Winning in the NFL is hard. Sustaining success is even harder. While the New England Patriots normalized sustained success as their dynasty expanded over almost a 20-year period, that’s something that had never been done before. The Kansas City Chiefs may be on that same path, but similar to the Patriots, they have a one-of-one at head coach and quarterback in Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.
Dynasties are very difficult to build. Back in the early 2000s, it looked like the then St. Louis Rams had a sure dynasty and even earned the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf”. However, despite Hall of Fame talent across the board on offense, those Rams only won a single Super Bowl title.
Between 1999 and 2004, the Rams made the playoffs in five of six seasons and made the Super Bowl twice. In four of those years, they won ten or more games. What ensued however was a rebuild that took nearly 15 years and 13 consecutive non-winning seasons.
It’s very possible that the Rams held on for too long. Towards the end, Marc Bulger was not the same quarterback that he was in 2003 and 2004. Injuries to Marshall Faulk caught up with him and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were each cut and left for different teams. Orlando Pace was cut as well after a slew of injuries in 2006 and 2007.
The Greatest Show on Turf fell apart almost as quickly as it was put together. Near the end, Bulger couldn’t stay healthy due to a poor offensive line. By 2009, everyone but Bulger had left.
Defensively, London Fletcher left for the Buffalo Bills in 2002, signaling the beginning of the end. The Rams went from being ranked third in defense in 2001 to 13th in 2002 and then 16th in 2003. The Rams then dropped to 25th in total defense after Lovie Smith left for the Chicago Bears following the 2003 season.
On top of the usual roster changes such as Fletcher, Dre Bly, and Az-Zahir Hakim leaving for other opportunities, the Rams dealt with their own interior problems. With a quarterback controversy brewing and drama around Warner, the Rams cut their star quarterback that brought them a Super Bowl title. The Rams had a run in 2003, but shortly after Martz had conflicts with the front office that hit a tipping point in 2005. He was fired after the season and that was the end of an unforgettable era of Rams football.
It came tumbling down and it tumbled down fast. The early 2000 Rams should have been a dynasty, but instead became a series of ‘what-ifs.’
The same Rams 20 years later are now at that same tipping point. They’ve been one of the most winning teams over the last six years, making the postseason four times with two Super Bowl runs. Do they continue to try and win with the same core, or do they re-tool a little bit and hope that they can build it back up, taking a year to re-gain assets?
Both teams have similar situations and have gone eerily down the same path. After winning the Super Bowl, the Rams lost a key defensive piece in Von Miller to the Bills. Andrew Whitworth retired following in the footsteps of Aeneas Williams. Matthew Stafford played every game in all but one season since 2011. In 2022, he missed eight games due to injury and injuries to the offensive line.
On top of that, while there hasn’t been any public frustration with McVay and the front office, there has been well-documented turmoil within the Rams building with the uncertainty surrounding McVay’s future and a history of McVay closing himself off in difficult times. That doesn’t even mention some of the other similarities between McVay and Martz.
Much like those early 2000 teams, the Rams have bad drafting and bad contracts to blame for their current situation. Les Snead hasn’t drafted a high-impact player since 2017. The Rams handed a big contract to Allen Robinson in the same way that they paid Drew Bennett to a five-year, $30M contract in 2007. The 2006 and 2007 draft classes might be the worst in franchise history.
In 2006, the Rams led their draft with cornerback Tye Hill and tight end Joe Klopfenstein. The following year, the Rams selected defensive tackle Adam Carriker only for Darrell Revis to be selected with the next pick.
Meanwhile, Snead infamously selected TuTu Atwell over Creed Humphrey when the team desperately needed a center.
Is this re-model where the current Rams go left where the early 2000 Rams turned right?
There are two potential outcomes of the re-model. Either the Rams win 8-9 games in 2023 and re-open a window in 2024 with a first-round pick and $60M+ in cap space. Stafford, Kupp, and Donald would have one final shot at a Super Bowl before the next era of Rams football takes over.
That’s the expected and probably the most ideal scenario here.
The other scenario which is arguably just as likely is that the Rams don’t hit on their 11 draft picks this season, overpay for free agents next year to force a championship window opening, and then trade away that 2024 first-round pick. They would be left with a 37-year old Stafford, 33-year old Donald that likely retires, and Kupp.
The ensuing result of that would be an actual multi-year rebuild. The Rams would need a complete overhaul.
As it stands, the Rams are at the same crossroads that the 2004 and 2005 Rams faced almost 20 years ago. Those Rams teams lost their way and their identity. The current Rams team can only hope to avoid that same fate.