So LeBron James has announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and, all of a sudden, all is well again. The anger felt at James’ defection to Miami, as best expressed by owner Dan Gilbert, has been dissipated in an act of forgiveness and Cavs fans can now dig their jerseys out from where they stored them four years ago and remember that they are fans. Save for romanticized curtain calls as part of a last hurrah, it is rare for players to return to their original clubs, especially while still playing at something resembling the top of their game. For the St Louis Rams, for example, Will Witherspoon is one such returnee, but this was little more than a cameo appearance, mainly due to Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s suspension. Perhaps free agents apply the same maxim one should to terminated romantic relationships: it is best to not go back.
The transition from the Greatest Show on Turf saw the Rams lose some of their legendary players to other teams: Orlando Pace to Chicago, Isaac Bruce to San Francisco, Torry Holt to Jacksonville, etc. These, however, were in the twilight of their careers and contributed little to their new teams. The same could be said, sadly, for Steven Jackson’s move to Atlanta, at least for the time being. However, the Rams have also frustratingly lost some promising young talent over the past decade or so, taking their skills elsewhere. Amusingly, in some of these cases, time proved that these teams were surprisingly short-changed…
The hard-hitting strong safety was one of the most promising young players at the position when he entered free agency following the end of the 2005 season. The former first-round pick, who accumulated close to 350 tackles in six seasons for the blue-and-gold, as well as fifteen sacks, was courted by a few teams but eventually signed with Washington as, at the time, the highest paid safety in NFL history. Archuleta’s reply to his six-year, $30-million contract was to play all sixteen games, but start only seven, contributing more as a special teams player after being replaced by Troy Vincent. Archuleta was traded to Chicago in 2007, where, again, he failed to live up to his promise (or his salary) before a failed experiment with Oakland. He has not played since 2008 and is now a college football game analyst on television.
O. J. Atogwe
Oshiomogho Atogwe was the Rams’ strongest defensive player in those years of futility (otherwise known was the Linehan / Spagnuolo era). A ball-hawking free safety, Atogwe registered 22 interceptions as a Ram, including eight in 2007, when many felt he had been criminally overlooked for the Pro Bowl. Again, he was a highly-sought free agent in 2011, and along came Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who continued his propensity for over-paying under-achievers. Atogwe started only eight games as a Redskin, despite three interceptions, and was released after only one season before failing to win a spot in Philadelphia. This marked the second time that the Rams had “shafted” the Redskins, who were perhaps unaware that these things tend to come in threes when they picked up the phone to propose the RGIII trade…
Tinoisamoa was a second-round pick out of Hawaii in 2003 and spent six years in St Louis. A solid linebacker, Tinoisamoa accumulated over 350 tackles as a Ram and, despite struggling with injuries the previous two years, led the team in the category in 2008, his final year with the franchise. The Rams released him in a money-saving move, but the Chicago Bears added him to their much-vaunted defense. The result? Tinoisamoa played two games in his first season as a Bear before the injury struck again. He played a further twelve games for Chicago in 2010 before being released, with his career coming to an end.
It is hard to imagine a time before Janoris Jenkins when a Rams cornerback would be a popular free agent target, but Ron Bartell was such a person. Drafted by St Louis in the second round of the 2005 draft, Bartell did not gain many interceptions, but he was considered a promising shutdown corner and had nineteen pass deflections in 2008, the year he entered free agency. Surprisingly, Bartell re-signed with the Rams, a decision that, perhaps, would go on to haunt him. Bartell fractured his neck in 2011 and was released by the Rams at the end of that season. He signed with Oakland, and then Detroit, appearing in only seven games between them before disappearing into obscurity, a victim of unfortunate timing.
There have been some Rams free agents who have gone on to enjoy successful seasons with other franchises, while many others have failed to deliver in other uniforms as they did with the team. For those mentioned above, however, there is perhaps a perverse pleasure in knowing that we kept these players for the peaks of their careers, disappointing those who felt they had stolen them from our hands.
I could, of course, write about the free agents the Rams have stolen from others who have gone on to disappoint there, but I fear that even the Internet has a size limit…