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Rams risk losing long-term identity if they keep recycling stars

As trade rumors circle another round of Rams stars, who will be left to remember in 20 years?

Super Bowl Parade at Disneyland Photo by Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

NFL trade rumors have been running wild on the L.A. Rams already this year, but usually the names are coming in. This time, it seems that the names are going out. And often the first name brought up is Jalen Ramsey, but not even Aaron Donald is safe.

Of course, the carousel of big names in trades is not a ride unfamiliar to Les Snead.

Just since 2018, the Rams have traded away in deals: Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Tavon Austin, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Brandin Cooks, Michael Brockers, Jared Goff, and Robert Woods. Plus Corey Bojorquez and Kenny Young, if we’re being completists.

If we’re looking back on the second-to-last time the Rams reached the Super Bowl, the only names left are Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, Rob Havenstein, Donald, Joe Noteboom, and for that annoying commenter in the back pointing out technicalities, Malcolm Brown. (But Brown wasn’t on the team when L.A. won the Super Bowl.)

Even looking back a single year, to the Rams winning the Super Bowl, already we’ve seen the team part with short-term rentals Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr., plus Darrell Henderson, Woods, the retirement of Andrew Whitworth, Austin Corbett, Darious Williams, the second retirement of Eric Weddle, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Johnny Hekker. Peeking ahead to free agency, it would not be surprising to see L.A. further part with more players from that team.

And no, not all of them will be Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers, or even necessarily your favorite starters. But surely when you look back at the 1999-2001 St. Louis Rams, there are names that will live on in franchise history—lovingly—whether they were great or not. Az-Zahir Hakim perhaps?

The Rams could lose Greg Gaines, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, David Edwards, A’Shawn Robinson, and David Long. Surely there are a few cap casualty candidates and the draft hasn’t provided many long-term answers recently either.

So if McVay does help L.A. get to where they want to go in 2023 and/or 2024, how many players on that team will fans feel like they got to see grow, develop, get better, lose with, win with, and become “Rams for life”? Or is everybody just a “short-term rental” apart from Donald and Kupp?

There are four teams playing on Sunday who have a list of names that will forever be related to their franchises—both now and especially after one of them wins a championship in two weeks.

The Philadelphia Eagles are playing in the NFC Championship on Sunday and if they win their next two games, there are a number of franchise players who will have their second Super Bowl championship in six years. That includes Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, and Isaac Seumalo, among others and a few coaches but also a front office and that was just there in 2017.

Another player who could win his second Super Bowl in three years and make his third appearance in the last five is Ndamukong Suh, who went with the Rams in 2018, then the Buccaneers in 2020.

NFL: JAN 23 NFC Divisional Round - Rams at Buccaneers Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Across from them is the San Francisco 49ers, a roster that just went to the NFC Championship a year ago (losing to the Rams) and many of whom went to the Super Bowl in 2019. That includes not only Kyle Shanahan and many of his staff members, but among those getting the chance for a second Super Bowl appearance as Niners are Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, Kyle Juszczyk, Mike McGlinchey, and Dre Greenlaw.

One of these two teams will solidify themselves to fans forever as guys who helped their team reach multiple Super Bowls in a relatively short period of time. That’s something so many Rams fans can relate to when they talk about Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, Isaace Bruce, Torry Holt, London Fletcher, Dre’ Bly, Ricky Proehl, Az-Zahir Hakim, Grant Wistrom, and so on.

The AFC is even more guaranteed to have a team that grips a fanbase with the names that have reached another Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes will get all the attention if the Kansas City Chiefs reach their third Super Bowl in the last four years, but among others who were also on the team in 2019 and 2020 are Travis Kelce, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Juan Thornhill. The Chiefs have had to rebuild their offensive line, many defensive pieces, and surely lost Tyreek Hill and other weapons, but these names get to live as “Chiefs” forever.

Los Angeles Rams v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

However, after three decades of complete ineptitude, the players who can really own a fanbase forever if they win the next two games are Joey B’s Bengals. Though they lost the Super Bowl (to the Rams) a year ago, Cincinnati is knocking on the door and favored to beat the Chiefs on Sunday. If they can do that, then Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase aren’t the only ones going to back-to-back Super Bowls. It’ll be damn near the entire roster and coaching staff.

And though the Bengals can’t keep absolutely everybody after the season, they have the fourth-most cap room in the NFL with room to cut corners. Extending Burrow shouldn’t be an issue that destroys the roster just yet.

Burrow, Chase, Joe Mixon, Jessie Bates, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt, Sam Hubbard, Evan McPherson are just some of the names who fans got to see drafted by the Bengals and then potentially see the Bengals go to two Super Bowls with. That’s the type of legacy you don’t see very often.

And if the Rams do expect to be back in contention in 2023, which you’d think they would given that Sean McVay came back for more and he probably didn’t do that if he’s looking at a three-year plan, it’s a curious case of wondering how many of their 2021 Super Bowl winners they want to bring back.

It may yet be in the best interest of the Rams right now to trade Jalen Ramsey, it may also be a terrible idea. It could be the smart move to get a first round return on Aaron Donald if we’re being super technical and trying to “Moneyball” the team back to contention as soon as possible. It could also be the stupidest idea in franchise history to ever intentionally allow the best player of his generation to don another jersey. Sure, Jerry Rice did it. Joe Montana did it. Basically all players do it now. But if the Rams can help it and if Donald is fairly close to retiring anyway, is it better to try and win another Super Bowl with a franchise legend while you still might be able to?

Is it ever the “right time” to trade someone like Cooper Kupp, the best draft pick that Snead has made since Donald? The Packers are not better off after having traded Davante Adams. And all Green Bay fans have heard for the last year from Adams is, “The Raiders are my team. The Raiders have always been my team. I’m a Raider for life.”

It hasn’t been a smooth road for DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, but the further he gets from his career with the Texans, the more I forget he was ever in Houston to begin with. Although, that’s probably something all former Texans want to happen and expect to happen.

The Rams have to consider what’s in the best interest of the team as they move forward. What can get them to the Super Bowl in 2023. That may include some tough decisions, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be long-term consequences and that’s at least something we can’t ignore.

Lest we risk forgetting these teams entirely.