It's easy for St. Louis Rams fans to judge former general manager Billy Devaney's tenure with the club as a failure. The team's 10-38 record throughout his three seasons in charge is one of the worst stretches in team history. But does Devaney's tenure deserve an overall failing grade?
I'm sure that most fans would look at the poor drafts, the horrible coaching hires, and the club's overall record to justify a horrible rating. All three of those factors are fair criticisms that should be considered when coming to a final judgment of Devaney's performance. However, what about some of the positives that Devaney accomplished? Believe it or not, he did do some things right, things which made it easier for the current regime in St. Louis to overhaul the roster. Here's a look at what Devaney accomplished as the Rams' general manager from 2008-2011:
Drafted some cornerstones
When he first joined the club, Devaney inherited a team with problems. He explained these issues during a radio interview with KJR-AM in Seattle:
"So the team went up for sale," Devaney said. "It was an old roster. Really old roster. There were some guaranteed contracts on there that we had to live with. Spags [former head coach Steve Spagnuolo] and I got together with Chip [Rosenbloom] and we said 'Listen, this is going to be a complete overhaul, let's just bite the bullet and, rather than do it piece meal, let's blow the whole damn thing up.'"
And that's exactly what Devaney and Spagnuolo did. The team let players like Orlando Pace and Torry Holt go and then attempted to rebuild the team through the draft.
In 2008, Devaney selected defensive end Chris Long with the second pick of the draft. The following year, he got middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has become the defense's leader. The 2010 NFL Draft produced Sam Bradford and Rodger Saffold. Both of those players had rough sophomore seasons in the NFL but still hold a lot of promise for the future. Finally, Devaney's final draft was highlighted by defensive end Robert Quinn, who is quickly developing into a star.
Of course, I can't ignore his failures. For example, there isn't one player remaining on the Rams' roster who was selected in the second round or lower from the 2008 NFL Draft. The only player from that draft who can help the team now is Long. With that in mind, it's tempting to give Devaney a failing grade, but then I think of the excellent decisions to take Quinn, Long, and Laurinaitis, and I struggle with that. It's also important to note that the jury is still out on many of his other personnel decisions.
Cleared cap space
One of the best things that Devaney did was clean up the Rams' payroll. There was a reason why he signed a bunch of depth players to one-year deals prior to the 2011 season. The Rams have a lot of salary coming off the books after the 2012 season. By avoiding the temptation to overspend on free agents in the 2011 offseason, Devaney kept that structure in place, which will allow the team more flexibility as some of the dead contracts from the team's past come off the books. It will also enable new Rams general manager Les Snead to re-sign Long and Laurinaitis to new contracts.
The truth is that Devaney was a wise steward with the team's money. He didn't sign players to contracts that would come back to bite the Rams. I know some people will argue that the Jason Brown deal was horrible, but no one thought it was a bad contract at the time; most Rams fans praised the signing as a way to help protect Sam Bradford. Who could have predicted that Brown would fail in St. Louis? I can't think of any other contracts that were blatantly awful. Devaney was careful, and that has put the Rams in position to finally build something wonderful.
The big picture
Billy Devaney did a poor job as the Rams' general manager. There's no question that many of his decisions hurt the organization, including his coaching hires and many of his roster decisions. However, he also made a few smart decisions with the draft and built a salary structure that will allow the current franchise to rebuild quickly. Now the future is bright for Rams football, and despite all of his failures, Devaney helped give that future a chance. That's why I give him a "D" grade for his tenure with the team.
Derek Ciapala has been a Rams fan since he was a child and the team was in Los Angeles. His favorite Rams moments include Flipper Anderson's 336-yard receiving night against the Saints in 1989, and their miracle 1999 run to their first Super Bowl victory. You can follow him on Twitter @dciapala.