GM'S GREETING AT AIRPORT HELPED SELL JONES ON RAMS Series: Robert Jones SECOND OF TWO PARTS

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As Robert Jones waded through free agency last offseason, there was interest from the Rams, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Diego, and wonder of wonders . . . the Miami Dolphins.

Yes, the same Dolphins now coached by Jimmy Johnson. And the same Jimmy Johnson who had benched Jones in Dallas in 1993.

"I was shocked that he called," Jones said. "But I guess Jimmy recognized I could still play the game regardless of what we went through. When Jimmy talks, he's like a John Madden. Everybody listens. So that kind of attracted other teams. They felt, `Well, Jimmy still wants him, so there must be something good about this guy.' " The Dolphins made a "pretty substantial offer," but Jones didn't want to cross that bridge again. The Chargers were intriguing, because he had gotten to know Bobby Ross at the Butkus Award ceremony in college - Jones was a finalist in 1991. But when Jones got off the plane for his free-agent visit to St. Louis, he was pleasantly surprised. Waiting to greet him at Lambert Airport was general manager Steve Ortmayer. "I didn't know anything about Coach (Rich) Brooks," Jones said. "But I felt like whenever a general manager meets you at the airport, they are highly interested in you. "I didn't ask him if he met any other players. I didn't care. All I cared about was what he did with me." Jones' wife, Maneesha, was hesitant about making the move from glitzy Dallas to meat-and-potatoes St. Louis. "Coming from Dallas, such a bigger place, there were more places to go," Jones said. "This was kind of like a drop-off to her." But with some help from Terri Huffman, who works for Ortmayer in football operations, Maneesha was sold on St. Louis. "They tried to show my wife great areas to live," Jones said. "It was like a great game plan. They really sold the program even though the (Rams' Earth City) facility wasn't ready." At dinner that night, Jones told Brooks he was returning to Dallas after the St. Louis visit and planned to talk with the Cowboys. "He cut me off right there," Jones said. "He said, `Take a detour and come on over to St. Louis. Don't even go to Dallas.' " Jones did return to Dallas, but never talked to the Cowboys. On March 5, he signed a five-year $10 million contract with the Rams, including a $2.8 million signing bonus, as Shane Conlan's replacement at middle linebacker. Jones was aware that his high salary would bring high expectations. "People were going to look at me, and say, `OK, we're going to see what the Rams paid this man $10 million for.' " The $10 Million Question So, what did they give Jones $10 million for? Despite touting Jones' ability to be an every-down player, the Rams signed him to stop the run. He was used in nickel defenses in the beginning of the season, but the Rams now go with Roman Phifer and Percell Gaskins at linebacker in those situations. Linebacker coach Dick Selcer said Jones is OK at pass coverage, "but he's not great because he's not real fluid." At 6 feet 2, 242 pounds, Jones doesn't have a body suited for chasing down running backs on pass routes. At least not on a regular basis. For that reason, Jones rarely was on the field Nov. 10 against Atlanta's run-and-shoot and hasn't played nearly as many snaps as other defensive starters. For example, outside linebacker Phifer, who leads the team with a career-high 151 tackles, has been in on 879 plays from scrimmage. Jones, who is second on the team with 102 stops, has played 596 snaps. …

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