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How will NFL teams copycat the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams?

1) By loosening their grip on first round picks

Rams Parade, Super Bowl Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

We know that every year teams look to the reigning Super Bowl champions as an example of what to do, just as they look at the Jacksonville Jaguars for a set of guidelines on what not to do. Even the Los Angeles Rams themselves are coming off of a Super Bowl win by following the veteran-quarterback-acquisition model of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers one year earlier.

(I know Jaguars fans hate being the butt of these jokes, and I’ll stop using them as an example when they stop doing everything wrong.)

So what is it that teams are going to copycat off of the Rams this year?

First off and semi-unrelated, I expect 2022 to be “The Year of the Tank.” Last season, I believe we saw the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Jaguars do all in their power to not be setup for success. While they may not have actively done anything to stop players and coaches from winning games, maybe they didn’t hand out $100,000 checks, the purpose of their seasons seemed to be: Let the young guys learn on the job, we won’t be unhappy with a high draft pick next year.

The Jags, Lions, and Texans are picking one, two, and three.

With a much more appealing class of quarterbacks in 2023 than in 2022, I suspect that some owners and confident general managers are more focused on setting themselves up with the “next Joe Burrow” than they are seeking out the “next Matthew Stafford” veteran acquisition. That list likely would include the Lions and Texans, as well as potentially the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, and Indianapolis Colts.

I’m not citing any of them as definitely hoping for a high 2023 first round pick (except for maybe the Texans), but if suddenly you start to see a franchise selling off their best veterans for future draft capital, you can draw your own conclusions.

That’s how teams on the bottom may be eyeing future championships. What about the teams that see themselves as current playoff contenders (and don’t get me wrong, that list could also include the Dolphins, Saints, Colts, Commanders, Broncos, etc.) who want to make that jump to the next level? They’ll be taking their cues from teams like the Rams, Bucs, Bengals, Chiefs, Bills, and so on. Teams that won, almost won, or who look like they could be winning soon.

This is one of a few strategies and changes we could see unfold in 2022.

A looser grip on first round picks

It’s probably the strongest narrative attached to Les Snead, the fact that he doesn’t view first round picks as a commodity that only has value when they’re being used to select prospects in the draft. This does not mean that Snead believes that first round picks never have value in that way—he acquired Aaron Donald in this manner and spent a great deal to acquire the number one overall pick for Jared Goff—only that when the Rams became a playoff team under Sean McVay, the picks had more value when traded for veterans.

This is still methodology that most playoff teams did not much agree with up to this point. That will probably change a little bit now.

Let’s briefly run over comparable NFC teams and how they used first round picks in the last half-decade:

  • After losing the 2016-17 Super Bowl, the Falcons selected Takkarist McKinley in the first round in 2017, even trading up to do so. Atlanta selected Calvin Ridley 26th in 2018, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary in 2019, and A.J. Terrell in 2020. Those are actually four starters—five if you include Kyle Pitts in 2021—yet the Falcons are coming off of a 7-10 season (and 4-12 the year before) and they haven’t won a playoff game since a 2017 wild card win over the Rams. Matt Ryan’s window is closing and Ridley apparently wants to be traded.
  • The Dallas Cowboys selected Taco Charlton with the 28th pick in 2017, then Leighton Vander Esch in 2018, CeeDee Lamb in 2020, and Micah Parsons in 2021. The team traded its first round pick for Amari Cooper in 2019. The Cowboys have one playoff win (and a loss to the Rams) in the last five years.
NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • The 49ers were coming off of a 2-14 season in 2017 and selected Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick after trading down one spot with the Bears; they also traded up for Reuben Foster at the end of the first round. San Francisco selected Mike McGlinchey in 2018, then Nick Bosa in 2019, and they selected Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk in 2021, the former of which coming after trading DeForest Buckner for a first round pick. The 49ers reached the Super Bowl in 2019 and the NFC Championship in 2021, but Thomas, Foster, McGlinchey, and Kinlaw had little to do with it. San Francisco GM John Lynch does seem to have some agreement with Snead on the use of first round picks, trading three of them to move up for Trey Lance in 2021.
  • One of the best drafters in the NFL is Saints GM Mickey Loomis. He found Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk in the first round in 2017, Marcus Davenport in 2018 (which cost him his 2019 first rounder to move up), Cesar Ruiz in 2020, and Payton Turner in 2021. What if instead though Loomis had thought about Drew Brees’ closing window and rather than focusing on Davenport, had traded two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey or a similar veteran on the market?

First round picks are sort of like stimulus checks. Everyone gets one and the government has a use purpose in mind when they send them out, but ultimately you can do whatever you want with that $600. Some people view that money as lifeblood—it’s rent—but others may have the luxury to see it as fun money—it’s Vegas—and when Snead got in the position to go gambling...

Vince Vaughn Places Handprints-Footprints In Cement At TCL Chinese Theatre Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The Buffalo Bills traded a first round pick for Stefon Diggs and that did more for Josh Allen than most potential draftees ever could have. The Seahawks have been trading first round picks for longer than Snead has, and while that has not resulted in as much success for them, it did land Duane Brown in Seattle. The Chiefs dealt a first round pick for their own left tackle of the future last year, and the Colts are really happy with Buckner, even if GM Chris Ballard didn’t get the same joy out of his one season with Carson Wentz.

The 2022 NFL Draft does not have any premier quarterbacks and that could compel certain teams to be looser with their first round picks this year if they want to acquire a veteran like Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers. On the other hand, some teams may seek to acquire 2023 first round picks because Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (my personal favorite is Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall) will be present in the draft a year from now.

Others who you might find on the trade market could include Ridley, Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mekhi Becton, Za’Darius Smith, Saquon Barkley, James Bradberry, Xavien Howard, Marcus Peters, and Denzel Ward, just to name a few (speculative, unfair of me).

You could also see teams more eager to trade up than usual, seeing that like the 2021 49ers, they believe that they’ve already got a Super Bowl contending team and they want to spark it with a higher-profile building block for the future. A team may view Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux or Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton as a “must-have piece” and perhaps you could see a good team coming off of a disappointing season (Vikings, Broncos, Ravens, Eagles, Chargers, Saints) move from the middle of the first round and into the top-five for one of those players.

People love first round picks.

Some seem to love having a first round pick more than they even love winning actual football games. Some Rams fans even seem to still be upset with how Snead has used his draft picks despite the general manager putting together two very different Super Bowl rosters in a span of four years. But people also love to see first round picks traded. It’s exciting news and allows for so many possibilities and fantasies of what could come next.

Don’t be surprised if there is more exciting news involving first round picks this year than usual.