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Senior NFL Columnist

NFL Meetings Musings: Rams signing of Long is a smart move

PHOENIX -- When you watched the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks play last season, one of the things that stood out was how well they pressured the quarterback off the right side of their defenses.

The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, the other two NFC West teams, both had issues at left tackle, and the 49ers and Seahawks were capable of taking advantage of it.

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So St. Louis made a bold move late Monday night by signing former Dolphins left tackle Jake Long to a contract that will greatly improve their ability to keep quarterback Sam Bradford upright.

The 49ers have outside linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive end Justin Smith lined up a lot on that side. Seattle had Chris Clemons last season, but he is coming off an ACL, so they signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as free agents last week.

The Rams signing of Long gives them a solid left tackle capable of holding up one-on-one in pass protection. Long has battled injuries the past couple of seasons, but the talk of his not being a quality left tackle have been greatly exaggerated.

Long, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal, had some moments where he struggled last season -- including against Dwight Freeney in the Colts game -- but he can still hold up in pass protection, and I think he actually had some troubles with his run blocking last year.

The Rams will now move tackle Rodger Saffold to right tackle or maybe inside to guard. The moves will help them fortify a unit that was 17th in sacks allowed last season.

-- With Long signed, expect the action for unsigned tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith to heat up. Those tackles, like Long, use CAA as their agency. The thinking here among front office people was that once Long went, the others would follow. There is still a chance both could go back to their teams, with Vollmer re-signing with the Patriots and Smith with the Bengals. If those teams are smart, that's exactly what they will do.

-- By bringing back linebacker Rey Maualuga to a contract extension, the Bengals can opt to keep second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict on the outside. There was talk of moving Burfict inside if Maualuga left, but now they have the option of keeping him outside. The thinking from the staff is that Burfict played so well there as a rookie, why move him? There is also some thinking that he might be better in the middle, with Maualuga better on the outside. It will be interesting to see what the Bengals do with that decision.

-- Talking to a handful of general managers here, the thinking is that no quarterback in the draft is worth taking in the first round. "You know when you see one of those guys who have it," said one general manager. "These guys aren't that. It's almost like we're forcing ourselves to like them. That's dangerous." West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley are the two quarterbacks most likely to go in the first round. Smith had a great pro day last week, but personnel people here discounted that. "It's all scripted," one AFC personnel director said. "Of course he's going to look good." Can this be the year that a passer doesn't go in the first round? Not likely, but the bigger question is whether they deserve to do so.

-- One of the names that I've heard here this week in terms of a draft riser is Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson. The raw player who played just one year of big-time football at FSU is now considered a good shot to go in the middle of the first round. The bad news for an FSU player is that defensive end Bjoern Werner, once considered a potential top-five pick, is dropping down boards.

-- Some general managers are concerned about the health of Alabama corner Dee Milliner's health. He had surgery to fix a torn labrum earlier this month and there is some talk that he could open the season on the PUP list of the team that drafts him. That could open the door for a player like Florida State's Xavier Rhodes to be the first corner taken.

 
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