A year ago on Friday, the Rams traded quarterback Jared Goff, their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks and a 2021 third-round pick to the Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Almost eight months later, they would send a 2022 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick to the Broncos for outside linebacker Von Miller.
It was also not the first time that they have voluntarily parted ways with what is traditionally considered investment grade capital.
Midway through the 2019 season, they sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to the Jaguars in exchange for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Just before the 2018 NFL Draft, they traded a first-round pick and a sixth-round pick in that year’s draft to the Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick in that year’s draft. that year.
Los Angeles hasn’t been shy about trading those picks for established players, a trend that has particularly taken off in the league’s 2022 year. So why is this plan working for the Rams? What will it take for more teams (than already seen) to follow suit? And will these aggressive teams get to a point where first-round picks become valuable again?
To answer the first question, let’s first start with the previous acquisition of the Ramsey set.
Ramsey was able to come in and be himself and flourish. That same environment allowed outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to do the same, even with other stars on the roster.
NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks, a five-year NFL cornerback and kicker returner and former regional college scout for the Seahawks and Panthers, is a big believer in always going for proven players you have. seen playing on choices. If a team is able to do this while blending their homegrown talent, it allows them to continue to compete at a high level every year.
“The reason it works is that regardless of their cultural environment, (head coach) Sean McVay was able to bring all of those pieces together and allow the team to build a team while allowing those other guys to to be individuals,” Brooks told the Rams. .com at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis earlier this month. “So when you think of Jalen Ramsey coming in, you think of OBJ, Von Miller, they have a recipe and a formula that works. And so because they’re able to do it, and they’ve been able to do it. do, he encourages them to continue this process of recruiting top-notch talent.”
It also works because the veterans the Rams have acquired are “top players in top positions,” according to Daniel Jeremiah, who co-hosts the Move the Sticks podcast with Brooks, is also an NFL Network analyst. and a former scout for the Ravens, Browns and Eagles.
“These are the ones who need the money in free agency, they’re the ones who need the top draft picks,” Jeremiah told theRams.com on Friday. “So you cross those off the to-do list and then shop around for those non-premium positions, you can find those guys in the middle rounds. They’ve been as good as anybody to be able to capitalize on that. So , the plan is actually quite solid.”
Sound, but not without risk.
The Rams were able to find those complementary pieces through the draft with those third-to-seventh-round picks.
Rookie and eventual starter Ernest Jones was a third-round selection in last year’s draft. Safety Nick Scott, primarily a special teams contributor until injuries forced him into a starting role, was a seventh-round draft pick who made several big playoff plays. Linebacker Travin Howard, who got the NFC championship-winning interception, was a seventh-round pick. Defensive lineman Greg Gaines, who had a breakthrough in the third season, was a fourth-round pick. Hosting three-time crown winner Cooper Kupp was a third-round pick in 2017.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ starting offensive line had a free agent signing and a former second-round pick at left tackle, a former fifth-round pick at each guard, a fourth-round pick at center and a second round. draw at the right tackle.
However, for a team to be eligible for compensatory selections in the next draft – a maximum of four can be awarded each year, excluding special compensatory selections – it must lose more unrestricted free agents than it don’t sign it. So increasing the number of picks available in those rounds to find some of those players — the Rams have been given 11 compensatory picks since Rams general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay started working together — took the confidence to let some of those picks who became strong contributors go into free agency like safety John Johnson III last year and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day this year.
Los Angeles let Johnson walk last year but found his replacement, Jordan Fuller, in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. Taking risks with players like that is why the method works well for LA but can make difficult for other teams to reproduce.
“The other side, the hard part is you have to be prepared to walk away guys who have proven themselves, solid players, if you determine they’re not in those premium positions, and not the necessary core” , Jeremiah said. . “And so that’s the tricky part is being able to let some of those guys out of the building, be confident, with the comp pick situation where you’re going to get some of those extra picks in later years, that you can hit those guys and replace those guys. So for me, that’s kind of the secret sauce to it all, is being able to let those guys go.
Pursuing this method also requires a team’s coaching staff to be comfortable coaching star players who may have certain personalities, according to Brooks. The Rams are, which is why it allowed them to bring in these top-notch stars.
However, that’s not to downplay the ever-important player development, as evidenced by homegrown players like Scott and Howard, among others.
“In addition to having stars, you need to have a part of your coaching staff that understands how to develop talent,” Brooks said. “And the development part is important because these third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round players coming in, they have to play key roles. And so you have to be able to develop these guys not just by getting them on the field. training and teaching them skills, but putting them in the game and having enough confidence that they can do it.”
At the combine, Brooks said he thinks the aggressiveness of the Super Bowl LVI-winning Rams will lead other teams to attempt a similar strategy. Two weeks later, his prediction would prove to be correct.
The new league year 2022 saw several aggressive moves from other teams reminiscent of the Rams’ acquisition of Stafford.
On the one-year anniversary of the Stafford trade, the Browns traded three first-round picks (2022, 2023, 2024) plus a third-round pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2024 to the Texans for quarterback Deshaun Watson. On the same day, the Raiders traded their first- and second-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Packers for wide receiver Davante Adams.
Those two deals came two days after the Broncos traded tight end Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive end Shelby Harris, the 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, the second-round picks of 2022 and 2023 and a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Seahawks. for quarterback Russell Wilson.
“What’s interesting is that you’ve seen a lot of teams try to copy it, and I think some of them already have the same basic elements in place as the Rams,” Jeremiah said. “So in other words, it’s hard to make that move if you don’t have a first pass rusher, you don’t have a first corner, quarterback. You’re going to acquire one of these guys , but you don’t have the trumps now to fill the other spots. The Rams have kind of been able to do it consistently so now they’ve got all those spots filled. I look at Denver, Denver has passers, Denver has weapons, they have an elite corner, they have a lot of these high-value positions already filled, so it makes sense to go all out for the quarterback, just like the Rams did with Stafford. I think really that was a plan for a lot of teams.
According to Brooks, the challenge for other teams is not so much to try to replicate the model, but to bring in players who fit their system and who are good teammates who fit into the fabric of the team. .
“The hardest part is identifying and having enough information to know what you’re bringing into the locker room and whether it’s going to fit into the culture you’ve established,” Brooks said. “I think you’ll see more teams come in to do it because the last two teams we’ve seen win the Super Bowl have done it. Tampa Bay has done it with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and all these guys that are coming in. The Rams have I did it maybe a little more organically, but it’s the same thing. When you have teams that are successful with certain team building models, it encourages other guys to be able to do it .
So, will there ever come to a point where first-round picks once again become premium values for teams aside from those who acquire them?
Jeremiah thinks it will happen in different ways.
“The first is that you’re going to bet on the wrong player,” Jeremiah said. “So you’re going to send all of these assets and you’re not going to end up with a lemon, so to speak, where you know, you parted ways with all of that. I think the Seahawks are a bit I’m not saying that Jamal Adams is a lemon, but he’s a non-premium player and a non-premium position, and they gave up two, one of which ended up in the top 10. So that’s the cautionary tale.
“And the other thing is what’s going to happen is teams are going to part ways with all these picks, and that’s okay when they’re, you know, in their 20s or 32s like the Rams are this year, but then you’re going to have somebody who’s going to end up getting stuck and who’s going to end up being top five picks in an amazing draft and and and you’re going to see man, look at the opportunity cost here. you a little.”
Right now, though, it’s full speed ahead — both for the Rams and several other teams in the league.