A couple of weeks ago, we ran a poll of the Los Angeles Rams’ top roster needs ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. The results were fair and thorough for obvious reasons: the Rams have serious holes on the roster despite the first three years of the Jeff Fisher era being punctuated by the RGIII trade.
Between that trade, the subsequent trade down with the Cowboys in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the trade up in the 2013 NFL Draft to take Tavon Austin, Fisher was blessed with five first-round picks and four second-round picks in the first three drafts of his tenure. New Rams Head Coach Sean McVay will have no such insurance; he’ll have just two first-round selections and a trio of second-round picks to improve a 4-12 team that ran out the NFL’s worst offense in 2016.
That being the case, the Rams can’t simply draft their biggest needs when they are on the clock in two days time. They aren’t drafting to make the 2017 Rams better. They’re drafting to make the team better in the years to come when McVay’s employment will be under assessment. He deserves as much license.
McVay won’t be fired in a year regardless of the Rams’ record. The same is almost certainly true for the 2018 season. The 2019 season? That’s where he could well have to show legitimate improvement. It will be his third season as head coach, the arbitrary marker convention has applied to head coaches’ careers. It will be the first season in the new stadium in Inglewood. And all things being equal, McVay at least deserves that much time to implement his plan for better or for worse. Former Rams HCs Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo each got three years at the helm. Fisher got five. There’s no reason not to extend McVay the certainty of at least beginning the 2019 season as head coach.
And if that’s the case, it would be terribly shortsighted to use the draft to address immediate issues instead of deeper, more pressing long-term ones.
Consider the wide receiver position. The Rams absolutely need more talent to support the top end of the depth chart. But if we’re couching things in terms of a 2019-targeted outlook, they don’t need that wide receiver now. They need it by then.
Without a first-round pick this year, many fans would want to get that WR on Day 2 of this year’s draft. But recalibrating roster needs beyond this offseason, you could expand the needs beyond the top one or two slots.
Consider our future free agents as well.
2018 LA Rams Free Agents
|Derek Carrier||TE||UFA||Signed with Raiders: 3yr|
|Cody Davis||S||UFA||Signed with Jaguars: 2yr|
|Dominique Easley||DT||UFA||Re-signed with Rams: 1yr|
|Trumaine Johnson||CB||UFA||Signed with Jets: 3yr|
|Jake McQuaide||LS||UFA||Re-signed with Rams: 3yr|
|Nickell Robey-Coleman||CB||UFA||Re-signed with Rams: 3yr|
|John Sullivan||C||UFA||Re-signed with Rams: 2yr|
|Sammy Watkins||WR||UFA||Signed with Chiefs: 3yr|
|Garrett Sickels||OLB||ERFA||Re-signed with Rams: TBD|
2019 LA Rams Free Agents
|Brandin Cooks||WR||UFA||Re-signed, 5-yr, $80m|
|Todd Gurley||RB||UFA (option)||Re-signed, 4-yr, $60m|
|Marcus Peters||CB||UFA (option)||Optioned|
Put in the context of the next two years, there’s really no position you can’t draft if you’re the 2017 Rams.
The bottom five positions in that need poll in order? Punter, kicker, running back, quarterback and defensive tackle. Could the Rams draft a DT or RB in Round 2 of this year’s draft? I’d probably be against it, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
It’s also worth considering the future cap cuts to come. Back in mid-February, I identified seven potential cap casualties for the Rams. Four were released leaving just three under contract: LB Alec Ogletree, OLB Robert Quinn and OL Rodger Saffold. Ogletree is scheduled to be a free agent. Could Quinn and/or Saffold be casualties next offseason? If so, those would be much more obvious needs than as stands. DT Michael Brockers is another candidate for the same. WR Tavon Austin is probably safe but could be a surprise cut. Point being the positions that maybe look supported as stands might not in 11 months time. A draft pick from 2017 that could support future needs is as vital as one that supports current needs.
The Rams need to draft players who will be positive impact starters in 2019. If McVay and Snead and the rest of the coaching staff and front office feel there’s a player who can compete in two-three years at a position that isn’t thought of as a huge need right now? Take him. This season simply does not matter anywhere near as much as 2019 for McVay and thus for the franchise.
Upset that we’re in this position? You should be. But that’s not McVay’s fault.
McVay didn’t draft Brian Quick and trade up to draft Tavon Austin before failing to develop either successfully leaving the WR depth chart woefully insufficient. McVay didn’t avoid impact offensive line draftees for three years save for one Greg Robinson who, to be nice, hasn’t worked out. McVay didn’t draft five running backs in four years rendering every one of them wasted draft capital with each successive pick.
You can’t hold that against him. You can’t demand the Rams address their major needs now in year one when he’s taking over a roster in blatant need of help especially if you consider that not every free agent will be a perfect signing and that not every draft pick will hit.
McVay didn’t create the Rams’ personnel problems. He took a job that includes the responsibility of contributing to fixing them. He should be afforded the time to do so. That applies to the 2017 NFL Draft. The solutions make take more than a year. McVay, and the Rams, had better not be shortsighted enough to try to force them to take hold in 2017.