The Future Is The Present For The Rams

Los Angeles Rams Draft House. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams Draft House. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams

Truthiness is an unfortunate 21st-century disease that has infected all aspects of life. Facts no longer matter and it’s all about people’s own truth despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Rams are one of the most misunderstood teams in the league because of their John Cena level “RUTHLESS AGGRESSION.” Fans of other teams and the media see their lack of first-rounders and top-heavy roster as a house of cards that will be swallowed whole by the salary cap and Father Time. However, when looking at the Rams actual roster it’s clear they didn’t mortgage their future but have actually set up their future while competing in the present. They have the youngest average roster in the league and are the only team in their division in the top 10.

Despite not having a first-round pick since drafting Jared Goff, they have the youngest roster in the league with an average age of 24.62, Carolina and Minnesota are tied for second with 24.74. Yet the Vikings and Panthers have had first-rounders, and in the Panthers’ case, they have been in a massive post-Newton/Rivera rebuilding mode.

The Rams have managed to have a winning record all four McVay years, only missed the playoffs once, and made the Super Bowl. Yes, they have a ton of blue-chip guys BUT they haven’t made the fatal mistake teams such as the 09 Vikings or the 2010 Jets made where they traded assets for aging vets in order to make one big run to a title. The problem is when that bet goes bust those teams are usually in for a lengthy overhaul. The Rams zagged from that and instead of targeting aging vets, they targeted young established vets like Jalen Ramsey. Sure, Stafford is on the wrong side of 30 but not by much as he’s only 33. The point is, as aggressive as the Rams have been with their picks they haven’t done so recklessly. Getting Ramsey before his second contract, and Stafford is still young enough to where he is in the tail end of his prime.

It’s been written a lot on this site but what’s saved the Rams from their aggressive trades and ill-conceived extensions has been their success at drafting in the later rounds. It remains to be seen how that continues now that Brad Holmes is running the show in Detroit and there are a ton of new assistant/position coaches. Thus far they’ve managed to take their mid-round picks and made them into viable starters.

Yes, sometimes guys like John Johnson go to other teams because of the Rams’ Krusty the Clown tendency to throw money away but unlike Krusty, they prepare for the future. Instead of trading for the equivalent of a ruby studded clown nose, they drafted Taylor Rapp, Jordan Fuller, and LAFB friend Terrell Burgess to bolster their safety corps. All three will be starters now and all are qualified starters on very team-friendly deals. Jalen Ramsey and Darius Williams (soon to be plucked to another team) are both under 30 and the Rams have the latitude to draft younger corners and develop that group as well.

The Rams core guys in Robert Woods, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Cooper Kupp are under 30 (Woods and Donald are 29). That’s a massive luxury because while all those guys make up a good portion of their cap sheet they’re not aging assets. Even still, the Rams drafted for the future at wide receiver by taking a Cooper Kupp style receiver in Van Jefferson and have insurance for DeSean Jackson in Tutu Atwell. That pick will be mocked until Atwell makes a massive play but he’s a guy that can be productive in the short term and long term.

The point is, the Rams have taken the long view on building a winning team. All the pearl-clutching regarding them not taking a center or some other lineman when Andrew Whitworth is close to retirement is valid of course, but they have drafted a ton of potential replacements at tackle (development-pending) and at the center spot have guys that can play the spot if need be. It’s not always immediate but they always seem to have contingency plans in place even if they don’t present themselves in neon lights right away.

As for the other teams in the NFC West, the Niners are the ones that take the most umbrage with the Rams because there’s this narrative that Kyle Shanahan built his team in a cave WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS whereas Sean McVay was just some mild-mannered coordinator that got bit by a radioactive spider at just the right time. Not so. The Niners boast the second-oldest roster in the league (Arizona the third oldest). So yes, they’ve done a great job in their own right drafting guys obviously but let’s not act as though they also haven’t spent money signing older guys. Hell, for all the Mordos out there declaring that the Rams bill will come due seem silent when the Niners traded multiple picks for rookie Trey Lance while they still have Jimmy G on the roster (who people forget was ALSO given a massive extension years ago).

Now the counter would be that Lance is the quarterback of the future so sure it’s a good idea for a coach to get their guy BUT what if the rest of that roster doesn’t coalesce even with a cleaner bill of health? Trent Williams was their big pricey acquisition (a damn good one) but he’s also 32 and has had health issues in the last few years so by the time Lance is ready will Trent Williams be the All-Pro he’s been?

They also lost Robert Salah and the effect of his absence on that defense is yet to be seen but it’s worth asking what their future looks like without first-rounders no? The Niners are a good team BUT it’s fascinating that the Rams, with their roster, get flack for trading for Stafford despite doing pretty well at drafting in the other rounds, while the Niners can whiff on the Soloman Thomas pick and trade those picks (last year’s pick Brandon Aiyuk was a good one), without much scrutiny. It’s weird that the John Lynch administration gets a pass despite having a worse record and accomplishing just as many Super Bowl appearances.

Arizona is perceived as an up-and-coming team but they aren’t exactly YOUNG. Yes, Kyler Murray is young, Budda Baker is young, but again they’re the third oldest team in the league. They seem to be doing the all-in stuff but without enough of their own picks developed thus far to warrant signing a ton of vets. They have a dynamic passing game, but aside from DeAndre Hopkins (great trade and another example of what a master negotiator Bill O’Brien was) but next to him they haven’t successfully developed another receiver (and Fitz hasn’t officially retired, but hasn’t re-signed either) nor have they developed a tight end, running back, or a cohesive offensive line (ask Kyler). So while they’ve developed a good fantasy team they haven’t built a real team yet.

Same with their defense. They have some blue-chip players but they also have a lot of cap space tied into vets specifically Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler, and of course TURN DOWN FOR WATT. Do all of these moves solve their problems? Probably not, and they’re building as if they’re a couple of dudes away from winning the west (narrator: they’re not).

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Seattle is the most interesting because its team-building strategy receives the least amount of scrutiny. Their front-office walks on water because of their lauded draft that brought them both Russell Wilson and the cornerstones of the “Legion of Boom”. Every year people pencil them in as a contender because of Wilson and their infrastructure, but like the US, the infrastructure isn’t as solid as people think.

The defense is in a new phase and they traded two firsts for Jamal Adams who is a great safety but he was another trade where the team felt they were a player away from winning a title which they’re not. They haven’t really hit on a first-round pick in some time (remember Rashaad Penny?) and not only that but they haven’t really hit on another major pick outside of D.K. Metcalf (who was a great pick).

They’ve also neglected to draft or even really sign another lineman to protect Wilson (who turns 33, the same age as Stafford). They are a Wilson injury from being a below .500 team, and while DangerRUSS is a Ned Flanders-Esque figure, it probably would take half a white wine spritzer for him to fully unload as evidenced by his polite desire for more help.

This all might sound like ax-grinding but it’s to illustrate how perception and truthiness clouds the actual truth. The Rams future wasn’t mortgaged anymore than these other teams but they are less likely to go underwater and be living out of their car in a few years.

The point is, the Rams are given a ton of grief because they trade first-round picks like they were Metapod cards. Normally, that would cause the roster to crater but they can do that because they’ve wisely planned for the present and the future. They’ve stocked their roster with starter-level talent on team-friendly contracts and their core is still very much in their prime.

They can take swings on established vets because they’ve built a solid infrastructure that can afford for Matthew Stafford to come in. Yes, they’ve also tied themselves into some tough cap corners but like Hannibal, they always have a plan B. Their guys have been willing to restructure so they can make it all work because they keep finding guys to replace the ones they have to sacrifice to the cap gods. By the time they have to lose their core guys to age or the cap gods they have guys that can slot in immediately.

It’s an unconventional strategy and the Rams won’t be able to do this forever but nothing gold can stay. It even caught up with the Patriots so there’s no hope for other teams to sustain long-term success but they can best prepare themselves for the inevitable.

On paper, it looks like the Rams are Howard Ratner sweating his way from day to day but in reality, they’re more like Danny Ocean. Even when they try to take the house they never sweat. The present and the future are happening all at once for the Rams and maybe if they win it all they can get the benefit of the doubt, finally.

Los Angeles Rams Draft House. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams Draft House. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams