The Los Angeles Rams haven’t been in this dire of a situation since the year they hired Sean McVay. Now it’s almost like they’re repeating history, getting a rejuvenated McVay to come back for another ride and say, “You know what, I can flip this ship around in short order for the second time in six years.”
There are many theories as to how the Rams can do that, whether that’s being competitive in 2023 or getting things right with 2024 in mind. These are five steps that I think that can accomplish at least a bit of both.
I’ve also received grades on all five moves from...me.
Step 1: Trade Jalen Ramsey to Panthers for picks 39, 93, 2024 conditional 2nd
Snead has been open about the fact that the Rams need to get back to building through the draft, whether that includes first round picks or more day two picks.
“When you get in a situation where you’re now relying more on players on their rookie contracts to actually be key contributors, key starters, (then) getting back to having some first-rounders, getting back to having second- and third-rounders will be advantageous,” Snead said.
“We’re probably going to have to not press the gas as much, pay a little bit of the debt that we’ve accumulated,” Snead said. “As you do some of the things that we’ve done, you’re going to push some of that down the road. But we’ve been able to be competitive paying some of that debt as well. ... There are ways — not necessarily easy, but this league is not easy — and it’s up to us to be creative, innovative and to try to figure that out.”
For me, it’s a little overly optimistic to expect teams to outright offer first round picks for a 28-year-old cornerback who will cost them a lot of money, whether that’s on Ramsey’s current deal or a re-negotiated deal. I do think back to the Panthers trading a second, a fourth, and a sixth for Sam Darnold and owner David Tepper seems more aggressive than most when it comes to paying players to come to Carolina.
Sending Ramsey to the Panthers would also reunite him with Ejiro Evero, their new defensive coordinator. There’s little question that the Panthers will also be aggressive for a quarterback and all signs point towards the draft, so one way that new head coach Frank Reich can help out a young signal caller is pairing him with a great defense and Carolina has a lot of parts moving in that direction; a secondary of Ramsey, Jaycee Horn, and Jeremy Chinn would be tough to match in the NFC.
L.A. can ask for a 2024 day two pick that becomes a second rounder simply if Ramsey is still on the Panthers roster by the fifth day of the next league year.
I know a lot of fans have fallen for this ideology that “first round picks are everything and I’ll DIE if the Rams don’t get a FIRST round pick!!!” but the reality is that most draft classes only have ~20 players with “first round grades” and the gap between the prospects at 20 and 40 isn’t big.
Snead needs more picks and this just cuts out the middle man by acquiring two day two picks (both selections that Carolina got from San Francisco from Christian McCaffrey) and some extra pepper from 2024.
Wow, I’m off to a great start.
Step 2: Move on from bad contracts, including Tyler Higbee
I don’t care how it’s done, if you get a trade offer or not: Leonard Floyd, Allen Robinson, Joseph Noteboom become ex-Rams and we know that Bobby Wagner is already out.
Cut Floyd and don’t worry about the post-June 1 designation because L.A. needs all the 2024 cap space that they can save. Trade Robinson for a day three pick swap and eat as much of the salary as it takes to increase the value, maybe swapping out a fifth rounder for a fourth rounder if Snead is lucky. Deal Noteboom to a team desperate for OL help (they’re always out there) and see if you can get a 2024 fourth round pick.
Finally, trade Tyler Higbee.
It’s time to end that era. The Rams wouldn’t just save $3.9 million, they might get a decent return because we’ve seen how the NFL does view competent tight ends. They don’t have to be perfect. The Jaguars tagged Evan Engram. The Patriots are keeping Hunter Henry instead of saving $10 million by cutting him (41 catches, 509 yards, 2 TD). We see teams trade second round picks for tights ends that most perceive as mid-tier talents.
The Rams traded their 2023 fifth round pick for Troy Hill. Perhaps they could recoup that by sending Tyler Higbee to the Lions for a 2023 fifth, as they haven’t replaced T.J. Hockenson yet.
I’m...the best GM?
After all of these moves, including the Ramsey trade, the Rams would now have $10.1 million in 2023 cap space (previously -$15m) and $88 million in 2024 cap space (previously -$3m) as well as two second round picks, two third round picks, a fifth, three sixths, a seventh, plus two comp picks in round five, one in round six, and one in round seven.
Step 3: Keep Key Free Agents, including Baker Mayfield
I would show Baker Mayfield that his best role and opportunity is to play the wait-and-see game with Matthew Stafford like everybody else. Last offseason and training camp, John Wolford got most of the reps in practice with the 1s because Stafford’s arm wouldn’t allow him to participate. I have no idea if Mayfield will ever fully resuscitate or save his career as a starter, but as far as backups go it’s hard to find former number one picks with as much talent and upside as he has in his arm, legs, and brain.
Really though, he shouldn’t be starting for an NFL team as the number one option going into the season and he shouldn’t take any offer to enter a competition. That’s what got him into trouble in 2022 with the Carolina Panthers when in my opinion—and I wrote this last offseason before he was traded—he should have demanded to go to a good organization with a good head coach and an established starting quarterback...like the L.A. Rams.
Think of it like Ryan Tannehill going to the Titans to backup Marcus Mariota and then ultimately becoming the starter.
I would offer Mayfield a two-year, $18 million contract with $7 million fully guaranteed at signing and incentives that kick in based on a certain number of starts if in fact he does have to take over for Stafford at some point. I wouldn’t go crazy on Baker though: Throw his draft history and Browns highlights out, he was one of the worst QBs in the NFL in 2022.
Still, it’s a rare opportunity to get a backup who could be more than a backup.
I didn’t think the Rams should let Austin Corbett leave in 2022 and I believe they paid a little bit of a price for that. Re-sign David Edwards. They also let Johnny Hekker leave and Hekker was much better than Riley Dixon, so don’t make that same mistake with Matt Gay. Re-sign Gay. You need to keep around some of the talent you draft, so re-sign Greg Gaines; I have injury and durability concerns with A’Shawn Robinson, even though I think Robinson is probably a bit better than Gaines.
Finally, I’ve been convinced by Ferragamo15 that Taylor Rapp isn’t that bad and that it would be hard to replace him without using another second round pick on a safety with a similar skillset who you’re just hoping has better coverage and tackling skills. I’ve perceived that Nick Scott has way more fans on this blog, but I don’t know that the NFL will value Scott above Rapp. I think go ahead and re-sign Rapp, who just recently turned 25, making him only a little bit older than some 2023 draft prospects.
The moves shouldn’t cost a lot and since I created over $80 million in cap space for next year, it’s easy to fit them all in with plenty of room to spare. I must be that guy on YouTube with the hydraulic press because I’m crushing it.
Step 4: Your one free agent splash, Les—LB Tremaine Edmunds
Rarely do you see elite 24-year-old players hit free agency, but the Bills are going to have a hard time keeping all of their free agents and it looks like Edmunds will be on the market and free to sign with the highest bidder. If you want to ease the pain of trading Ramsey, who could be great for another one or two years, try adding Edmunds...who could be great for another eight years.
Coming off of the loss of Bobby Wagner, Edmunds would not only fill the gap in the middle of Raheem Morris’s defense—he’d upgrade it. Significantly. He’s one of the top coverage linebackers in the NFL, he’s one of the top run stoppers in the NFL, and sure he’s gonna set the market at inside linebacker: $18-$20 million per season.
The Rams can afford maybe one guy like that and Edmunds would be a great fit in L.A. as they’re transitioning to the next era of the team.
Edmunds played for Leslie Frazier in Buffalo the last few years, a guy who said this last year:
“I played for Buddy Ryan, he was my defensive coordinator and Mike Ditka was my head coach,” Frazier said. “They had an aggressive mentality. But, in particular, being an attack-oriented defense. And I’ve kind of tried to carry that message over with our players.”
For Buffalo, that message starts with stopping the run.
“We really emphasize stopping the run here on defense,” Frazier said. “So we talk to them about that and how we do it here in Buffalo. And then we talk to them about affecting the quarterback because that’s such a big part of winning games in our league. You got to be able to affect these really, really talented quarterbacks. We also talk about taking that ball away and trying to score on defense.”
Buddy Ryan, you say? Raheem Morris once said this:
“Going against a Buddy Ryan defense, Rex Ryan defense or whatever Ryan you’re going against that day, it’s going to be a proud tradition,” said Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris. “They are going to be physical, tough men out there playing against you. You know that. You’ve got to be ready to deal.”
Edmunds brings the toughness, attitude, and as a former top-20 pick, the rare talent that you need to inject into the middle of a defense. The Rams don’t have a first round pick this year but signing Edmunds would be the equivalent to that. If he was in the draft this year, even at age 24 (soon 25), he would be a top-20 pick. Maybe a top-10 pick.
Clear space and sign him.
The Rams defense goes from a front-seven with Robinson, Wagner, and Floyd, to one that now has Tremaine Edmunds behind Aaron Donald and Gaines, alongside Ernest Jones. There’s a lot of room to improve and build around those guys, as well as Michael Hoecht perhaps, but that’s not a bad start. Wow!
Step 5: Draft that Offensive Line, Build AROUND QB
We can definitely get into the defense and continuing to stockpile talent on that side of the ball, it’s important. Safeties, corners, defensive tackles...sure. No problem. But I want to focus on my top priority now that the Rams have to start thinking about potentially setting a new QB in the QB position in 2024 or 2025. Or just getting Stafford more comfortable...
Set the stage for people to want to be playing QB for the Rams again.
Because of my Ramsey trade, I now have picks 36, 39, 69, and 93 on day two. I don’t think it’s my job (or really anyone’s) to say who those prospects should be exactly because if anyone knew who the best players would be, they’d already be an NFL GM...and the best NFL GM. BUT I do think that’s feasible to argue that there’s going to be a really good tackle prospect on the board at pick 36.
There’s going to be a really good receiver or tight end prospect on the board at 39.
There’s going to be a really good interior offensive line prospect on the board at 69 or 93.
Then maybe use the other pick on defense.
I’m not of the mindset to ever draft for “need” but this is the exact right class to draft a tight end on day two (said to be one of the best TE classes ever) and it’s the right class to expect a really good offensive tackle prospect to be on the board at the top of round two. As far as receivers go, face the facts because it’s not hard to imagine that in 2024, the top players signed to the Rams will be Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, and Lance McCutcheon.
So if there’s a name that Snead really likes on the board at picks 39 or 69, I don’t mind going that route on day two again.
But definitely keep increasing talent on the offensive line with at least one day two pick, if not two. And definitely don’t ignore tight end and receiver, giving Stafford the next Stafford a real chance to want to play in this offense in 2023 and 2024 and beyond. We don’t know how much longer Rob Havenstein is going to play on the Rams and we can’t say at this point who is going to be the left tackle. Under these circumstances, I’d say the Rams could go into camp with A.J. Jackson, Edwards, Brian Allen, Logan Bruss, and Havenstein as the starting five again, but also with a rookie pushing for a job at tackle, a rookie pushing for a job at center, and much better depth than McVay had in 2022.