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The Rams fleeced the NFL, were mocked for trades, now LA is going to the Super Bowl

I thought this wasn’t how you build a team?

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There are many places to start the story of how the Los Angeles Rams got here, from Stan Kroenke buying the the St. Louis Rams in 2010 to Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. I want to start with the Jalen Ramsey trade and how that decision by Les Snead may have started the trend of ridiculing the Rams for committing the ultimate NFL sin: trying to win a Super Bowl with methodology that didn’t get approval from the media or fans who are more focused on the first round of the draft and “Moneyball” roster building strategies than they are with putting a talented and entertaining product on the field as soon as humanly possible.

It’s easier for me to write this piece based on the fact that Los Angeles was able to slip by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, escaped from Tom Brady a week earlier, and will get to avoid Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, and the Rams still have one more game to win against a very determined and unfazed-by-anything Cincinnati Bengals franchise, but this victory makes it as clear as day that there is more than one way to strip a Niner of his gold.

You hear it practically every day of the offseason: “The Rams haven’t picked in the first round since 2016.” And they don’t have their next first round pick until 2024, at the soonest. Based on the L.A. Rams bringing a star-studded roster to Super Bowl LVI in two weeks without a single player on the roster who was drafted by the Rams in the first round other than Aaron Donald, the wait may be even longer than that.

October 15, 2019 - Rams trade two first round picks, fourth round pick to Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell was skeptical that the Rams needed to trade for Ramsey when they could have also tried to develop one of the first round picks into a good cornerback.

Over the past few years, the Rams have repeatedly used their top draft picks to target talented players still on rookie deals. If the draft is full of uncertainty, the Rams’ solution is to wait and see who pans out and trade their picks accordingly.

The problem with that philosophy, though, has already begun to rear its head for this team in 2019. As constructed before the Ramsey trade, this Rams roster had major holes along the offensive line and at edge rusher and cornerback.

Barnwell expressed doubt that the Rams would be able to build adequate depth for aging starters like Clay Matthews (and Eric Weddle, who himself has proven that depth is sometimes only a phone call away) and the damaged knee of Todd Gurley.

Right now, though, I’m not sure what the Rams need is a superstar. They already have as talented of an inner core as any team in the league, but after trading away so many high draft picks over the past few years, what they lack is depth.

Barnwell saw L.A. as being in a “different financial situation” in 2019 as compared to trades in 2017 and 2018, but clearly — I’m sure Barnwell would admit this — overlooked or misunderstood something about the NFL salary cap and how Snead expected he could react to the worst case financial scenarios. It’s one of those issues that I run into all the time, which is that I put so much faith into sites like OvertheCap.com and Spotrac that I lose sight of the fact that some people dedicate their entire lives into solving financial riddles for NFL general managers.

The Rams simply wanted to do one thing: acquire Jalen Ramsey, an elite under-25 player at a premium position. Snead did it and then even after the financial nightmares of parting with Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff, were able to extend Ramsey and keep him in-house for the most valuable seasons of his entire career.

For so many fans of football today though, it’s more of an obsession with a “dynasty mode on Madden” type of approach—or auction fantasy drafts—or “How do I get an entire roster of talented guys in their early-to-mid-20s?”—than it is with... There are maybe three guys in the entire NFL like Ramsey and the Rams will not have a shot at any of them except for this rare opportunitiy.

By trading two first-round picks, though, the Rams lose out on the two best ways they could have supplemented their roster with the sort of cheap, young talent every team needs. They have no clear path to replacing star left tackle Andrew Whitworth, whose decline in 2019 has badly affected the offense’s viability. There’s no way for them to draft a top-tier edge rusher to either supplement or replace edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr., who will be tough to retain. A first-round pick would have come in handy to replace Talib or safety Eric Weddle. All of that assumes everything goes right and the Rams don’t ever need or want to replace someone like Goff, Ramsey or Cooks.

More than two years after the trade and this article came out, Whitworth continues to start at left tackle for the Rams, while losing players like Fowler and Weddle (and Cory Littleton and so on) has not proven to be as detrimental as the doomsday preppers would have had you believe.

This is the sort of move a team makes if it’s one star cornerback away from winning a Super Bowl.

Yes, that was one way to see it. The current situation, which is that Ramsey signed a long-term contract with the L.A. Rams and not only hasn’t prohibited them from adding more talent, he’s probably one of the main reasons that Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr are playing for the Rams right now. In their postgame talk with the media on Sunday, OBJ expressed how unsure he was that coming to L.A. was the right move, but that it was Miller and Ramsey who eventually convinced him to sign with the Rams.

Something that so many people forget, even the smartest football writers like Barnwell, is that football players are also football fans. We can see how many players who are out of the playoffs right now are still tweeting and posting Instagram stories about the playoffs and their favorite players to watch. The great players can choose to play for teams that they like to watch play.

We know that when players finally get to that place where they can choose their destination, like Matthew Stafford, Miller, and OBJ to a degree, they want to go to teams that ARE trying to win the Super Bowl. Teams that DO think about how players feel about winning RIGHT NOW and not selling them on a plan that’s going to work EVENTUALLY.

“Trust us, just stick around for two more years and we promise you the (Jaguars) or (Lions) are going to get better! We have a lot of first round picks.”

The Jaguars used the Rams first round draft picks, ending up as 19th and 25th overall, on K’Lavon Chaisson and Travis Etienne. What Los Angeles got in return was indeed a shutdown cornerback, as Barnwell was clear to point out in his immediate trade review, but what they also got was a salesman. A salesman who loves the L.A. Rams and has made plenty of friends over the years at the Pro Bowl.

That’s not written in the playbook for long-term planning.

I think potentially there’s an obsession going around with people wanting to both win “and look smart” rather than just wanting to win. “Well, you can’t win the way that the Rams are trying to win, isn’t that too obvious? To just acquire good players?”

If you go to the Super Bowl, you look smart. It’s part and parcel. It comes with the territory of winning your conference. Most people look at a trade like two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey and unless they’re a Rams fan think, “I’d rather have the first round picks.” Because first round picks are fun, mysterious, and full of potential.

But Ramsey is already great. And unless those picks are very high—and used at the right time and on the right player—they will rarely turn into a player like Jalen Ramsey.

USAToday ForTheWin’s Steven Ruiz just felt the trade came too late.

If the Rams made this trade a season ago, it would make a lot more sense. At this time last year, they were a clear Super Bowl contender. Now? It’s looking like they’ll struggle to keep pace in a nasty NFC West. Los Angeles trails the 49ers by three games (and has already lost to them) and the Seahawks by two games (and has already lost them). Some advanced metrics even have them lagging behind the lowly Cardinals, who are just a half-game back of the defending NFC champs in the standings.

Was for the wrong position...

Ramsey isn’t here to block for Goff or to take over for him at quarterback, so the Rams’ offensive problems — which are dragging this season into hell — aren’t going to be fixed by this trade. Los Angeles has an ax wound on its head hemorrhaging blood and it’s putting a bandaid on its ankle.

And would be too costly...

This roster is in clear need of upgrades — especially on the offensive line, which will soon lose its best player, Andrew Whitworth, to retirement — but there won’t be nearly enough money to do so in free agency and the front office just tied its other roster-building hand behind its back for the next few offseasons.

Worst of all... no first round draft picks.

The Rams need good, cheap players more than most teams but they’ve just given up their most reliable means to acquire such players in the near future. And they did so to make a deal that isn’t going to make a HUGE difference this season. This is neither a win-now move (especially if ‘win now’ means winning the Super Bowl this season) nor is it one that brightens their future.

There is no defending the move.

Grade: F

Grades don’t get more clear than that.

Up next ...

January 30, 2021 - Rams trade two first round picks, third round pick, Jared Goff to Lions for Matthew Stafford

What do you think they’ll say about this one? That’s Part II.