Los Angeles Rams defensive end Chris Long, tight end Jared Cook and linebacker James Laurinaitis have all been released, the team announced on Friday. Long has been a leader in the locker room and one of the team's best players since he was the second overall pick in 2008, but injuries and a huge contract have made his stay in Los Angeles impossible.
Cook was a recent free agent pickup and a productive tight end, while Laurinaitis has slowed down since a promising start to his career but has still been an effective linebacker for the team.
Head coach Jeff Fisher said the decision was "difficult," and that both Long and Laurinaitis are the "epitome of what it means to be a pro in this league and it's been an honor to coach them both."
"We will always be grateful for James and Chris' unselfish commitment to the Rams and wish them the best moving forward," Fisher said in a statement. He had similar sentiments for Cook, and said the team hopes "for the best for Jared and his family as he embarks on the next steps of his career."
After playing all 16 games in each of his first six seasons in the league, Long missed 10 games in 2014 and four games this past season. While he managed to play in 12 games this year, Long clearly wasn't himself and wasn't able to play at 100 percent. He is now three complete seasons removed from the last time he had double-digit sacks in a single season.
Again, Long's importance to the Rams is huge and the decision to release him couldn't have been an easy one for Jeff Fisher and the front office. Even at 30 years old, opposing offenses have to watch out for him and he has value on the field. But the Rams owed Long $9.75 million in base salary for 2016, and another $2 million in roster bonuses. He was set to count $14.25 million against the salary cap if they didn't release him.
"I just want to personally and humbly thank the city of St. Louis again for all your support over 8 years. I love y'all so much for sticking with me through the ups and downs," defensive end Chris Long said on his Instagram.
Long also said that he will make no excuses for his struggles over the past two years, and that he cares about his "performance and my responsibility to my teammates."
Long signed a 4-year, $48.2 million deal with the Rams and they're cutting ties with him before that fourth and final year. It's unclear if the team will try to re-sign Long, especially because he himself thinks he can still play at a high level. But any new deal for him will be at a significantly reduced rate.
Laurinaitis has been with the team since it drafted him in the second round in 2009 and has been a reliable inside linebacker. He hasn't been a game-breaking player by any means, but he has never missed a game and has never finished a season with under 100 total tackles. His release was a surprise, as he was set to have a cap hit of $6.425 million in 2016, a reasonable amount for him.
Cook signed a five-year, $35.1 million deal with the Rams in 2013 and has been effective at times. But he's never been a game-breaking tight end and despite playing in 16 games last season, he finished with just 481 yards and no touchdowns. The Rams have had some serious quarterback issues so it's not all on Cook, however.
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