|Tuesday, March 18
Updated: March 24, 5:50 PM ET
Rams give up second-round pick for Turley
By Len Pasquarelli
Finally convinced that they needed to acquire a proven veteran tackle, and abandon their cut-and-paste efforts of the past few years, the St. Louis Rams on Friday evening completed what coach Mike Martz termed a "major" deal, trading for New Orleans Saints standout Kyle Turley.
St. Louis dealt its second-round choice in the 2004 draft to the Saints for the five-year veteran, who has been on the trade block for months, after New Orleans coach Jim Haslett decided he no longer fit in with the club.
"He will impact us in the same way that Marshall Faulk did and that Aeneas Williams did," said Martz. "This is a major, major, major step in really solidifying the offensive line. It's a position (right tackle) we've struggled with in the last few years."
Indeed, since losing starting right tackle Fred Miller as an unrestricted free agent following the Rams' victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, the right tackle spot has been an obviously deficient area. Last year, the team started young tackle John St. Clair, a third-year veteran who had never even appeared in a game his first two seasons, and he provided uneven results.
One of the criticisms of Martz and the Rams is that they often concentrated too much on acquiring offensive skill position players to add to an already impressive arsenal, and permitted the line to fall into disrepair.
A Rams veteran told ESPN.com after the 2002 season that the line badly needed reinforcement. "It's been like a cut-and-paste thing," he said. "It's almost as if they feel we can just get by with what we've got. We need to add a big-time player."
Turley, 27, is a proven commodity, a player who has appeared in 79 of a possible 80 contests in five years, starting all of them.
To complete the trade, Turley agreed to a five-year contract extension that is worth $26.5 million in so-called "new money." The deal includes combined guaranteed money, between the signing bonus and other payments, of $12 million. The extension segment of the contract boosts Turley to among the four highest paid offensive linemen in the league.
A first-round choice in the 1998 draft, the seventh prospect selected overall that year, he was entering the final season of his original NFL contract and scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.389 million. Agent Tom Condon of IMG Football, who negotiated the extension, was on a flight and could not be immediately reached for comment.
The trade sets of a variety of implications for both teams.
While he was acquired to play right tackle, Turley now provides the Rams considerable leverage in their negotiations with "franchise" offensive left tackle Orlando Pace. The agents for Pace have proposed an $85 million contract for their client, with a $23.8 million signing bonus, and Rams president John Shaw has called their demands "crazy."
St. Louis expects a lengthy holdout by Pace, who missed nearly all of his rookie training camp in 1998 because of a contract impasse, and does not anticipate him participating in offseason drills or mini-camps. Now that the team has Turley on hand it has a comfortable, if expensive, safety net.
The Rams could move Turley to left tackle, where he played in 2002 for the Saints, and perhaps trade Pace. Club officials insisted Friday night, though, that the goal is to have Pace on the left side and Turley on the right, which would arguably represent the premier tackle tandem in the league.
In acquiring another high-round draft choice, the Saints rid themselves of a player they considered a problem, and further bolstered an impressive draft bounty for next month. New Orleans now owns a pair of choices in both the first and second rounds. The Saints could use the second-rounder gained in the Turley trade to pursue New England safety Tebucky Jones, a player Haslett clearly covets.
New Orleans signed veteran left tackle Wayne Gandy earlier this month to play the left side, feels comfortable it is sufficiently covered on the right side, and that made Turley even more expendable in the eyes of Saints management.
Turley will also bring the Rams, often regarded as a finesse-type team, a huge measure of toughness. He has long been acknowledged as one of the NFL's nastiest players and was fined two years ago for ripping the helmet off New York Jets safety Damien Robinson and flinging it up the field.
"He is one tough SOB," said Rams offensive line coach Jim Hanifan. "He's the kind of guy you want on your side and watching your back."
The former San Diego State star actually started 12 games at left guard as a rookie before settling into the right tackle spot through the 2001 campaign. He moved to left tackle in 2002 after the Saints traded perennial Pro Bowl performer Willie Roaf to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.