If I were a GM: Rebuild

I’ve long had a theory about how I would build a team from scratch as a GM, particularly if I had the first pick of the draft when I started the rebuild. I’m thinking about it now because the Rams seem to be in a scenario that shares some similarities so, I thought it might be interesting to post.

You often hear about rebuilding teams drafting their "core" players—usually aided by early round draft picks—and then in subsequent years building depth around them. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that depth players by their very nature are generally primarily developmental mid to late round picks and thus they’re less capable of providing adequate rotational play or filling in as a starters when needed until it’s time to start resigning the core players to high priced contracts and natural attrition of top talent occurs. So, my approach is the reverse: draft your depth first to give them time to develop including actual starting experience and then utilize high draft picks and free agency in the latter years for your core, big impact players.

Part of the plans’ design is contingent on the ability to not only trade back in the draft, but also trade out, as in out in time. As a hypothetical example (don't get too caught up about whether the value is exactly correct or not), a 2023 2nd round pick could be traded for a 2023 5th, 2024 3rd, and a 2025 2nd to a team in "win-now" mode. Similarly, I could imagine a scenario of trading a 2023 1st for a 2023 3rd, 2023 5th, and a 2024 1st to a team that thinks they’re an additional 1st round pick away from a SB. The time value of draft picks can make this a win-win. The team in win now mode has the ability to add an impact player with minimal current year cost. The cost is incurred over the following years—buy now, pay later. From the rebuilding teams perspective, think investing in bonds. You pay principal up front, receive coupon payments every year and then eventually receive your principal back at maturity. So, for the purposes of this explanation, when I say trade down and out, imagine we’re able to implement this idea to some degree; not all of the trades, but some…enough.

In year one of the rebuild, start by stripping the team down, clearing cap space, and acquiring extra draft picks. For the draft, trade down (and out) a lot until the fourth round or so, acquiring as many picks both for the current year and for subsequent drafts (ideally picking up a couple extra 1st rounders in future years) and then draft purely BPA. Post draft, utilize the rebuilding situation to scoop up as many of the highest priority UDFAs as possible since they wouldn’t have a better opportunity elsewhere. Additionally, come final roster cuts at the end of preseason, pick up a few/handful of players off the waiver—players that drafting teams really like and normally could stash on their practice squad. It’s a cheap way to snag "extra draft picks" from the later rounds.

In an ideal world, a few of these players from the "inaugural" draft would develop into starters, but at a minimum the foundation of depth has been laid. Many of these eventual depth players will have the benefit of increased playing time until they are pushed down the depth chart in subsequent years.

Depending on the timeframe of the rebuild and the state of the franchise, this year-two stage could be skipped but if it’s not, in year two trade down and out of all acquired firsts obtaining as many picks as possible in rounds two through four. Once again, draft BPA. Players from rounds two through four are great value, this is where championships are built.

By the time Year Three offseason begins, we should have a decent idea of who will be viable starters, where our depth is lacking, and where we need an influx of talent. Address some of the biggest needs at the biggest impact positions through free agency using the saved up cap space.

Ideally, through trading down and out in the previous drafts and even trading up in the current Year-Three draft, there is an abundance of early draft picks; eight or so in the top 100 would be ideal. This time, positional need and premium positions should play a factor in filling out the roster with as much top tier talent as possible.

Naturally, the high-priority FAs that we signed plus the rookie first and second rounders would be expected to pay immediate dividends. The players drafted in year one will finally be starting to hit their stride entering year 3 with legit real game experience making them perfectly suited for consequential depth roles and as spot starters. Hopefully, over the next two to three years, the majority of the players would be hitting their peak or near it at the same time.

While the Rams aren’t in this exact scenario, I think there are some parallels. We’ve stripped down our roster, cut cap costs, and with only 44 players currently on the roster, eleven draft picks mostly in the later rounds, and little expectation of being a SB contender, we’re in prime position to lay the foundation of depth. We should be able to dominate the UDFA market and there’s no reason we can’t poach a few players off of waivers at cut down—we can afford to have them not be ready right away because again, there’s little expectation of being serious contenders this year.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting we trade down or out from our second and third rounders all the way to the fourth round like in my rebuild strategy, maybe one or two smaller trade backs would be fine. I do think that there’s reason to be optimistic about our prospects of rebounding quickly by taking a step back this year to lay a sustainable foundation before moving forward next year with a full slate of draft picks and some extra cash to spend.