The best move of the Rams’ offseason is obvious because it was the greatest single transaction for any NFL team in 2021 other than the Jaguars drafting Trevor Lawrence as a reward for a) having the worst record last season and b) the Rams helping the Jets not have the worst record.
Aside from Lawrence potentially changing the culture and winning percentage of a hapless NFL franchise, Les Snead and Sean McVay sacrificing draft capital to save a great player from “Jaguars 1.0” to bring him to a team that already has the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and several special complementary pieces on either side of the ball around those cornerstones should be considered the strongest, the gutsiest, and the smartest move of 2021.
Perhaps the ends won’t appear to justify the means — I can’t predict the future any better than those who guaranteed that Lawrence would be headed to a winless Jets team — but the Rams had one clear weakness on offense that could have doomed them to a string of endless playoff defeats ... and I promise you that it was not Austin Blythe.
These are two moves that I think will best define the Rams’ 2021 offseason, both the obvious change that you’ve already seen discussed, as well as one that maybe hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should.
Best Move: Trading Jared Goff, two firsts, and a third for Matthew Stafford
The Rams traded two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey and not everyone thinks that was smart. Well, the Jaguars ended up picking defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson in 2020 and running back Travis Etienne in 2021. Regardless of how Snead would have handled those picks, do you think that Jacksonville fans are satisfied that Chaisson and Etienne and cap space is worth as much as the NFL’s best cornerback?
I don’t agree that it is or that it ever will be.
At some point, Jaguars fans have to be wondering if the franchise will ever hold status as a place where players like Ramsey never want to leave.
Consider the change in culture in Buffalo, where the franchise was sold to Terry Pegula in 2014 after a string of nine consecutive losing seasons. Since then, the Bills have posted four winning campaigns, including 13-3 with the number two offense in 2020. Now Buffalo is a place where good players want to go and most importantly, want to stay.
Like Stefon Diggs, Tre’Davious White, and Dion Dawkins. In the past, players like that would have rarely signed long-term extensions with the Bills, but now it is commonplace.
So keep that in mind when the Rams are acquiring talent like Stafford and Ramsey: prior to moving to Los Angeles and then hiring McVay, the Rams had a difficult time pitching the franchise as “desirable” to players who were themselves desirable. A 43-29 record with consistent postseason appearances and a recent Super Bowl trip is the reason that Stafford chose Los Angeles just as much as the Rams choosing Stafford.
Remember, Matthew Stafford gave up on the Detroit Lions after 12 years together but he would only do so if he could go somewhere that he believed could win.
Matthew Stafford had everyone fooled on this game-winning play @RamsNFL pic.twitter.com/SOi81GjoxB— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) May 14, 2021
Stafford didn’t go to any of those teams in the NFC East. He didn’t force Brad Holmes to make it work with the Panthers. He didn’t hang up the phone until it was the Broncos. He didn’t steal the vacated spot in Indianapolis before Carson Wentz could be forced into it. Matthew Stafford chose the Rams and the Rams chose Matthew Stafford and I believe that relationship is going to be immeasurably more valuable than two late firsts and a third.
For what it’s worth, the Lions used pick 101, the third rounder acquired in the deal, on cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. We’ll see what happens in 2022 and 2023 — as well as where in the first round those picks are situated and how well Detroit is actually using them to their advantage.
Watch: Matthew Stafford takes practice field for first time with Rams https://t.co/CxEFUKuELj— Rams Wire (@TheRamsWire) May 17, 2021
Most Underrated Move: Hiring Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator
I think some hidden value that can’t be overstated is the fact that Brandon Staley got the hell out of the NFC. Now the head coach of the LA Chargers, I imagine that a real nightmare for McVay would have been seeing Staley take over a team nearby (Eagles interviewed Staley, but went with Nick Sirianni) or worst of all, in his own backyard (there were no vacancies in the NFC West, but a bold move by the Cardinals or 49ers would have been nerve wracking to say the least).
Instead, Staley takes his talent and secrets to a different kind of backyard, not having to even leave his LA home but also rarely facing off against his old team. Except for in the preseason and the fun of that is that Staley’s first ever game as a head coach will be against the Rams.
And Raheem Morris’s first preseason game as the Rams’ defensive coordinator will be against the Chargers.
Few 44-year-old coaches have as much upper-level NFL experience as Morris:
- His first assignment was a defensive quality control coach for the Bucs in 2002, arguably the greatest defense of all-time.
- He was so respected in Tampa Bay that when the team fired Jon Gruden in 2009, they stayed internal and promoted Morris to head coach when he was only 33.
- Perhaps doomed by Josh Freeman as his only quarterback when he was in charge, Morris still led the Bucs to a 10-6 record in his second campaign; Freeman miraculously had 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
- Experience coaching both sides of the ball includes being an integral part of the Falcons when their offense exploded in 2016, resulting an MVP award and Super Bowl appearance for Matt Ryan. As receivers coach, Morris worked with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu.
- “Bosses” include Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, and a year spent on the same staff as McVay in Washington. He’s soaked up considerable knowledge and I wouldn’t ignore the six years next to Dan Quinn’s defensive philosophies either.
- When the Falcons stripped Quinn of his defensive playcalling duties, they called upon Morris to take the role, rather than an outsider.
- And when the Falcons needed to replace Quinn as a head coach, they took the rare step of interviewing an in-house candidate, in this case Morris. Same as Tampa Bay did many years earlier.
Dan Quinn was the kind of blowing leads, Raheem Morris took over, the Falcons improved a lot. Then the Hawks started blowing games. Fired LP, Nate McMillan took over, they tightened up in the 4th for the rest of the season. Now the Braves.— SportsTalkATL Jake (@cantguardjake) May 13, 2021
So.... coaching change? Just saying.
Now consider that Raheem Morris had more head coaching interviews in 2021 (he also interviewed for the Jaguars position) than Sirianni, Urban Meyer, Dan Campbell, and David Culley. All of those names are now head coaches in the NFL. Morris is now the defensive coordinator for a team that just lost an exceptionally talented defensive coordinator.
And that level of consistency — while still not ignoring the necessary change that comes from a new coach and a new year — could be exactly what keeps LA atop the defensive standings and in combination with the acquisition of Stafford, that’s exactly why I’m picking the Rams to reach the Super Bowl.