I'm not a football personnel man. At least not in any sort of paid capacity. And neither are you.
In fact, if the entire NFL re-drafted and we were in charge of the St. Louis Rams, I'd be willing to guess that our team would be near the bottom of the standings. As proof, I present your fantasy football team. As a collective, let's admit that we're not better than any one person actually evaluating talent in the NFL for a living.
That's our starting point.
Now let's go back to April of 2008. The Rams had earned the second overall draft pick with a dismal 3-13 year in 2007. And while the selection of Chris Long in the first round was met with tepid enthusiasm, I think most Rams fans were really interested in pick 33, essentially the first pick in the second round due to the Patriots forfeiture of their draft pick in the ‘Spygate' fallout.
That's when rock bottom happened.
The Rams desperately needed a receiver that could, well, do anything. They had their choice of any available, since none had been selected. DeSean Jackson, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon or Stevie Johnson? Yes please. Any would be great.
"With the 33rd pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select... Donnie Avery. Wide Receiver, University of Houston."
It's not an exaggeration to say that not one person that day, or the three years since, has liked that pick. In fact, I remember burying my head in my hands and wondering aloud why the hell I even root for this team. Again, we don't know much as a collective back-seat personnel driver, but we knew this was a mistake the moment the name was read.
In retrospect, that was rock bottom.
The Rams would go on to lose 14 games in 2008, fire Scott Linehan mid-season and then fire Jim Haslett, the interim coach weeks later. And while year one with Coach Spags was no picnic, going 1-15, at least we had some hope that we were rebuilding instead of falling deeper into the abyss.
I've never met Donnie Avery. I don't know much about the man at all. He was released to make room for 2 rookies after missing the entire 2010 season and will never live up to the expectations of being the first WR selected in an NFL Draft.
But Donnie Avery did do one thing - galvanize a fledgling fan base. Give a touchstone to rally around and point to and yell - "what the F are you doing, Rams?" He set in motion not only a front-office change, but an ownership change as well.
3.5 years later Rams fans are getting ready to pack the dome for the home opener as the marquis matchup on NFL Kickoff Weekend. We have a sterling new franchise QB and an organizational fortitude that wasn't here when Donnie Avery came to STL via Houston. Rams fans aren't delusional; they know that the first half of 2011 is going to be a brutal litmus test. But we also know that this team isn't in danger of going 2-14 or 1-15.
No one wants their legacy to involve being the guy that made everyone realize that something was truly damaged with a franchise. But Donnie Avery and fulfilled every expectation we had of him being a bust. In doing so, he gave the impetus to many more people to try and find real solutions to the problems afflicting a franchise still clinging to its success in the previous decade.
So thanks Mr. Avery. Good luck and best wishes from all the St. Louis Rams fans. You did what we expected and for that, we can't thank you enough.