Saturday afternoon, with the Jeff Fisher era less than 24 hours from dawning at Ford Field, James Laurinaitis and the St. Louis Rams agreed to a five-year extension worth $41.5 million. (That's in play NFL money--the guaranteed dollars run about half that high.) It's not the only big deal the Rams made to shore up their defense this year--Cortland Finnegan signed a similar deal as a free agent--but symbolically it carries a lot of wait. Because on Saturday, the Rams--awash as always in unfulfilled potential--locked up a player who'd already met and exceeded our expectations.â†µ
Laurinaitis--the unquestioned captain of a defense that's filled with talented youngsters--will be just 26 this year, but he's already settled in as one of the few constants in a team that changes course every year. Across three seasons he's got 310 tackles, eight sacks, and five interceptions, but the most impressive number is his 48 starts--16 a year.
While so many of the Rams' building blocks have fallen off the stack, or out of favor, or just vanished after a season in which nothing's gone quite right, Laurinaitis has taken the field every week and harrassed offenses that have often looked impossibly comfortable. For this Rams team he represents continuity and competence in a way that nobody else but Steven Jackson does--and now he'll be around for a while.â†µ