Los Angeles Rams’ Loss of Long, Laurinaitis Creates Leadership Void

Nov 8, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Rams 21-18. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Rams 21-18. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Friday, February 19th turned out to be a difficult day for Los Angeles Rams fans as the organization decided to part ways with three of the team’s most recognizable players.  In an official statement directly from Coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams announced that James Laurinaitis, Chris Long and Jared Cook had all been released.

For some out there, these moves may not have been that surprising.  Chris Long, through his own admission, has struggled mightily to overcome injuries the past two seasons.  These injuries either kept him off the field entirely, or severely limited his impact when he did play.

Jared Cook, though showing flashes at times, failed to become that consistent receiving threat the Rams hoped he would be when he was signed away from Tennessee.  If the Rams continue to look into emphasizing the run, replacing Cook with a cheaper option that can also provide improved blocking may be the goal.

James Laurinaitis, easily the most solid and consistent of the three, was likely seen as expendable due to the combination of Alec Ogletree being expected to make a full recovery from injury in time for the start of the 2016 season and the emergence of Mark Barron as an outside linebacker in 2015 (though Barron will need to be resigned).

There is a real sense that the front office has a high level of confidence in the ability of the players currently on the roster to make up for any lack of production, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Taking this into consideration, along with the fact that these cuts stand to save the Rams close to $23 million in cap space, it is entirely understandable that the organization would make these moves.  Decisions like these are unfortunate, but necessary, parts of doing business in the NFL.

All that being said, it could turn out that the loss of their productivity on the field, while probably the most discussed aspect of these decisions, might be the issue of least concern for the Rams going forward. It is the presence of strong character guys like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, or a lack thereof, in the locker room and in the community that may hurt the team the most.

Long and Laurinaitis, in particular, were two of the most recognizable faces on this franchise for the better part of the last decade.  They always represented the Rams very well, win or lose, both on and off the field.  They provided strong role models for fans of the team around the country and new players coming into the league and putting on the horns for the first time.  This is ultimately a production league.  But having guys that command respect from teammates off the field can’t be underestimated.

Who will now fill that leadership void on this team?  Who will provide examples to the young guys on how to prepare for games and deal with the added pressures of playing in the NFL?  The Rams were already the youngest team in the league, and these moves only find them getting a little bit younger.

There is no doubt the Rams have some very talented players.  Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald look to be cornerstones of this franchise for years to come.  But might it be too much to ask that they assume more of that leadership role at such early stages in their careers?

Beyond providing that leadership in the locker room, both Chris Long and James Laurinaitis were great ambassadors for the organization and the NFL.  They played hard on the field, but it was how hard they worked off the field that may have done more to endear them to fans.

They used their positions as pro athletes to help those in their community.  As the Rams look to get reacquainted with the fan base in Los Angeles, the importance of having players that can reach out and connect with the community can’t be ignored.  Both players’ ability to connect with their community will be missed.  Plus, it will also be hard to replace this kind of Twitter gold.

The moment the return to Los Angeles was confirmed, it became clear this would be an offseason full of surprises for the Rams.  From uncertainty at quarterback to the loss of key veterans, it is impossible to predict how the rest of this offseason will shape the Rams team.  One thing is certain:  The Rams will take the field in Los Angeles in 2016. The question is, who will lead them when they do?