Over the past four months, the Rams have made great strides in improving their pathetic public image from the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight to a franchise that people can believe in. Everywhere around them, they see organizations getting it right. The Cardinals winning a World Series; the Blues returning to the playoffs; Missouri making a big splash into the SEC; and St. Louis U. basketball becoming a legitimate topic of our athletic conversations.
Now the Rams are trying to recoup, trying to recover from the self-inflicted wound that more than a decade of failure has brought them. It's been a good week for the Rams, as the organization continues to push its way back up the depth charts of the St. Louis sports fan's interest level, with a new coach, a revamped organization, some quiet, yet meaningful veteran free-agent signings and a headline-grabbing NFL draft class that they are convinced will make Rams football relevant and exciting in a hurry.
But the best thing the organization can do — complete its efforts to keep the Rams in St. Louis for the foreseeable future — is currently being conducted in the shadows, much to the regret of a rather nervous fan base. Tuesday was the day the negotiators for Rams owner Stan Kroenke submitted to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission their plan to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome.
For all the makeovers the Rams have been doing on the field and off, the best thing Kroenke and his people can do right now is to find a favorable resolution to the lease agreement with the CVC. I love all the stuff that is happening with the new coach, the new general manager, the new rookies and the new attitude, but it means next to nothing if the negotiations to upgrade the Dome do not produce a resolution that keeps the Rams here.
I still believe the Rams aren't going anywhere. But I also believe that Kroenke isn't going to roll over like a puppy getting his belly rubbed. This is going to be a tough, grind-it-out negotiation that is going to be resolved (I think, I hope, I pray) with a lot of very smart people in a room from both the Rams organization and local officials coming to an agreement that meets the needs of everyone and keeps the National Football League in our town like it ought to be.
But I am not particularly worried about that now. And while I sure can't tell you what to think, I can certainly explain why there should be minimal concern over the newest hot-button issue: the Rams' contractual demand that this round of negotiations remain confidential.
Long before any terms are settled, any ground is broken to begin the new upgrades on the Dome, the public will see how every single nickel, dime and dollar will be spent and whose pocket it is coming out of. That's the law. Period.
To me, if Kroenke believes the best way to proceed with these negotiations is to keep the details of their upgrade proposal secret, then let him do it. In reality, everyone in that room knows it's clearly a temporary thing. If it was the final step in the deliberations, if it was a take-it-or-leave-it threat that the CVC and the public were forced to accept without any very open rebuttal, that would be something that everyone should worry about.
But it's not, so I won't and neither should you.
Not that long ago, I was told by someone who has great insight into this negotiation that unlike the first talks that created this original lease agreement, this go-round has some good, honest creative tension in the room. It's the sort of tension that tends to produce good results rather than bad contracts tilted lopsidedly toward one side or the other.
What Kroenke is doing right now is well within his negotiating rights. And what the CVC is doing is also well within its rights. Everyone is going to push this thing through every hoop that is available. The CVC presented an offer that works best for the city, county and state, and I am sure whatever the Rams presented in confidentiality Tuesday will be heavily weighted to serve the best interests of Kroenke.
Here's what I like already. There seem to be just as many "buts" in the CVC's current offers as "yesses." In the original deal, the city, county and state negotiators just said "yes" to everything that Rams president John Shaw asked for. St. Louis negotiated from a stance of desperation the first time, which is how Shaw was able to stick in so many incredible clauses in this lease in the first place. As one person close to those original negotiations told me a few years ago, "We kept waiting for someone to say, 'OK, we'll agree to that, BUT you have to give us this … ' And the 'but' never came."
This time around, there are some "buts" on the table. In the story in Tuesday's Post-Dispatch, the most interesting thing I saw was the paragraph that said the CVC presented an offer to reduce the Rams' lease by five years, having it expire in 2020 instead of 2025. In exchange, the CVC wanted the Rams to waive a requirement in the lease that the Dome be a "first tier" facility in 15 categories, the sources told the Post-Dispatch.
To no one's surprise, the Rams rejected both offers, but the concept is now on the table, and by the time this process makes its way to an arbitrator to evaluate, that could be a rather significant detail. The CVC will surely reject the Rams' confidential offer by June 1, and the next step will be to head to arbitration, which will probably drag on until late December. And by then, we will all know every nut and bolt of this negotiation.
So I don't look at the secrecy of Tuesday's proposal with any particular nervous anxiety. The clandestine conversations are simply a temporary thing. When the time comes for this to be resolved, the final proposal will end up as public as we need it to be.