Like many free agents before him, Rams defensive end William Hayes talked in late December about how he’d like to stay with his current team, how much he liked his teammates, the coaching staff ... yada, yada, yada.
Just about every pending free agent talks that way before the fact, and many end up signing elsewhere. But Hayes really meant it.

After a surprisingly productive 2012 campaign off the bench, Hayes could have signed elsewhere for more money. He could’ve gone to places where he’d have the opportunity to start. He chose to stay put in St. Louis.

“I like what we’ve got going on here,” Hayes said. “I see the direction this team’s going in. And then I’m comfortable with all my coaches. Throughout the whole facility, I can say I get along with everybody – I’ve got great relationships with everybody.

“Like I said, I had opportunities to start, make probably a lot more money. But at the end of the day, I’ve got a head coach who believes in me, a defensive line coach who believes in me. Great teammates. I mean, I just love my situation.”

In an offseason that saw the Rams land a couple of big-ticket free agents in left tackle Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook, the re-signing of Hayes can’t be overlooked. Hayes’ three-year deal was for $10.25 million, more than half of which ($5.75 million) is guaranteed.

Hayes earned that contract with a strong 2012. Despite being on the field for only about one-third of the Rams’ defensive plays, Hayes finished with seven sacks, plus 13 quarterback hurries and five QB hits. He was just as effective on run defense, making several big stops for loss.

“Will got an opportunity last year to play and he took advantage of it,” coach Jeff Fisher said of Hayes. “He was very productive for us. He understands the rotation. He gets along great with Chris (Long) and it was important that we got him back. We’re just happy that we got the thing done.”

Although Hayes didn’t take any free agent visits last March, he did talk to several teams.

“My biggest thing was: Am I gonna be happy?” Hayes said. “I could’ve went somewhere and made probably $5-6 million dollars more (over the length of the contract). But the thing is, am I gonna be able to come to work every day and love coming to work?

“That was the thing from my last year in Tennessee to now. My last year in Tennessee, I wouldn’t say I fell out of love with football but coming to work for me every day wasn’t fun. Now coming to work every single day is like a blessing. I love coming to work.”

Hayes came to the Rams last year on a one-year deal after spending his first four seasons with Tennessee. In St. Louis, Hayes’ love of the game has been rekindled.