And to the Rams, it's a chance to play chicken with the most valuable kicker in the league.
Mike Lansford was not among the Select 37 the Rams were permitted to protect before this year's Plan B sweepstakes get under way. Neither were Doug Smith, the Pro Bowl center, or Tony Slaton, the backup center, or Mike McDonald, the backup backup center, which must mean the Rams have figured out a new way to snap the football. For the record, the club says it will re-sign Smith and Lansford too, but not without exposing them to the lure of free-agent auctioneering.
Losing Lansford would be a real kick in the stomach. On a team notorious for bad behavior under stress conditions, Lansford is an entity unto himself, an All-Pro at the final gun. Morten Andersen might kick them longer and Rich Karlis might kick them more often, but no one kicks better with everything on the line.
Since his sophomore year at Arcadia High School, Lansford has missed precisely one potential game-winning field goal. That came last season in New Orleans, on a 52-yard attempt that just missed the left crossbar. But even then, Lansford made amends--waiting for his second chance in overtime and drilling through a 31-yarder for a 20-17 Ram victory.
Lansford also kicked the field goal that beat the 49ers in San Francisco in October, 13-12, and delivered the field goal that sent the Rams into overtime against the New York Giants in the playoffs, when Flipper Anderson took over from there.
He did not miss a field goal at home the entire season, going 14 for 14. He did not miss an extra point, anywhere, going 51 for 51. Overall, he hit 23 of 30 field goal tries--only three of the misses came inside 50 yards--and finished with 120 points, third in the league behind San Francisco's Mike Cofer (136) and Washington's Chip Lohmiller (128).
If one is to buy into the cliche that all placekickers are flakes, then Lansford is frosted. Bare-footed and oblivious. Once, when Lansford was readying for another last-minute attempt, the other team began to heckle, "You're gonna choke, you're gonna choke!" Lansford stepped aside, grinned and shouted back, "Hey, I'm always capable of choking."
Players on both sides broke up in laughter . . . and then watched Lansford calmly split the uprights.
If you're the Rams, how can you not love a guy like this?
If you're the Rams, how can you not hang onto him?
The Rams insist they will. They say they have a verbal agreement with Lansford, that they will re-sign him, that they've explained to the kicker that in his case, unprotected does not translate into unwanted. The Rams are basically trying to run a reverse around the system, leaving Lansford exposed so they can protect someone of such multipurpose value as Buford McGee.
That way, the Rams, in essence, are able to protect 38 players.
On paper, it sounds pretty smart. But paper can be burned and that's exactly what Gary Jeter did to the Rams last year after a similar "verbal agreement." Jeter wound up jumping to New England and the Rams were left with a hole in their pass-rush package they have yet to mend.
In fact, the whole Plan B experience was fairly frightening for the Rams the first time around. Plan B From Outer Space. The Rams lost 12 players in all, including tight end Eric Sievers, who led New England in receptions in 1989; wide receiver Michael Young, who caught 22 passes for the Super Bowl Broncos; guard Mike Schad, who became a starter in Philadelphia; and nose tackle Greg Meisner, who stuck all season with Kansas City.
On the flip side, the Rams signed three Plan B free agents: defensive tackle Henry Brown, defensive end Byron Darby and linebacker Wayne Davis.
None of them stuck.
Plan, B good to us to this time, the Rams are saying. How about a break, just this once?
Lansford says he's staying put, that he wants to kick for the Rams in a Super Bowl, which means he could be here a while. But he also wonders what might happen if some suitor happened by and offered to double his present salary of $310,000.
With kicking-starved San Diego just down the freeway, it could happen. The Chargers also left their incumbent field goal man, Chris Bahr, unprotected and General Manager Bobby Beathard says the club is in the market for a new one.
When he was with the Redskins, Beathard usually got his man.
Plan B types have until April 1 to cut a deal with another team. After that, they are bound to their original club.
The Rams are gambling, and hoping, that Lansford doesn't make them out to be April fools.