A year ago, four teams traded veteran receivers and got back first round picks in the deal. The Green Bay Packers traded Davante Adams for a first and a second from the Las Vegas Raiders. The Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a first, a second, two fourths, and a sixth. The Tennessee Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles for a first and a third. The Baltimore Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals and swapped out their third rounder for a first rounder.
The last two of those deals happened on the night of the first round. Are the Los Angeles Rams just waiting until April 27th before entertaining trade offers for Cooper Kupp?
It would seem like a terribly weak free agent market at receiver, the difficulty that the Cardinals are facing in attempting to unload DeAndre Hopkins’ contract, and a draft that is considered to be lacking top-end talent at the position could be creating a perfect storm for the Rams to get back an immense trade package if in fact the team is looking ahead to 2024.
And the Minnesota Vikings are an obvious landing spot, if general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been given the green light to push all-in for a Super Bowl run while they still have an open window as Aaron Rodgers exits the NFC North.
“QB is the most important position in our sport and there are many avenues to address it”.. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.. yeah I am officially concerned about the direction of this team beyond 2023.. Kirk Cousins & Justin Jefferson are the only reason why the Vikings didn’t end 5-12 in… pic.twitter.com/zgLzRV0w2l— Rick Sosa (@sosarick) April 13, 2023
Do Vikings really need to use pick #23 on a QB?
With so many people projecting that Minnesota should use their first round pick on Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker or Kentucky’s Will Levis, if he falls, it’s a good time to be asking if that’s as worthy of an endeavor as the Vikings actually attempting to go from being a good team to a great team right now.
Yes, maybe Hooker could give Minnesota an option should the team part with Kirk Cousins in 2024, but we all know that first round QBs bust at the highest rate. The Vikings went 13-4 last season and famously came close to losing at least half of their wins, while getting outscored 427-424 over the course of the season. Then the Vikings lost to Daniel Jones and the New York Giants in the wild card round.
People are essentially arguing that “because Minnesota doesn’t have any great needs, they should just throw a first round pick at the best available QB in the first round even if he only has a 10-percent chance of succeeding.”
Except that the Vikings do have great needs. They were an average team that we’d all be calling “an average team” if they were just a little less lucky last season. The QB situation can always be resolved with just as much effort as spending the 23rd overall pick on QB5 in a draft class—the carousel is spinning at a rapid pace, not even Cousins was a player who the team had to draft—but how is Minnesota actually going to take advantage of their opportunity to compete right now when most people are picking the Detroit Lions and not the Vikings to be the first team to win the division in the post-Rodgers era.
Perhaps no bigger need is at receiver, where Cousins has Justin Jefferson as a number one, followed by K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor, Jalen Nailor, and former Rams Brandon Powell, Trishton Jackson.
That doesn’t track and more people should be curious as to why Minnesota cut Adam Thielen without making any effort yet to replace him. Yet.
Do Rams need Cooper Kupp as much as they need draft picks?
Maybe I’ve never had as much fun at Turf Show Times as watching the comments roll in on this article about “Owing Kupp a finer sendoff” last month. So even at the risk (or joy) of a repeat, I am not writing this simply to incite a reaction again. Like it was when I wrote last September that Jalen Ramsey was probably going to ask for a new contract or a trade, or over the last two months as I’ve continuously asked “How do the Rams make any sense right now?” and think that Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald could end up on the market—or at least the rumors cycle—just maybe simple dot connecting (with no inside sources) will lead to rationally questioning what all of these moves and non-moves are actually leading to if not a total rebuild.
It’s not just that ESPN is predicting that the Rams have the worst defense in the NFL, so far every single positional rankings survey that I’ve written with the exception of defensive line has resulted in a resounding “worst in the NFC” finish. And that’s only because Donald remains on the team.
Aaron Donald is the only player on the entire defense with a guaranteed starting job, unless we’re just talking about “starting by default”. Ernest Jones would be next, and even he saw his role reduced last season as the year went on. Derion Kendrick, Russ Yeast, Christian Rozeboom, Bobby Brown, Robert Rochell are just a few names who could be in line to start right now and only two players on the defense played in more than 50% of the snaps last year. For anybody in the NFL. And a defensive coordinator who many fans trashed after every loss last season, only to now say that this defense will somehow be much better than the sum of its parts because of coaching.
L.A. has made no effort to add a kicker or a punter, which isn’t nearly as vital as adding say a starting quarterback (but the Rams are the only team in the NFL without a backup QB), but it does tell me that the team doesn’t feel any pressure to be competitive. Not even in the market. Not even in retaining their own players, like Matt Gay, who was arguably one of the top-five players on the entire team last season.
What kind of a team doesn’t care if it has a good kicker other than a team that either a) thinks they will blow everybody out or b) thinks they will be blown out every week? Or at least, doesn’t feel it is vitally important to have someone who can kick a 55-yard game-winner as time expires after your football players gave everything they had for 59:59?
Finally, the most hopeful and optimistic are led back to a belief that the defense and special teams will be saved by an offense that scores 35 or 40 points per game; the Rams were scoring 16.4 points per game with Stafford and Kupp last season and only raised their final season average because of Baker Mayfield’s 51-point outburst against the Broncos on Christmas Day.
Stafford will have the-guy-who-is-forever-linked-to-zach-wilson as his offensive coordinator and Joe Noteboom, A.J. Jackson, Brian Allen, and Logan Bruss protecting him from left to right guard.
And I understand why some will say, “Well then, if the Rams are rebuilding completely, why didn’t they already trade these players?” They can’t. The cap hits on Stafford and Donald are too severe if traded prior to June 1, but we saw with Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2022 that the trade market remains open all summer.
Teams will wait until they see how the draft falls and where the QBs land before making those decisions, giving the Rams time to wait out the cap hits until June 1. And maybe they aren’t traded, but I’ll be shocked if the national media doesn’t look at the Rams roster after the draft, look at the holes at starting quarterback around the league after the draft, and doesn’t start putting out stories simply based on the dot connections that are already here.
However, Cooper Kupp’s deal is tradeable right now. According to OvertheCap.com, the Rams would incur a $24.4 million dead money cap hit if Kupp is traded, but they’d also save $3.4 million. The savings don’t matter, the dead money doesn’t matter, what matters is that it is doable.
When you look back to last year’s draft night deals of Brown and Brown, it just adds up: GMs are already aware if Kupp is or isn’t on the market and they could just wait to see “Did I get Zay Flowers? Did I get Jaxon Smith-Njigba? No, I didn’t? Okay, let’s see what the Rams are doing.”
What could the Rams get for Cooper Kupp on draft night?
Going back to the Vikings, they have Cousins, Jefferson, Osborn, and T.J. Hockenson, but head coach Kevin O’Connell knows as well as anybody how valuable Kupp is to an offense—especially when he’s paired with another elite receiver. Jefferson led the NFL in catches and yards last season, winning Offensive Player of the Year the year after Kupp won it, in thanks to O’Connell knowing how to utilize him.
Pairing Kupp and Jefferson in the NFC North would take Minnesota to the next level and might actually make Cousins into a viable star.
The Vikings do not have any cap space right now, but rumors around parting ways with Dalvin Cook ($7.8 million in savings if traded, $5.8m if cut) or facilitating Za’Darius Smith’s trade request ($12.1m savings) or restructuring/extending certain contracts makes that easy. Minnesota may even re-do Kupp’s deal, if such a trade went down.
It’s the kind of “super team” that many franchises are trying to emulate right now, similar to the Cincinnati Bengals or Philadelphia Eagles and Kupp is such an elite player to put on the market that he should be able to command more than just a first round pick. Especially because L.A. could get several suitors on the market to make bids.
Like the Detroit Lions, who hold picks six and 18 and have $17.4 million in effective cap space, plus a GM and QB who know Kupp very well. Or a Packers team still trying to get help for Jordan Love and $17.4 million in effective cap space, with the 15th pick to barter. Or the Indianapolis Colts, who will need more weapons for their probable pick at fourth overall. Or the L.A. Chargers, who have former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, $11.7 million, and the 21st overall pick. Or even the New England Patriots, a team known for actually making plenty of splashy moves, a lack of receiver talent for Mac Jones, an anxious owner, and the 14th overall pick.
If the Rams could get the New England Patriots to offer the 14th overall pick for Kupp, it means that they could go to the Vikings and say, “Sorry, we have a better offer.” To which Minnesota could either say, “Fine, then we just won’t have as explosive of an offense as the Lions”. Or they could add a fourth round pick this year and a conditional first round pick in 2024.
The Packers are about to get a second round pick from the Jets for Aaron Rodgers. Could Green Bay offer pick 15 plus the 42nd overall pick, once they get it? Would New England counter with picks 14, 46, and 76?
If Davante Adams was worth picks 22 and 53, I don’t see why Kupp couldn’t be worth picks 15 and 42 or 14, 46, and 76, when the draft class is considered weak and when 95% of teams did nothing to upgrade their receiving corps to keep up with Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Josh Allen.
It’s really not a question of “Will the Rams trade Cooper Kupp?” It’s a matter of “What do the Rams expect to do with Cooper Kupp this season?” and is that more valuable than at least one first and one second round pick?
L.A. has met with several players in the process expected to be off the board at pick 36, including Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence, Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, and edge rusher Adetomiwa Adebawore out of Northwestern. Either they expect them to slide, they expect to move up, or...they might suspect that they will have a pick on night one once it gets here.
On April 27th, the night of the first round, we’re going to learn a lot about what the Rams think of their chances next season.