Rams' cuts of James Laurinaitis, Chris Long and Jared Cook clear cap space

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the Rams' all-time leader in tackles, said during a radio interview this week, he was looking forward to his eighth season with the team, the franchise's first in Southern California in more than two decades.

"It's going to be an exciting transition," Laurinaitis told 710 ESPN, "and [I'm] just ready to get the off-season program started."

Scrap those plans.

On Friday, the Rams released Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook.

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Coach Jeff Fisher intimated in a statement that the moves had more to do with salary-cap considerations than performance.

"This is the time of year when all NFL teams are faced with difficult decisions regarding their veteran players," Fisher said.

Cutting Laurinaitis, Long and Cook clears about $23 million in cap space, according to spotrac.com.

The Rams will utilize the extra funds as they try to retain many players set to become free agents.

Starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, linebacker/safety Mark Barron, safety Rodney McLeod and defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims will be unrestricted free agents. Quarterback Case Keenum is among the restricted free agents.

Laurinaitis was a cornerstone for a defense that was regarded as the strength of a team that finished 7-9 last season. He recorded more than 100 tackles every season since the team chose the former Ohio State star in the second round of the 2009 draft.

"After seven unforgettable seasons with the St. Louis Rams, I am saddened that my time with the team has come to an end," Laurinaitis posted on Instagram. "I would like to thank the Rams organization for giving me the opportunity to live out my dream of playing in the NFL! I am forever grateful for the time I spent playing alongside my incredible teammates who have become brothers and lifelong friends…. While it is difficult to close this chapter of my career, I look forward to the journey ahead and what the future holds in store for me and my family. I can't wait to play football. Thank you!"

Long, who played in college at Virginia, was the second pick in the 2008 draft. The son of pro football Hall of Famer Howie Long has 54 1/2 career sacks but has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons.

"Chris and James are the epitome of what it means to be a pro in this league, and it's been an honor to coach them both," Fisher said. "They've been the pillars of our defense for many years and not enough can be said of their love for the game and for their teammates."

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Cook played four seasons under Fisher with the Tennessee Titans before signing with the Rams as a free agent before the 2013 season. He caught 142 passes, eight for touchdowns, with the Rams.

"It's been a pleasure watching him grow from the time I drafted him in Tennessee to seeing him set franchise records in St. Louis," Fisher said. "Like Chris and James, he's been a mainstay in the community and his contributions are commendable. We hope for the best for Jared and his family as he embarks on the next steps of his career."

Twitter: @latimesklein

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