I have been reading a lot of panicked posts and comments here on TST lamenting the high profile signings made by other teams around the League, especially those made by the Cardinals and Seahawks (although the Jared Allen deal is apparently still up in the air). Most of them center around the thought that the Rams finished 4th in the NFC West last year and the other guys are getting better and the Rams aren't, or they just flat-out complain about the lack of free agent signings by the Rams - which usually ends up going back to the "the other guys are getting better" theme eventually.
I'm here to tell you that the Rams don't need to worry about what the other teams in the NFC West, or the NFL, are doing. Worrying about the other guy and what they are or aren't doing and then letting that determine your actions is not a good way to be successful. You have to have a plan, a well conceived plan mind you, and you must have the conviction and vision to stick to that plan regardless of the noise around you. I'll give you an example from personal experience.
As most of you know by now, I'm a life-long commercial fisherman up here in Alaska. It's a family tradition. My Dad started fishing at age 7, and at age 68 is still going strong. My Grandfather started fishing at age 14, and fished until he was 72. I've been running my own boat since I was 25, and fishing since the age of 4. We know a thing or two about the fishing industry. It's a very, very competitive industry. It's also a brutally physical and demanding occupation, and it will take it's toll on you physically and emotionally. Sounds a bit like professional football doesn't it? I've been thinking about an article detailing the surprising traits shared by the two... Anyway back to the gist of this rant. I just want to touch a bit on the competitive side of the fishing industry and how it relates to my point.
Like I said a moment ago, commercial fishing is a very, very competitive industry. The competition most people think of is of course the race to catch the most fish (or crab or shrimp). And that aspect is the one that gets the most attention and is always at the forefront. It's like the actual game as it takes place on the field. Two teams competing to see who takes home the prize. Except I compete against 75 to 100 other fishermen every day, not just 1 at a time. And I don't get paid if I lose. I imagine you can already sense how that ratchets up the competition a bit. There are only so many fish in a given area at one time, so we're all trying to get our share of the pie as quickly as we can. Time really is money in my line of work. Every fish someone else catches is one less fish for me, or that guy, or that guy, etc. Add in the fact that the fish are only in that area for a limited period of time and ... well, you get the picture.
While the open competition out on the water is the most obvious aspect of the competitive nature of my occupation, in the same way a live football game played in front of a crowd is, the strategic planning and decision-making that goes on prior to the fishing season is what allows you to be competitive in the first place. And trust me, that's where the real arms race takes place.
Unfortunately for most of us we have constraints on how much money we can spend on any one thing. A salary cap of sorts, if you will. I have "X" amount of capital to spend on my boat and gear every year. There is the "normal" wear and tear to the boat and gear that must be accounted for every season (normal is a relative term, as we break stuff like crazy on a regular basis when we're out fishing). I liken it to the normal roster decisions a NFL team must make every year. You have to spend "X" amount to maintain your team every year. I have to spend a certain amount to maintain my vessel and gear, so I can compete out on the fishing grounds. I have to have a plan for that. When money is tighter I have to prioritize what needs the most attention - I have to identify and prioritize the things that I must fix in order to maintain a competitive advantage. My priorities may be different than that of another fisherman. My "salary cap space" may be lower or higher than that of another fisherman. Regardless, I must prioritize what I need to spend funds on that are best for my plans moving forward irrespective of my competitor's plans. Just because one of my competitors is buying an expensive new piece of equipment that will give him an edge doesn't mean I just rush out and do the same irrespective of my situation. For example, back in 2012 a good friend of mine bought a $26,000 piece of equipment that would help him haul his gear in about 25% faster than someone without that equipment. I wanted one too, but as part of my long-term planning I had scheduled to purchase one prior to the 2013 season, and I had already set aside funds for some other improvements I needed to do so I couldn't buy it at that time. Now, I could've deviated from my plan, focused on the short-term, over-extended myself and purchased the equipment in 2012. Luckily I didn't, as that season fell short of expectations and that extra expenditure would've been a real burden. If I had focused on what some other guys were doing and rushed to keep up, I would've made a mistake. My friend was a bit more efficient than me that season, but I was able to use my experience and good old fashioned hard work to help compensate for the difference. Prior to the 2013 season I bought the new equipment as planned. Waiting one more year enabled me to make the purchase worry-free and quickly brought that aspect of my fishing operation to elite status.
That was just one example. Theses types of decisions go on all the time. Income from fishing fluctuates from year to year, so long-term planning is important. There are fishermen who spend very little, don't upgrade their equipment or boats, and as a result don't attract the best crews and generally aren't very competitive. I have continually upgraded my boats over time as I keep working to gain a competitive advantage. But I follow my plan. I have purchased bigger boats, better equipment, etc., but I have done so according to my plan that I put in place many years ago. Some of my friends have done the same and have been successful by doing so. I have also seen so many other fishermen go all out to "keep up with the Jones's" if you will, and most of them over-extended themselves and went out of business. They focused on the short-term and got burned.
So what's the point? The Rams have solid football people in place. Those people have a plan in place, a well thought-out plan they feel very confident about. To be successful they have to follow that plan, regardless of what Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, or quite frankly anyone else does. To abandon that plan based on the actions of outside entities is a recipe for disaster. The Rams have an extremely young and talented core group of players with which to continue to build around and develop, as was their plan when they started this job back in 2012. The Rams are doing just what they said they would, building a contender through the draft and supplementing with key free agents where they see fit. I see no reason whatsoever to panic or deviate from their plan.