Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 5/25/12

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 25: Head Coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans looks on as the Titans trail the San Diego Chargers on December 25, 2009 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rex Brown/Getty Images)
Prior to this year's draft, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead were asked about the importance of free-agent signings that quickly takes place after the final pick in the draft is made. Said Fisher, "It's a very, very important process. There's recruiting that goes on and it's very, very competitive and it happens very fast. You take into consideration that 31 other teams are doing the same thing, so you have to have a lot of phones open and a lot of stuff going on. And you have to have a plan. We've already discussed it and we'll be prepared. We get into much more detail probably in the middle part of the sixth round on." Added Snead, "Following up on that, we need to take that important piece because I know I've always done a study at the end of the season of where starters are, where you get starters from. And you can get the same percentage of starters from college free agency as you can the second and third rounds. Now realize, in the second round you only have 32 picks, in college free agency, you usually have about 600 picks, so it's a bigger pool. "But the same amount of starters in the NFL, usually at the end of the season come from, I think it's around 16 or 17 percent come from the second and probably 16 to 17 percent come from college free agency, depending on the year. It will fluctuate yearly, but they're pretty close. So that's a very important process and we're going to take it seriously." It's one thing to take it seriously; it's another to compete with signing bonuses for those players pursued by multiple teams. Comparatively speaking, bonuses are significantly lower for free agents. Last season, the final pick in the draft received a signing bonus of 45,900. Even the top undrafted players usually don't get more than 10,000 to sign. At most, one or two players each year might receive bonuses of 20-25,000. However, when a team signs 24 players like the Rams did this year, they add up, especially when the odds are long for making the team. However, those odds aren't that much longer than late-round picks. It is clear from contract numbers seen by The Sports Xchange that the Rams indeed were serious in their player pursuits this season. In fact, Last year, the highest signing bonus received by a Rams undrafted free agent was 5,000, which was paid to four players, including tackleguard Kevin Hughes, who ended the season on the active roster and is with the Rams now in OTAs. Five players received no signing bonus, and the 19 players signed by the Rams received a total of 42,500, an average of 2,236.84. This year, the 24 players signed were paid a total of 76,500 in bonuses, an average of 3,187.50. Most notably, five players received bonuses of 6,000 or more for a total of 39,000: Safety Matt Daniels and punter Johnny Hekker, 10,000; linebacker Sammy Brown, 7,000; and defensive tackle Matthew Conrath and tight end Deangelo Peterson, 6,000. Another four players -- defensive ends Jamaar Jarrett and Scott Smith, linebacker Noah Keller and safety Rodney McLeod -- each received 4,000 bonuses. Only two players -- long snapper Travis Tripucka and tight end Jamie Childers -- didn't receive a bonus. Former NFL personnel executive Gil Brandt, now with nfl.com, ranked the Rams first in his evaluation of undrafted free-agent signings. Brandt singled out Daniels and McLeod, Smith and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who got a bonus of 3,000. Brandt wrote, "I especially like Daniels because of his intelligence and production as a four-year starter at Duke. He displays NFL-caliber speed and reaction skills as a safety. Although Duke isn't much of an NFL factory, Daniels showcased special talent in his collegiate career. McLeod played safety at Virginia, but can transition to corner due to his speed and quickness. Hoffman-Ellis has the unrelenting competitiveness to be a great special teamer in the pros." While one important reason Daniels signed with the Rams was the low numbers at safety on the roster, he benefited by being pursued by numerous teams. "I probably had about 15 teams calling," he told the team website. "My phone, my mom's phone, the house phone, my agent's cell phone all blowing up. So I was talking to the Broncos on one line and then hold on, I got St. Louis on the other line. It was all very hectic but it happened so fast I probably had a decision made within five minutes after the draft was all over." Fisher likes what he has seen from the undrafted players in the first five OTA sessions of the spring. "Good group, smart group," Fisher said. "They're learning. They're starting to get themselves into shape. We can sub in with a lot of them. Usually there's a guy on the ground or a guy going the wrong direction. These guys are doing the right thing, so overall, really good group." The reason why is obvious. NOTES, QUOTES -- Linebacker Mario Haggan said he is willing to help younger players, but that he signed with the Rams to earn the job as a starter. "I'm always going to compete and try to earn a starting job," Haggan told the Post-Dispatch after signing a ione-year contract recently. "That's first and foremost. But along the way, I'm going to help some of the guys that need help. Because the better they are, the better we are as a team, the better I am as a player." He also knew the Rams' depth chart wasn't very deep at linebacker. Haggan said, "Fresh start for me. Fresh opportunity. This is a young team with an established quarterback. I've heard so many good things about coach Fisher; you talk to guys across the league and they all wish they could play for him. And it's close to home. Maybe my family can come see me play more in St. Louis." His family is from an area in Mississippi (Claksdale), not far from Memphis. Said Fisher, "Mario's played very well in that system. In addition to that, he's a very talented special teamer. A great guy for the locker room and gives us some experience at the position." -- Rookie wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens have been back on the field this week after missing two OTAs last week because of the Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles. Said coach Jeff Fisher, "They're up to speed. We have to watch their legs, but they both were in the (play)book and coaches spoke with them at night, so they're fine. By the end of the week, it will be almost as if they never left, but still when they're gone, you miss them. You miss some valuable opportunity." Added quarterback Sam Bradford, "Obviously we would have loved to have had them here last week for the two OTAs that they missed, but at the same time, I don't think missing those two OTAs is going to kill them. Obviously they came into the film room on Monday when a lot of the guys weren't here and saw what we did during those practices. They were caught up. They know what we were doing. Everything we installed they should be fine with. As much as it would have been nice to have them on the field, I think they'll be fine." Quick said he and Givens "quiz each other" on the offense. "We got back on schedule right away," Quick said. "I'm learning fast." -- Fisher on picking up tight end Brody Eldridge on waivers from the Colts: "He was hurt a little bit at Indy, missed some games there, but really very athletic and is just big, strong, big target and is a very good blocking tight end. That's one of the things we're going to do. We're going to continue to watch the waiver wire and if we feel like somebody can come in and help us, we're going to give them a look." QUOTE TO NOTE: "We got a lot done, a lot of different situations and scenarios, end of the game scenarios. Backed up, we wanted to make sure that sometimes it gets loud. You need to be able to communicate and execute in the huddle, so we had a fairly good rookie class voice-wise. I could have got some more out of them." -- Coach Jeff Fisher on the team's rookies that provided the crowd noise during a segment of practice when the offense was deep in their own territory.
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