The 2023 offseason plan for the Los Angeles Rams can seemingly be distilled into maximizing the contention window that is held open by retaining a core of star players while keeping an eye toward the future and gathering building blocks for the next generation.
The Rams are limited in terms of both premium draft capital and available salary cap resources to start the offseason, and it’s already become evident that the team knows they must move on from some of the star players they had in 2022 - MLB Bobby Wagner will be released ahead of the new league year. Perhaps the next domino to fall will be trading away Jalen Ramsey, a foundational piece of the Rams defense since he was acquired in 2019.
At first glance moving on from star players doesn’t seem to help the team’s chances of competing in 2023, and for now that appears to be a goal Los Angeles is maintaining. How can the Rams improve on a 5-12 record if all they’ve done this offseason is lose their most valuable player from last year and are potentially slated to move on from one of the top corners in all of football?
It’s a fair question, but making sense of this paradox requires wading through a bit more nuance.
Before making any long-term acquisitions this offseason, the Rams are currently over the projected 2024 salary cap. Trading away Ramsey opens at least $18.5M for next year according to Over The Cap data. Even if you think LA plans to keep the star corner for the 2023 season, his days with the Rams seem numbered without a significant contract restructuring.
So yes, on the surface it’s difficult to see Los Angeles improving without Ramsey in royal and sol next season. What if you can recoup a first round draft pick - and the related five-year contract commitment - by moving on from a player that would likely only be around for one more year? In other words, would it soften the blow of getting a little worse in 2023 if you also find a building block for the next iteration of the championship-caliber roster?
In a must-read piece detailing the struggles of Sean McVay during last season, Rams COO Kevin Demoff pointed out one of the key reasons LA must pivot from the roster building approach that has worked so well in recent years. Here’s what Demoff had to say on the topic of draft pick for player trades and the relatively inefficient market the Rams exploited on their way to winning Super Bowl LVI. Ramsey was a part of this approach, as was trading for Von Miller mid-season in 2022.
“We were not smarter than anybody, by any means, but we had a ton of first-mover advantages...
We’ve got to go find those first-mover advantages again.”
The context of the Rams attempting multiple mid-season trades with the Carolina Panthers last year - for RB Christian McCaffrey and then OLB Brian Burns - is important to keep in mind when contemplating a potential Ramsey trade. If, through their own success of pick for player trades that is now being emulated by other teams around the league, LA has priced themselves out of potential acquisitions, that would also mean that Ramsey’s stock could be at a high mark.
There are teams across the NFL that see themselves on the hump, and they probably feel an impact player like Ramsey could push them over into the contention conversation. The Detroit Lions, for example, just missed out on the playoffs despite a 1-6 start and almost make too much sense as a trade partner. The Los Angeles Chargers are always keen on former Rams. Truly, Ramsey would have no shortage of suitors.
There's a huge risk that he's worth 0 trade return in 2024. Not only because he'll be 30, not only because we don't know how much of a lockdown he'll be in 2023, but also because of his $4 million roster bonus due in March. I know fans don't want to hear it, but this is the time.— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) February 25, 2023
Moving on from Ramsey isn’t solely a 2023 issue, and a first round draft pick on a five-year, cost-controlled contract would be a good trade-off. Yes, this would leave the Rams extremely thin at both corner and safety - Nick Scott, Taylor Rapp, Troy Hill, and David Long are slated to hit free agency - but there’s an entire offseason ahead of the team to solve that puzzle.
I don’t think the Rams are headed toward a full rebuild, but it’s already clear they don’t plan to keep the entire core of star players intact. It’s all about holding the current contention window open for as long as possible while finding young players that will serve as building blocks for the next window. This is a balance that can be struck, but it’s on Les Snead and the Rams to make the most of any draft capital or salary cap resources they’d get in return for Ramsey or other veteran players. That’s not something they were successful at a year ago.
But Snead and the Rams deserve the benefit of the doubt after they’ve made two Super Bowl appearances in the last four years. Allow their plan to unfold over the coming months and let the results on the field be the true judge. It will be a long offseason but it’s certain that the team isn’t done quite yet.