson play in a 3-4 scheme not a 4-3. Johnson is a great player dont get me wrong but James has done more in his first 5 years then johnson. o yea what about those other players on the side of them James finally has another LB”s” to help out in Alec an Dunbar/ray ray. so for you people that say he’s over paid why dont you really look at the stats better yet watch the games

  • Jim Stack

    so he’s in the top 20 ….. that’s the bottom 50% in the league! lol

    • Nathan Kearns

      Did you just pick and choose what you wanted to pay attention to in the article?

      Patrick Willis (32nd), D’Qwell Jackson (37th), Daryl Smith (40th), Daryl Washington (24th), Demaro Ryans (28th)

      • Jim Stack

        YES because the story bores me. I actually watch all the Rams games and I see him not getting off blocks. I think its hilarious that ram cheerleaders (they call themselves fans), actually believe he’s a top lb as they think Jenkins is an nfl cb.

    • tcapelli

      Jim Stack, The top 20 is the bottom 50% of 55 MLB’s???

  • cesarnoel

    JL55 deserves the money because he is been one of the consistent leader for the Rams defense since they drafted him. He is very smart and considered the quarterback of that defense.