One of Les Snead’s favorite sayings is “Fortune favors the bold...but especially so when you have Matthew Stafford.” And “bold” is no doubt how Snead was feeling on Monday when he acquired Von Miller from the Broncos in a midseason trade effort to improve the LA Rams’ roster for nothing more than a Super Bowl run in 2022.
That’s it. That’s all that the maniacal general manager aims to do: win the 2022 Super Bowl. That rat! Is that really what Rams fans are paying the GM to do? To win a Super Bowl? Alright then, I guess that’s what LA must settle for then, a Super Bowl run this year.
There’s a temptation in sports these days to resist fortunate opportunities in the present if they could do harm to future assets and the abundance of them. Little is revered more among NFL fans than multiple first round picks in a single year; there may be more focus in Philadelphia on how the Colts are doing and whether or not Carson Wentz will play in 75 percent of the snaps than there seems to be on the Eagles’ own record this season.
And few transactions could be hated more than giving up a day one or day two pick for an underwhelming rental, such as the Patriots unloading a second round pick for Mohamed Sanu at the deadline two years ago.
Similarly, it feels like the majority of NFL fans would prefer that their teams had a lot of cap space with which to sign future free agents than they would have their franchise up against the limit with an inability to make such moves...due to the fact that they’re paying some of the NFL’s best players already like Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey. The guys you want to sign in the future?
Yeah, they’re already here!
But Rams fans must — I believe — make a conscious effort to bury desires for future first round picks and imaginary “cap space” so that they have nothing but room left to enjoy the present. Just ask Eckhart Tolle: nothing sells better than “NOW”. Tell me that Les Snead isn’t a big time Power of Now believer when you read Tolle quotes like these:
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.
“Draft somebody in MAY?! But it’s still early November! Now!”
Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it
Accept that the Rams roster, while good, probably had a desperate need for an impact player like Von Miller. Just because Snead made moves in the past and wants to make moves in the future, it doesn’t change that if he accepts what the LA Rams are right now, he can’t help but continue to tinker. The Bucs added Antonio Brown, Steve McLendon, and Ross Cockrell during the 2020 season and they helped Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl.
Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry —– all forms of fear –— are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.
The Miami Dolphins clearly had way too much future and not enough present and look at them NOW: 1-7 and questioning if they should trade even more current assets for future possibilities.
But Snead isn’t concerned with future possibilities because the LA Rams need to get back to the Super Bowl right now.
The question you are probably asking next then is: “If the Rams become the best team right now, will that set them up for failure two or three years from now?”
(This is a great joke if you’ve listened to the “Power of Now” audiobook.)
Again, you are focusing way too much on the future — which doesn’t even exist — and losing complete sight of the present. Don’t you get it — the 2021 LA Rams are the team you DO NOT WANT TO MISS. Stop ignoring the 2021 team because this is potentially a season that you’ll be telling grandkids about. If you missed or forgot ‘99, even better, because ‘21 has also been a special year...so far.
The Rams needed some help, they got it, and they might get some more. Even if it’s not the trading deadline, we can be all but assured that Snead’s going to continue to tinker with the roster but perhaps not at the cost of future draft picks or assets.
In large part because there are not a lot of future assets left, at least not relative to the other 31 teams.
Following the trade that sent the 2022 second and third round picks to the Broncos, the LA Rams will only be left with a single late third round pick in 2022 for days one and two. This will likely become two late third round picks when the compensatory formula hands that out next year for John Johnson. (The Rams will get the maximum four comp picks—I don’t want to have to repeat this every year but it seems that’s unavoidable: there are a max of four comp picks. Don’t forget this until the NFL changes it again: there are a max of four comp picks per team AND there is a max of 32 total compensatory picks for the entire league to spread around.)
There’s no question that after trading the 2022 and 2023 first round picks for Stafford, 2022 second and third round picks for Miller, the 2022 fourth to the Texans in the Brandin Cooks deal, the 2022 sixth and 2023 fourth for Sony Michel, that Snead has a lot less to work with in the next two years than every other GM.
Maybe this will even help him focus on building a great NFL present in lieu of an imaginary future, no matter how “fantastic” that mental creation of tomorrow could be.
It is also true that the Rams have almost the least amount of cap space in the league in 2022 — less than $5 million as it is projected right now — and this too has some fans so concerned with the future that they’re somehow unable to enjoy a 7-1 record in the now.
The Rams are 7-1, they lead the league in explosive passing, Cooper Kupp’s on a tear that you wouldn’t believe, and the defense now has Donald, Ramsey, Miller, and Leonard Floyd, just counting the star veterans. Don’t lose sight of that fact!
Okay fine, you didn’t lose sight of it, you’re enjoying the present moment, but you’re still worried about whether the Rams built a house of cards and if it is Too Horned To Fail in the next two to three years. Here’s what I think and these are the two most important things to carry around in your front breast pocket:
- I don’t think any fan of any team should be concerned with anything that could happen more than two years from now. Not even a rebuilding team like the Lions. As we continue to see day after day, week after week, year after year, the NFL changes far too much and evolves far too quickly for us to be thinking that any “franchise player” will still be around in three years. I think EVERY team has a three-year window, it just may not be a matter of winning a Super Bowl in that window. It might just be a matter of falling out of contention or becoming a potential player within the next 2-3 years, as the Rams did in 2017 and have continued to do so without much fail ever since.
- The Rams are setup to be one of the NFL’s most secure and talented franchises in the next 2-3 years.
And once you get beyond 2-3 years, if it really bothers you, the Rams could be right back to having a ton of cap space and all of their first round draft picks by then. The point that Les Snead is trying to make is to win a Super Bowl. If few other teams are going to stand in his way of acquiring premier talent, then why shouldn’t he pull the triggers that will help him do just that?
I do not believe for a second that Snead’s exuberance for trading draft picks has harmed the LA Rams. Not even a little bit. Not even the future of the LA Rams. Because Stafford and Ramsey are a part of that future, while Miller still could be.
Here’s a more utilitarian breakdown of why I believe that and what the 2023 LA Rams could look like.
Projected NFL salary cap in 2023 - $225,000,000
Rams 2023 liabilities - $136,135,992
2023 projected cap room - $88,864,008
Veterans under contract for 2023
DT Aaron Donald, CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Leonard Floyd, WR Cooper Kupp, WR Robert Woods, TE Tyler Higbee, P Johnny Hekker
On Rookie Contract in 2023
WR Van Jefferson, WR Tutu Atwell, RB Cam Akers, LB Terrell Lewis, LB Ernest Jones, S Jordan Fuller, WR Ben Skowronek, LB Chris Garrett, DT Bobby Brown, TE Brycen Hopkins, S Terrell Burgess, CB Robert Rochell, TE Jacob Harris, OL Tremayne Anchrum, OT Alaric Jackson
Practice Squad Players - Some of them too! Rest assured that practice squad players will continue to play a part in the team’s success in future seasons.
These are the players who could be around in two years. But Snead should also be able to retain some starters and key reserves who could leave next year, including potentially Von Miller. Let’s peek back into what could happen next March and why LA is not in dire straights with free agency or the draft next year.
Key Free Agents 2022
NT Sebastian Joseph-Day, CB Darious Williams, G Austin Corbett, C Brian Allen, RB Sony Michel, K Matt Gay, LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OL Joseph Noteboom, TE Johnny Mundt, CB Donte’ Deayon, Troy Reeder (RFA), John Wolford (ERFA)
2022 Cap Space - Projected $4,465,638
What this means:
It may be impossible to retain Sebastian Joseph-Day and Darious Williams and Austin Corbett and Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom. If the 2020 and 2021 drafts are any indication, the Rams are not prepared to replace Corbett and Allen. If Andrew Whitworth retires and Joseph Noteboom is unsigned, the Rams do not seem to have an in-house replacement at left tackle. If Whitworth does retire or is released, it will open up $13 million in cap space. But then LA will still need to sign Noteboom or someone else to replace him.
Noteboom will not carry a $13 million cap charge in 2022 for any team — typically contracts are backloaded anyway — but the Rams no less have to spend money on the offensive line next year and I think that’s where their focus will be.
Joseph-Day is having the breakout many expected, but so too is Greg Gaines playing at new heights. That keeps in motion a plan that likely includes Bobby Brown from 2022-2024. The team is already learning how to play without Williams, and another year for Burgess, Rochell, or Tyler Hall could help usher in the next era opposite Ramsey.
It’s not likely that the team will carry two high-priced corners, so why should Snead set aside money for Williams? There’s no need to “save cash” at all.
Really once you factor in using the savings from Whitworth to retain the rest of the offensive line, and the in-house replacements for the other departures, the Rams are not left with many needs for next season. Cap space is always easy enough to find and Les Snead probably doesn’t need to find much of it next year because like the 2020-2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams do not aim to change much next year.
The team might even be able to convince Von Miller to stay on a reasonable salary in 2022, just like the Bucs were able to lure back in every starter from a Super Bowl-winning team.
Sony Michel can leave because Cam Akers will be returning. He may even return later this season. And the departures of Williams, Joseph-Day, Michel, Noteboom, Miller, etc. will lead to some compensatory draft picks in 2023.
What needs would the Rams be left with in 2022 free agency and the draft? If they re-sign Allen, Corbett, and a left tackle, not many. They can choose to retain A’Shawn Robinson, or release him for $5.5 million in savings. It does create a need, potentially. They could also attempt to use that to re-sign Joseph-Day. Cornerback and a speed threat at wide receiver could again be considered offseason needs. I don’t think teams should ever stop adding receiving weapons.
But despite the concerns that a “$4.4 million cap space” figure might immediately bring up, LA is actually in good shape for 2023. Why? They have good players! Now! I know that they aren’t future draft picks, but sometimes it is better to have good players than to have future draft picks.
Key Free Agents 2023
QB Matthew Stafford, RT Rob Havenstein, RB Darrell Henderson, S Taylor Rapp, DT Greg Gaines, G David Edwards, LB Justin Hollins, CB David Long, DT A’Shawn Robinson
How to retain Matt Stafford
The reality is that despite their big numbers, QB contracts are maybe the most basic and predictable deals of any position. Snead traded for Stafford knowing two things:
- His contract carried two remaining years, neither of which is expensive, which allows the Rams to build a roster around Stafford.
- The Rams will have $88 million+ in cap space when Stafford “becomes a free agent” (he will never become a free agent) in 2023. The money is there for Stafford.
By next year, Snead will extend Matthew Stafford and it will be a contract that most likely fits in around $45 million per season. That seems like a lot right now but looking at the 2023 projected salary cap, you’ll notice that it is about 20 percent of the team’s total cap space and that’s not unusual for a franchise QB. In fact, that’s why quarterbacks are making about $45 million per year now.
I predict something like a fully guaranteed three-year, $135 million contract extension for Stafford in 2022.
If you take $88 million and subtract $45 million (do not do this at home on your fantasy Les Snead charts, I’m just being basic with my numbers), then you’re left with $43 million in 2023 cap space.
Snead probably already spent some of that $43 million in 2022 (Von Miller, the offensive line, nicks/nacks/pattiwacks) but you’re starting to see what I see, right? There’s not a cap space issue for the Rams... AT ALL.
So when you consider that Stafford will assuredly be re-signed, then the 2023 roster still has these players on it: Stafford, Kupp, Woods, Donald, Ramsey, Floyd, Higbee, Jefferson, Fuller, and so on.
Given the young players currently on the roster + the young players who will be added to the roster in 2022 and 2023 (despite the trades, with compensatory picks, the LA Rams will have lots to work to do in the draft next year and the following) and Sean McVay’s track record for developing day three picks and undrafted free agents (many of whom aren’t even on a plan to contribute until 2023 or 2024), there’s no logical reason for any Rams fan to be concerned about selling off the future in an attempt to be better only in the now.
As Tolle says, there is only Now anyway.
And the Now for the Rams, whether that’s now Now or 2023 Now, looks bright.