Los Angeles Rams WR Tavon Austin just got paid. To be exact, he got $42 million over four years, with $30 million guaranteed, and another $10 million available through incentives. That's a whopping $52 million total value over a four-year span, bringing the contracts annual worth to $13 million a year.
It's a great deal for him as it offers franchise player money on a year-to-year basis, but not franchise tag one-year length. What it means is that if he plays well enough, he can cash out again in the future. It's not often players -- who aren't quarterbacks -- sign huge contracts twice in their careers. The big deals usually carry five to six years in length, sometimes in rare cases seven to ten, using up the players prime.
You have to give Austin and his agent some major kudos for this deal. However, what about Rams General Manager Les Snead? Does he deserve some of those congrats?
On one hand, you can look at this deal and say he locked him up with the thought in mind that Austin had a breakout season last year, and from the looks of it in practice he is set to have another one to follow only further raising his price if you wait. On the other hand, his breakout year still wasn't enough to warrant this much money.
All things considered, Austin has scored a lot of touchdowns to this point in his career. In three NFL seasons, he has amassed 19 total touchdowns. Now a 6.1 touchdowns-per-year average doesn't seem like a lot, but let's remember the threat he poses. Austin has had another six touchdowns called back through no fault of his own. While those scores didn't count, reaching the end zone 25 times in three years -- a remarkable average of 8.1 a year on a team missing a quality quarterback -- is highly impressive and shows how much of a threat he can be.
So the extension makes some sense...but what about some of these other players the Rams have and have had?
In Snead's and Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher's first season, the Rams were all about spending that coin, dropping the moolah, investment! They signed CB Cortland Finnegan to a massive $50 million deal and gave huge contracts to C Scott Wells and DT Kendall Langford in free agency in 2012. Langford wasn't exactly a bust. The same can't be said for the other two. The most interesting was the Finnegan deal. By way of conversion, had they signed that Cortland Finnegan from 2012 this off season, the dollars would increase to about $68 million. And so the plot thickens....
The Rams offered CB Janoris Jenkins $45 million over five years to re-sign him this offseason. The contract they gave Finnegan back in 2012 was five years as well. Even with players' contract values increasing heavily over the last four years, they still managed to offer the better player less. It's suddenly clear why he walked. To top it off, they took that money and gave it to S/LB Mark Barron. That's right. They took the exact same offer Jenks turned down and gave it to another player. However, Barron plays linebacker -- though he wants to be called a safety -- and no matter the position, the value isn't the same as the top cornerback slot on the depth chart. Giving a linebacker or a safety $9 million a year, qualifies that player for being paid top three at his position.
In the defensive world, players making top three dollars are usually splash players. The guys who take the ball away and make plays. Barron played well in the run defense laying some big hits, but that was about it. There wasn't any interceptions, not a lot of forced fumbles or recoveries, none of that. In fact, he's yet to show these traits in his four years of being in the NFL, and up until last year, was viewed as a bust.
Just doesn't seem like the money was spent wisely.
Then there's TE Jared Cook. They gave Cook $7 million a year over five years. There's no question -- Cook was a colossal bust, although it'd be a stretch to say he was worse than Finnegan. But they didn't stop there, signing OT Jake Long, who was already unhealthy and coming off of some injury riddled seasons, to a four-year $36m contract. The Rams got about a season of some legit quality play out of Long. Was it worth $25 million, which is what Long walked away with after two years with the Rams?
We won't even address the atrocity that was the Nick Foles extension...
There's been some questionable approaches to how the Rams spend money. But they've knocked some of their first-round picks out of the park. DT Michael Brockers is one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He doesn't receive the attention he deserves because of all the dirty work he does as oppose to collecting sacks, much like another home-run first round pick in DT Aaron Donald. At the rate he is going, Donald could be headed for a first ballot ticket to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Snead has also plucked a great talent out of the first round of the draft in LB Alec Ogletree. Tree is an uber athletic linebacker who loves to strike with force. As a former safety, he brings legit coverage skills (unlike Barron) to the position. He's been highly productive so far in his career, and was off to an All-Pro start last season before being injured. His draft class running mate in the first -- WR Tavon Austin -- as mentioned beforehand, has been yet another hit in the draft. LT Greg Robinson is in a make or break year, but if the preseason is any indication he looks to finally be making the necessary strides to prove his worth.
Then of course there's RB Todd Gurley. He's no big deal, only being looked at as the future of the running back position. Not the future of the Rams running back position, but of the NFL. Currently Adrian Peterson holds that torch, but experts have said when it's passed it's going straight to Gurley, passing the likes of RB Le'Veon Bell. Even Peterson has compared Gurley to himself. If his rookie year told us anything, Peterson has this year to either hand over the torch, or Gurley is taking it on his own timeline.
Snead has hit big on some first-round picks, no question. It can be argued since becoming GM, he's had the most success in that round. But after the first things get murky.
We've mentioned Jenkins who went in the second due to character concerns, but was a top ten talent. The Rams missed out on extending him. Trumaine Johnson was taken in the same draft in the third-round and has been a hit as well. You also have guys like CB E.J. Gaines -- though his health is becoming a concern -- S T.J. McDonald, and CB Lamarcus Joyner. RBs Zac Stacy and Tre Mason can be added to that list, because their removal had nothing to do with their play. They both were successful when given the opportunity. Unlike WR Chris Givens or RB Daryl Richardson who showed well one season, then when given a bigger role disappeared.
That about sums up the good picks. The bad picks have seemingly come more frequently. The worst has to be RB Isaiah Pead and WR Brian Quick. First off, Quick was the first pick in the second round. Which means they passed up on WR Alshon Jeffery for him. I said it then and I will say it now, there's no workout in the world that will make me look at these two players coming out of college -- not taking into account their NFL careers -- and say I would rather have Brian Quick.
Fisher and Snead hyped up Quick's workout a lot after their private visit, but it will never make enough sense for me to okay that move. Then there's Pead. Easily the worst pick they've ever made. It wasn't exactly a great draft for running backs as only two from that draft -- Doug Martin in the first and Lamar Miller in the fourth -- have gone on to cash in on big second contracts. But considering he was a second-round pick and only carried the ball 19 times over four years tells you all you need to know.
Now here we are.
Four years later with talks of extensions for Fisher and Snead, and it appears the Rams are stuck in the middle of mediocrity. The Rams have been a perennial 7-9 football team, and that simply cannot be placed 100% on Fisher. Now before anyone points out the inconsistent play at quarterback, the Rams have passed up on quite a few quarterbacks as well -- Russell Wilson anyone -- and have chose not to find a viable backup, still an issue today.
It appears they have continuously spent money the wrong way, dropping big dollars on outsiders but not always taking care of their own. Yes, they paid DE Robert Quinn, but it can also be argued he also took a hometown discount. When at the time guys like J.J. Watt and Mario Williams we're inking $100 million deals, Quinn settled for $65 million over six years ($10.8 million a year). Not necessarily saying he should have gotten the full 100, but guys are getting more who have produced less.
Long long ago, a young whippersnapper came to TST with a question. The question being, is Les Snead loading the Rams up with talent that he can't keep around in their primes?
True, you can't re-sign everyone. But if other teams have proven anything over the years, it's that you can sign big free agents and still take care of your guys to keep your nucleus together. Just look at what the Seahawks did in resigning all their key players over the last two years, or what the Eagles did this year. They spent a lot of money in free agency, even taking a former Rams player in S Rodney McLeod, but managed their money well enough to still take care of their nucleus to avoid having key players walk. QB Sam Bradford, DE Vinny Curry, TE Zach Ertz and DT Fletcher Cox all got paid big time.
So let's get to the point of this.
Here we are four years later. The Rams have hit big on some first round picks. Those picks have become the nucleus of the team. However, they have all come in consecutive drafts. Meaning for the next three years, Les Snead will have to learn to manage his money better and will eventually have to take care of his own.
Was Tavon Austin a sign of change? Who knows. But we will find out soon enough. As of right now Michael Brockers, Alec Ogletree, and Trumaine Johnson all need contracts. We've seen what procrastination does with Jenkins and McLeod both walking. But the dollars has to be planned carefully as they'll likely have to kick out $120 million to Aaron Donald in two years. If Greg Robinson improves this year and next he'll likely be another $65 million. And then there will be Gurley who is likely to break the record for most guarantees in a running backs contract.
Snead has his hands full, and if the past is any indication, things aren't looking good for the Rams' nucleus' future in those hands.