The Other 31: Rams continue to build but the going is tough in the NFC West


St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, right, holds on to a pass as Rams defensive back Quinton Pointer defends during practice. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

St. Louis Rams

Background: Schedule | Depth chart | Draft | Team page | Previous teams

Last season’s record: 7-8-1

Key players released: T Wayne Hunter, TE Matthew Mulligan, S Quintin Mikell

Key free agents lost: CB Bradley Fletcher, WR Danny Amendola, RB Steven Jackson, WR Brandon Gibson, S Craig Dahl, G Rob Turner, WR Steve Smith, T Barry Richardson

Key free agents re-signed: DE William Hayes, QB Kellen Clemens, G/T Chris Williams

Key free agents added: TE Jared Cook, T Jake Long

Draft:

Rd. 1 (No. 8 overall)… Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

1 (30)… Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

3 (71)… T.J. McDonald, S, Southern California

3 (92)… Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia

4 (113)… Barrett Jones, C/G, Alabama

5 (149)… Brandon McGee, CB, Miami

5 (160)… Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt

Analysis: Even in an offseason in which they lost tailback Steven Jackson and wide receiver Danny Amendola, the St. Louis Rams appeared to improve. That’s thanks to the arrivals of two high-profile free agents, offensive tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook, and two first-round draft choices, wide receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree.

Whether the Rams have improved enough to stay within striking distance of the NFC West’s two would-be superpowers, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, remains to be seen. But it’s not difficult to envision them pushing above the .500 mark and challenging for a playoff spot.

The Rams landed Long, the top overall selection in the 2008 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins, for a four-year, $34 million contract. They got Cook, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, for a five-year, $35.1 million deal. With the draft-night addition of Austin, the electrifying wideout from West Virginia, the Rams can hope to be more productive on offense even after saying their goodbyes to Jackson, their longtime centerpiece runner, and Amendola, the reliable pass-catcher signed by the New England Patriots to replace Wes Welker. There has been speculation that Zac Stacy, a fifth-round draft pick from Vanderbilt, could be in line to get a good amount of the work at running back, with Jackson gone.

The Rams had four selections in the draft’s opening three rounds. Ogletree (but not Austin) becomes part of the group of players drafted by the Rams thanks to last year’s trade with the Washington Redskins that enabled the Redskins to move up to choose Robert Griffin III. The Rams say they’re pleased with what they’ve gotten from the Griffin trade as they attempt to construct a built-to-last winner. They seem to be getting closer to that, although the presence of the 49ers and Seahawks in their division makes the Rams’ task that much more difficult.

Why Redskins fans should care: The fortunes of the two teams will be tied for the duration of the career of Robert Griffin III, given the Redskins’ trade with the Rams last year that enabled them to move up in the first-round draft order to select the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor second overall.

Conversation starter: Did the Redskins give up too much in the Robert Griffin III trade?

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @john_keim | @D3Keith | @Insider | @PostSports

More coverage:

D.C. Sports Bog on Redskins’ surveys: Team name | Stadium | Slogans

Redskins need more push from defensive line

How Griffin deals with pass-rush pressure

The Early Lead: Aaron Hernandez search warrants may be released

D.C. Sports Bog: RGIII’s wife in wedding dress and makeup

The Other 31: AFC East | North | South | West | NFC East | North | South | West

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.

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Keith McMillan · July 9, 2013

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