In a copycat league like the NFL, no strategy – on-field or team-building – remains proprietary for very long. Thanks to the Los Angeles Rams, we’re now in the ‘all in’ era of NFL team building.
It wasn’t long ago that the notion of ‘future assets’ – hoarded draft capital, young talents on below-market rookie contracts, the oft-lauded ‘financial flexibility’ – drove just about every NFL front office. The prevailing thinking went thusly:
Why wade into the murky waters of free agency, or trade the draft picks that will surely become future superstars in pursuit of fully-realized players that might help your team win now… but also possess the potential to underperform their contracts? Theoretical future assets never disappoint.
Suffice it to say, the thinking around the league has changed. And no franchise is more responsible for that shift than the Los Angeles Rams.
No team in recent memory – certainly during the free agency era – has more aggressively eschewed future draft capital and unused cap space like these Rams. Certainly, there are vital homegrown pieces on the roster – most notably iconic defensive tackle Aaron Donald and superstar wide receiver Cooper Kupp. It’s also worth noting that the first of Sean McVay’s Super Bowl teams relied on a quarterback (Jared Goff) and running back (Todd Gurley) that had been drafted by the team. However, a point came in recent years in which the Rams committed to removing as much uncertainty from the contention process as possible, by stacking the roster with as many bona fide superstars as possible. As a result, every draft pick in sight has been packaged and shipped off, in exchange for the likes of Jalen Ramsey. Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller.
While this strategy still has its detractors, it’s tough to argue with its most recent results. Many of the 2021 Rams are still basking in the glow of delivering a Lombardi trophy to Los Angeles…
Courtside at the Lakers? Check!
Red carpet premieres? You know it!
While other franchises have started to lean rather aggressively into the ‘carpe diem’ approach to team construction, in hopes of replicating the Rams’ success, the reigning Super Bowl champions have taken steps to consolidate their place among the league’s elite for at least a couple of years to come.
In the wake of their Super Bowl victory, the Rams are forced to cope with the departures of some major contributors. Gone to the green pastures of retirement is offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. Stepping into his all-important left tackle position is incumbent tackle Joe Noteboom, who was re-signed by the team, as was center Brian Allen.
Also gone are a trio of key pieces on defense. Future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller signed a gargantuan free agent deal with the Bills. Darious Williams got a healthy raise ($39 million, $18 million guaranteed) to spend the next three years in Jacksonville. And backup defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day hopped across the hallway at SoFi stadium, signing with the Chargers for three years and $15 million.
Also gone is veteran wide receiver Robert Woods, though in his place comes former Chicago Bears star Allen Robinson (on a three-year, $46.5 million deal, of which $30.75 million is guaranteed). Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing with Beckham (who’s rehabbing a torn ACL) for a return that would make him the most devastating third receiver in the NFL.
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In addition, quarterback Matthew Stafford – acquired last offseason, in exchange for Jared Goff and two first round picks – has also been taken care of, to the tune of four years and $160 million. Not only does this deal lock up a Super Bowl winning QB, but its structure, along with the savings created by the departures, has allowed the Rams to explore yet another very Rams option, and potentially bolster the defense with recently released Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Rams ‘all in’ strategy is something of a high wire act. Success and failure ultimately rests on the shoulders of a few ultra-important pieces. And, of course, it requires comfort in bidding farewell to quality contributors, in favor of ‘the next star’. However, when it works, your team looks like a well-oiled juggernaut.
Interestingly, in an offseason in which has brought a fair bit of upheaval, the always-aggressive Rams have ceded the headlines to the teams vying for their throne. All the while, however, they’ve manoeuvred around the margins and seemingly consolidated their position atop the league.