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NFL Weekend: L.A. Rams Go All In... Or Did They?

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I have to believe the life of a professional gambler is tough. The turn of a card is where their life balances ever so slightly on the edge of success or failure; day in, and day out...

The quest to build an NFL team isn't an easy one. In 2012 - when Jeff Fisher and Les Snead arrived in St. Louis - the Rams began with a long term plan cloaked in secrecy. Its been reported team owner Stan Kroenke had plans to move his team as early as 2012, and it may explain the many draft day moves Fisher and Snead have made during their tenure with the Rams. The idea was fairly simple: Start rebuilding this team for the larger stage of Los Angeles. I'm not a conspiracy monger, and I'm a peace with the team's relocation. Yet, I can't help but think - and even somewhat admire - the long range vision needed to pull all this off, not to mention the outright gambles involved...

As a Southern California native, and life long Rams fan, it's fun to wonder about what could have played a role in Fisher and Snead's recent blockbuster move up in the 2016 NFL Draft. Admit it! This is the off season for NFL fans, so we have to conjure up any number of things to get us through the doldrums-riddled days before the next season begins, right? So along that line, I began looking back and the last few Rams' drafts, and the players who've come and gone during that time. I glanced at contract values of players kept, and those who were let slip away. I considered the market the Rams now call home, and what it will take to make a splash in a tough sports-dollar town like Los Angeles. Lots of thinking, right? OK, I need to get a life, but that's beside the point! While I haven't actually been able to find an unwavering truth buried in everything I've considered, I came up with a sidecar notion intriguing enough to to throw your way...

I couldn't get this one thought out of my head: When I meshed all the talent on the STL/L.A. Rams rosters since 2012 - all the high round draft picks on the team - I began to wonder how Fisher and Snead hoped to keep all of them for any length of time based on the NFL salary cap, let alone until the franchise moved to southern California? When looking at the team's drafts and salary cap situation year to year since 2012, Fisher and Snead have typically gone kind of hog-wild at times. They've grabbed defensive players by the boatload; building depth at most positions. The draft capital spent on wide receivers is actually something to consider too, as well as the less than successful results at the position. In 2015, offensive linemen were the flavor of the month, and may very well end up being Fisher and Snead's only real legacy left behind if the 2016 season doesn't end well. (i.e.: better than 7-9). They let fan favorites like Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Janoris Jenkins slip away in salary cap savvy moves, pinning their hopes on the position depth built over time. But then it happened...

In 2015, Fisher and Snead hit the jackpot in the draft with running back Todd Gurley; an end to the seemingly unending quest to find a ball carrier changed everything for Fisher and Snead. Gurley's stellar rookie year also presented a conundrum of sorts too. In what most would consider a fairly undeniable truth, the symbiotic reliance of a running back on a passing game capable quarterback - and vice versa - came glaringly down the tracks straight at Fisher and Snead. It may just be conjecture on my part, but I think these two knowledgeable NFL men knew Todd Gurley was in for a tough 2016 season without some help from a quarterback capable of taking some heat off the former University of Georgia star. Case Keenum and Nick Foles can't inspire defensive backs to stay back from the line of scrimmage, and buy that extra step or two Gurley needs to make it to the second level. It's not going to happen, and you know it... Fisher and Snead know it too, and that all the machinations so far are for naught if Gurley tumbles into the injury ranks before the Rams new digs in Inglewood, CA are done. Adding in the learning curve for an NFL quarterback, and I think Fisher and Snead were forced to pull the trigger on a quarterback class that has loads of question marks. But here's where things get rather interesting...

Just for giggles, let's assume Jeff Fisher and Les Snead did a little "pros vs cons" list before they decided to make the monster trade with the Tennessee Titans. Based on salary cap considerations, could the idea that trading MORE picks than they really needed to, actually wind up saving the team enough money to sign key players already on the roster? See! I made you spew your coffee at your computer screen, didn't I? Hopefully you aren't reading this on your "smart phone" at a Starbucks as you take a sip of that Sumtra quadruple-caf latte with extra sprinkles, because if you turned your head toward that table with four beautiful women next to you, they'll be picking sprinkles out of their hair for weeks! If I've learned anything from Brandon Bate over the years, it's how to get people to violently upchuck when I share my keen insights...

But think about it for a minute, and in an odd way there's some possible logic to it. The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement set a rookie pay scale, so a team literally has set costs of each pick in every draft round - more or less - dialed in. Last year, quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota - select #1 and #2 overall, respectively - signed rookie deals in the $25 million for 4 years range. So let's - for the sake of argument - assume a quarterback the Rams select at #1 in 2016 makes the same-ish. That means 1 pick costs them $25 million, versus 6 picks - two 1st, two 2nds, and two 3rds, in 2016 and 2017 - which could cost $38 million. ( For numbers, I used a site my good friend Frank doesn't like, so don't tell him, ok?) Just so you know, since this is all very subjective, I used current Rams' draft position values to project forward.

Yes, something like this is predicated on Fisher and Snead having complete faith in the roster depth they have on hand now. While I doubt a team would use a "draft pick dump" to get control of their salary cap, you have to admit this is an intriguing way to help set the value of the Rams' trade up to #1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. They have some key players they'll need to be re-signing soon too. Trumaine Johnson - currently holding a franchise tag - is going to cost a few Shekels to retain, let alone Tavon Austin, Michael Brockers, and Alec Ogletree in 2017. In the not-so-distant future, the Aaron Donald contract will be looming, and you've seen the prices being paid to players at his position of late. He's going to command something in the neighborhood of a $100 million deal, and that money has to come from somewhere...

So need at the position is more than a given, but just how a team susses out baseline value is another matter altogether. Money plays such an enormous role in the broader NFL franchise scheme, so it's not hard to imagine this kind of paradigm slicing never comes into play. Fans love draft picks, I get it. But just how do teams set their draft day boards if financial skewing comes into play?