If the rumors are true, then the only reason that Los Angeles Rams will have first round picks in 2024 and 2025 are because the Carolina Panthers made a monumental error in judgment. Not even Brian Burns and Christian McCaffrey combined could have turned this current Rams team into an NFC juggernaut, but we’ve heard that L.A. wanted one or both of them at last year’s trade deadline.
Instead of having Burns, the Rams will have the opportunity to make their first day one draft pick since Jared Goff in 2016. For that, they can thank Panthers owner David Tepper.
SI’s Albert Breer reported last year that the Rams offered Carolina two first round picks for Brian Burns at the deadline, which would have meant their 2024 and 2025 picks. ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed the offer and went a step further, saying that L.A. was willing to give up two firsts and a second rounder.
Burns is a good pass rusher and that’s what he is. Last season, Burns ranked 21st in pressures but he’s yet to take the step into the realm of elite, which is what you might expect of someone who a team would trade two first round picks to acquire. Trading two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey made sense because it could be argued he was the best cornerback in the NFL at the time and for a few years after the deal. Trading two first round picks to switch out Goff for Matthew Stafford made sense.
Not even Burns’ age adequately explains the offer. He was 24 at the time of the 2022 trade deadline, giving him plenty of years to keep improving and to be a foundational piece for a franchise. But there are plenty of edge rushers in the league who are around the same age or younger who are at or above the level of ability we’ve seen from Burns: Nick Bosa, Maxx Crosby, Micah Parsons, Alex Highsmith, Aidan Hutchinson. Even Josh Sweat has a comparable resume at the same stage of his career.
If the Rams had traded two firsts and a second for Burns, presumably with the second rounder being in 2023, meaning that L.A. would not have Steve Avila right now, would the team have been meaningfully improved this season? They would lose one of their best starting offensive linemen, if not their best so far this season (Avila), and then what about their edge players? Maybe the team decides not to use a third round pick on Byron Young so that they can draft a guard since they didn’t pick Avila.
What’s the actual difference between Burns and Young this season? Yes, the Rams could use another edge player of high quality, but even the combined efforts of Burns, Young, and Michael Hoecht isn’t likely to increase the 2023 win total.
Right now, the Rams are slated to have a top-10 pick in 2024. Maybe that ends up in the teens. Maybe it goes higher. But after losing the number six pick in the 2023 draft to the Lions in the Stafford deal, the Rams could ill afford to give up another top-10 pick in 2024, if not a top-10 pick in 2025.
Then there’s McCaffrey.
As valuable as McCaffrey has been to the San Francisco 49ers, rushing for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns with 756 receiving yards and eight more touchdowns in 19 games, he wouldn’t have been afforded the same offense or offensive line in L.A.. The 49ers gave the Panthers picks in the second, third, fourth, and fifth round to acquire McCaffrey and also had to pay a sizable salary, something else that would need to be considered for both him and Burns.
The Panthers have yet to extend Burns, potentially leading to a franchise tag in 2024, if not a trade, but L.A. would have been forced to do it because of the price they would have paid to trade for him. Like Ramsey and Stafford, you don’t trade two first round picks unless you plan to make the player one of the highest-paid in the NFL for a long time.
McCaffrey has an $11.8 million base salary in 2024 and $12 million in 2025.
Burns is going to make over $25 million per year whenever he gets his extension. Probably a lot more than that.
Instead, the Rams have Byron Young (it’s hard to compare stats across different teams, but Young has 3 sacks, 13 QB hits, 20 pressures compared to 5 sacks, 10 QB hits, 11 pressures for Burns) and Kyren Williams, who was surprisingly one of the most valuable backs in the league on a per-play basis prior to landing on injured reserve. Even if Williams doesn’t turn into a star for the Rams, they have all their draft picks in order to find another one. L.A. would have had to find multiple day two and day three picks in the couch cushions to trade for McCaffrey and we know that Les Snead might have found a way to do it if Carolina was more receptive to his advances last year.
You may not like seeing him on the 49ers, but that’s probably preferable at this point to seeing him on the Rams. Now the team can focus on what they need to focus on instead: Cheap, young, cost-controlled talents that allow the team to have more cap space, more draft picks, and a long-term vision to emerge from the darkness of these past two seasons instead of band-aids that were not likely going to stop the bleeding.
So while Les Snead doesn’t get enough credit for helping the Rams win the Super Bowl in 2021, maybe Panthers owner David Tepper doesn’t get enough credit for helping the Rams get back to the Super Bowl in the next five years.