Saturday night January 31st, a week before the Super Bowl, a shockwave went through the football world. Rams GM Les Snead pulled off what many deemed impossible and traded Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions along with two firsts and a third for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford and Sean McVay were “conveniently” vacationing in Cabo at the same time and were surely just as shocked as every NFL writer who had to put up a post and or podcast in the dead of night.
Jared Goff’s contract, as well as a plateaued level of pay, gave him the Kelly Blue Book value of an old rental car and YET the Rams walked away with an upgrade at quarterback. That’s been the M.O. of Les Snead since he was hired in 2012. He’ll wheel and deal, Ric Flair style, picks, and the salary cap be damned.
He doesn’t get credit for it, but Les Snead is one of the best GMs in the NFL. Reckless, yes, but like Gregory House, he gets the job done. What’s fascinating is the way his gambling has evolved over the years.
When he was hired in 2012 he immediately made two big splashes, 1) he hires Jeff Fisher because the Rams needed a grown-up after going in on Steve Spagnuolo, and 2) he flipped the 2nd overall pick to Washington for three 1st rounders, and a 2nd round pick. This trade didn’t entirely work out for both parties as RGIII didn’t pan out and the Rams didn’t come away with any real blue-chip players outside of Michael Brockers. However, this trade would serve as a Rosetta Stone for his philosophy. Make a big move and if that move doesn’t work quickly pivot to make smaller moves.
It also taught him that 1st-round picks aren’t the end all be all of building a successful team. He’s much more content to flip those picks into a proven commodity like Brandin Cooks or Jalen Ramsey. Now, this strategy is dangerous and there were times where it felt like the Rams were frantically running around Los Angeles like he was Howard Ratner, but this is how Les wins.
In 2016, Les Snead would invert his 2012 splash and traded two 1st-round picks, two 2nd-round picks, and two 3rd-round picks to Tennesse for Jared Goff. At the time this seemed…desperate and looks that way in hindsight. Yes, they could’ve sucked an extra year, had the 5th overall pick and taken Patrick Mahomes, or Deshaun Watson. Or they could’ve used the 10th pick in 2016 on a blue-chip BPA and taken Dak Prescott in that draft and used the 5th overall pick the next year on a star but that’s not the Les Snead way.
For him, the action is the juice, but also it’s highly likely that went down because that was their first season in Los Angeles and they needed a star quarterback to boost ticket sales and Goff looked like he could fit the bill (more on him later). What supports Snead’s gambling habit is the fact that he’s a savvy drafter, especially in the later rounds, and he also has a great eye for off-the-field talent.
By hiring McVay, who in turn had a smart eye for talent himself, infrastructure was built that allowed Les to keep taking chances. McVay hasn’t had a 1st round pick his entire tenure in LA but that hasn’t mattered at all. McVay and his coaching staff developed Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods (a free agent signing but not a 1st-round pick), Cam Akers, Jordan Fuller, Tyler Higbee, Terrell Burgess, John Johnson, Josh Reynolds, etc., into quality starters.
The Rams have had coaches and executives get poached throughout the years despite the perception of TV/Twitter pundits thinking the Rams are a loser organization, and yet, the rest of the league has tried to pick the Rams clean, on, and off the field. Why? Because Les Snead has, through both skill and luck, incubated a lot of talent despite the Rams not winning a Super Bowl (yet).
The flip side to this though is the fact that Les always doubles down. One of the things that have forced him to go all California Split (RIP George Segal) every year is that the Rams are too quick to sign players to lucrative extensions. Yes, that falls on the feet of Tony Pastoors but Les is in charge of it all so it’s not as though he’s been blindsided.
The premature extensions created a lot of problems because not only did the players not live up to the contracts but it prevented them from making any upgrades or keeping other starters on the roster. The biggest example of course was Todd Gurley whom the Rams are still eating dead cap space. Ditto Brandin Cooks, and now Jared Goff.
The thing that’s kept Les from being buried under all that burnt money is his ability to pivot. When the Rams inexplicably signed Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn (that was more defendable), Les traded them for picks that would bear fruit the following year. Yes, they carried a little dead-cap but getting young starters for little money balanced things out.
With the Gurley, Goff, and Cooks deals, however, this would seem beyond the pale and while some brutal sacrifices were made, Les figured out a way to replace Gurley with Cam Akers, and because Bill O’Brien was still in charge, managed to get a 2nd-round pick for Brandin Cooks and that pick turned out to be Van Jefferson.
Turning Goff into Stafford was the apex of this strategy. Again all of these scenarios are not ideal, but being nimble enough not to have to hock Aaron Donald or Cooper Kupp to get out of trouble is truly extraordinary. This is why he keeps hanging around, that and perhaps he’s got alligator blood in his veins.
Mordo would say the bill eventually comes due and he’d be right. At a certain point, all the restructures will have to be paid off and the blue-chip foundation Snead has built will become past their primes, the mid-round picks stop hitting, too many coaches and executives get plucked by other teams, and the dice rolls hit snake eyes. It happens eventually and perhaps in 2025, the HARD RESET will begin.
But if the Rams win a title before that happens it’ll all be worth it. A Super Bowl buys teams time and if that time is spent restocking the roster enough and balancing the cap sheet enough, once that hard reset happens the Rams won’t toil in obscurity as they did between the Greatest Show on Turf and when McVay was hired.
Les Snead lives in the neon claws of Gamblor and any one of his reckless moves would’ve gotten him fired a long time ago if he wasn’t an adept risk-taker. By hiring the right people, both on the field and in the office, he has the runway to give away 1st-round picks like they were candy to acquire top talent, take on mountains of dead money when an idiotic extension is signed, and take his mistakes and flip them for something better.
There’s the right way to build a team, the wrong way, and the way Les Snead builds a team. From the outside, it might seem baffling but he knows that the house always wins but once in a while, the perfect hand will come along, and then he can bet big and take the house. If he plays his cards right he’ll have more than respect left in the morning.
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