Roster building in the NFL is a complex fusion of guts, brains, hard work, and luck. The Los Angeles Rams, freshly crowned as NFL champions after their 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, are already back to work. Tough roster decisions must be contemplated and acted upon in preparation for their title defense.
Building a better mousetrap
General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay have broken the mold on how to revive a moribund franchise, using bold moves acquiring playmakers, poaching opponents rosters, and yes, mining the NFL draft. While the Rams are known for their blockbuster trades, they also make a lot of seemingly small moves that solidify team depth.
It is not simply the team’s additions. This constant evaluation of talent extends to both players currently under contract and the team’s own personnel decisions. The strengths of Snead and McVay’s roster building protocols are recognizing roster needs and the willingness to correct past mistakes. The Rams have shown the ability to move on from players that the scouting department has over-valued, as well as those that offer marginal production, and/or potential.
A team that got to the Super Bowl twice in four years and won it once, plus 55 games in five years, is probably not set to implode by tomorrow morning. A lot will change, certainly, and a repeat run like this is unlikely. But they aren’t “won and done”. Never were, either. Sheesh— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) February 15, 2022
Is this what “all-in” looks like?
LA Rams fan are familiar with the narrative. According to pundits, the team has mortgaged its future to win today and are facing a murky future of aging, over-priced veterans, a lack of viable young talent, and no top draft picks or cap space to refill an empty cupboard.
What NFL teams (and their fans) would not trade four playoff berths, two trips to the Super Bowl and a Lombardi Trophy in five years for a handful of first and second round draft picks? If this kind of return on investment is what mortgaging the future looks like, let me trade in my other investments.
Tomorrow is not as bad as the narrative predicts
If the Rams front office has proven anything, it’s that they aren’t afraid to bring in big names, kick big contracts their way and then manage the big salary cap implications caused by them. If the coaching staff has proven anything, it’s that they can develop young talent and fit those big personalities into the teams culture and atmosphere.
On successful teams roster continuity is certainly important, but inventory turnover is an important facet of running any thriving enterprise. The average roster churn in the NFL is anywhere from 20 to 30 percent each year, most of which occurs at the bottom half of rosters. Excepting of course, when a new regime takes over a team the top of the roster may moved out in a rebuild. In the Rams case, they have a solid core of players, both stars and role players. young and old. So their roster turnover is based on upgrading rather than re-tooling.
In their five seasons together, Snead and McVay have shown that they can successfully rebuild/retool a roster in an amazingly short amount of time. In 2017, their first year in LA, they kept 30 players from the Jeff Fisher regime, only 18 remained for their 2019 trip to Super Bowl LIII, and only four were still around at the beginning of this season.
Only 11 Rams were on the team for both Super Bowl LIII and LVI
A simple example of the Rams ability to quickly revamp a roster is comparing the three seasons between the Super Bowl visits in 2019 and 2022. Only 11 players were part of both games.
- Offense - WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp, TE Tyler Higbee, C Brian Allen, T Rob Havenstein, and T Andrew Whitworth
Only Whitworth and Havenstein saw action in both games, Allen was a rookie redshirt in 2019, Kupp sat out that year with an injury. Woods and Higbee were sidelined in ‘22 with injuries.
- Defense - DT Aaron Donald, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, E Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and CB Darious Williams
AD is the only defender to see action in both games. SJD, Okoronkwo, and Williams were all rookie redshirts.
- Special Teams - P Johnny Hekker saw action in both games
The sky is not falling
According to overthecap.com, the Rams have 46 players under contract for 2022. Included in this number are nine starters on each offense and defense. Of the four first-string free agents, LA must make a decision on whether to replace or re-sign center Brian Allen, guard Austin Corbett, linebacker Troy Reeder, and cornerback Darious Williams. If Andrew Whitworth decides to hang em’ up, then you can add Joseph Noteboom to the sign/replace determination list.
Returning 17 or 18 of a possible 22 starters from a Super Bowl Championship team doesn’t fit the narrative of a team whose window is closing fast. Add to that, the young LA players who got snaps in 2021 because of injuries. On defense young players CB’s David Long Jr. and Robert Rochell, E Justin Hollins, DT Greg Gaines, and the two Terrell’s, Lewis and Burgess all received multiple starts. Pass catchers Bennett Skowronek, Kendall Blanton, and Brycen Hopkins were pressed into service during the playoff run and contributed. The Rams cupboard is nowhere near empty.
Fans love to scratch their heads over some of LA’s draft picks, but in the last three years 23 of 26 players drafted, 88.46%, are still with the team. That’s a lot of young potential.
However, he does value draft picks. "We use our picks innovatively, maybe creatively," he said.— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) November 2, 2021
Where the Rams can get better in 2022
Winning the Super Bowl puts the Rams in the crosshairs of their 2022 opponents. Since draft capital and salary cap space will be tight, it is imperative Snead/McVay use every bit of their guile to bolster the roster and fill in any holes that present themselves as the off season unfolds.
LA could use some physicality on the offensive line. The Sean McVay run schemes are generally of the move/ finesse variety, but the Rams struggles to run the football in short yardage situations stands out as a weakness.
More speed. A true speed running back who can help the offense attack the edges, forcing defenses to defend the field horizontally. The addition of Matthew Stafford has invigorated the vertical game, so logically, the next step in a multiple attack would be to expand from sideline to sideline.
A true run-stopping inside line backer. Ernest Jones has shown solid improvement, but is not really a thumper. He appears to be more suited as the coverage LB, than the “Mike”. Troy Reeder just doesn’t stack and shed well enough to be a force.
Looking ahead to next season, there are still going to be questions about the LA Rams roster building model. Will they get their comeuppance on trading off top draft picks? Can they manage the possible loss of Andrew Whitworth and (gulp) Aaron Donald? Or will the Snead/McVay roster model become the latest hot ticket in the copycat NFL?
One thing about Hollywood, it will all be done with high drama and on the front page.