I used to be obsessed with the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, once binging over 200 episodes in several months so that I could “catch up” once I had embraced it as my favorite show. Host Scott Aukerman had this running bit that went something like “I don’t even want to know the name of the movie, because that would be a spoiler” and so on. It was always worth at least one chuckle, but the bit wouldn’t work on journalism. There is no absurdity to it when applied to headlines of articles.
People tend to feel more emotions reading headlines than they do reading the full piece below it and this is largely impacted by the number of people in column A who never join the people in column B.
I do not intend to argue about whether or not Jalen Ramsey is worth two first round picks, a fourth round pick and a five-year, $100 million contract extension. I believe that Ramsey is such a valuable cornerback that in this scenario where I’m simply looking at a piece of paper, he is worth that. Instead, I want to focus on this much more specific scenario, where the Los Angeles Rams traded their own future first round picks (and where in the first round they expected them to be) and committed to a player who they knew would come with a price tag that made him the highest-paid defensive back in the NFL.
The time to grade a trade is definitely not at the time that it is made. It’s been a season and a half since Les Snead and Sean McVay made the risky decision to acquire Ramsey at the cost that they paid and following Sunday’s 20-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the general manager and coach are probably both displeased with how the team has performed over the last two years.
Would they be in a better position today — and in the 2021 offseason ahead — than if the Rams had opted to “play it safe” and hold onto their future draft picks and cap space?
The LA Rams had lost three straight just before acquiring Ramsey, signaling that perhaps a stronger start and better performances than giving up 55 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have given Snead and McVay second thoughts before making such a significant deal. The issues facing the Rams seemed to be more on defense than offense at the time they acquired Ramsey, but since the middle of last season, we’ve seen problems rise to the surface at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and all along the offensive line.
Some of those problems are clearly greater than others, but there are glaring needs everywhere along LA’s offense.
Of course, the Rams are 9-6 and one win over the Arizona Cardinals away from going to the playoffs in large part thanks to contributions made by the defense. Nobody plays a bigger role in that success than Ramsey other than Aaron Donald, Aaron Donald and Aaron Donald. LA is first in total yards allowed, first in passing yards allowed, first in passing touchdowns allowed, first in net yards per attempt allowed and third in yards per carry allowed.
Having players like Donald, Ramsey, John Johnson, Jordan Fuller, Darious Williams and so on all contributes to that. But again, my focus is not on what the Rams have with Ramsey, it’s about what they could have had without Ramsey.
Despite the trade, LA only went 6-4 in the final 10 games of last season and they missed the playoffs at 9-7. I do not believe that a team acquires Ramsey with the idea in mind that “We’ll get ‘em next year.” The Rams were coming off of a Super Bowl appearance and clearly felt that they could be one player away from returning to it, but the offense was nowhere near playoff-bound and even the defense suffered at least two more major collapses down the stretch.
That resulted in the Rams sending the 20th overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Jaguars selected defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson, but the Rams would have options at receiver like Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman; linebackers Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Jordyn Brooks; interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz; and for the interested, quarterback Jordan Love.
Instead, LA selected Cam Akers with their first pick in the second round and Van Jefferson with the pick they acquired in the Brandin Cooks trade. Knowing that they wanted to replace Cooks with a dangerous weapon, the Rams selected Van Jefferson. Had they been in the first round, addressing the need at receiver seems as though it would have been likely given the options available to them at 20.
But the Rams turned back to preparing for the 2020 season knowing that at least they had an elite shutdown cornerback in Ramsey, which remains true 15 games later. What also remains true is that the Rams could finish with the same record as they had last season and have yet to guarantee themselves a postseason appearance.
Los Angeles is 19th in scoring, 23rd in points per drive, 25th in touchdown passes, 25th in turnovers and 16th in yards per carry.
Unless the Rams make a postseason push, it looks as though the Jaguars will be acquiring another pick in the top-24 or so. Those were not the picks that Snead and McVay intended to give up for Ramsey. It means that the Rams will not be able to maneuver for a first round quarterback, should they decide to look for an alternative to Jared Goff. It means that they will not have a first round pick with which to give Goff better weapons or protection. And because of the $22.5 million cap hit for Ramsey, they also won’t have as many phone calls to make to free agents and trade targets.
The good news that is not lost on me: The Rams have Jalen Ramsey and they have had an elite pass defense ever since.
Where would the pass defense be today had they decided to move on, with or without Marcus Peters? Would the Rams be 9-6 anyway? Would they be 5-10? Would the Rams have made the “right” picks in either of these drafts? Would it have been Reagor instead of Justin Jefferson? Would Jefferson have as much success with the Rams as he’s had with the Minnesota Vikings? Would they make a good choice in the 2021 draft?
It’s hard to find players as good as Ramsey and he does change a defense to an immeasurable but probably high degree. Not even if you are picking 20th. It doesn’t happen that often.
However, it is worth addressing moves like the Ramsey trade at times when it seems important and given the two recent losses and the questions at quarterback that now cannot be addressed in the first round of the draft and with limited free agent/trade possibilities, today did seem like such a time.
There will be other times to do this in the future again. “When?” No spoilers, please.