Yesterday was another sobering day for Rams fans. Last month they cut star running back Todd Gurley and unveiled a logo that’s at best divisive, let Cory Littleton and Greg Zuerlein walk, and now they’ve traded Brandin Cooks to the Texans.
On one hand, none of these moves (logo aside) were surprising. Both were given gigantic contracts way too soon and their spotty health made them ineffective. On the other, extracting themselves cost somewhere between 17.8 and 21.8 million dollars in dead money.
Sure a lot of that will be paid up this year and depending on where the cap is set they could have about $58ish million next year which is good news considering they’re facing another year where they have high profile free agents to take care of. Hopefully, the front office sees this as an expensive lesson and retools the way they do things or history will repeat itself…again.
The Rams Front Office Learned A Valuable Lesson, Maybe
The Rams’ front office has sort of been here before. Lest we forget in the fall of 2017 in the midst of a solid Sean McVay debut season they extended Alec Ogletree despite a few seasons of realizing he was an athlete in search of a position rather than a competent football player. That $42.75 million extension was signed late in the season. That spring they were able to find a suc…um, er, willing trade partner in the Giants. They received a 4th and a 6th round pick. It seemed weird at the time and even stranger now.
This set the tone for what would be a now DISASTROUS 2018 (contractually speaking). See their highest priority was signing defensive stud and possible demigod Aaron Donald but the front office seemed to have bigger fish to fry.
The front office saw fit to not only trade a first-rounder for Brandin Cooks (not a biggie in retrospect) but upon his arrival, they gifted him with a five-year $81 million extension with $20 million guaranteed at signing.
At the time this was seen as a risk but also confidence that Cooks was the deep threat receiver of the future. Even more curious, the Rams waited to sign Donald because they needed to take care of Todd Gurley two years before they had to. Sure, he was coming off a season where he won the Offensive Player of the Year but given that they resigned him for four years $60 million with $45 million guaranteed, it seemed, umm RISKY.
Furthermore, they resigned tackle Rob Havenstein to a four-year $32 million extension, again before resigning Donald. 2018 was the front office equivalent of going to the Saphire in Vegas until 3 am. Unfortunately, the bills came due.
2018 was all fun and games and their spending bonanza seemed defensible. That is until the playoffs where Gurley broke down quickly to the point where he became unplayable in the Super Bowl.
Cooks still looked great and if he had been able to catch the would-be touchdown and the Pats hadn’t scored, he’d likely have been Super Bowl MVP. That didn’t happen, and then the 2019 season became the equivalent of reading the charges from Saphire and realizing that the VIP room actually cost money. Gurley was on a pitch count and growing surly while Cooks once again got concussed and had the lowest output of his career. Havenstein, by the way, failed to play up to the level of his deal.
Even in the midst of a Super Bowl hangover the front office didn’t have a moment of clarity. They randomly resigned tight end, Tyler Higbee, to a four-year $31.5 million extension and, despite not having any reason to, gave Jared Goff a four-year $134 million deal with $110 guaranteed.
At the trade deadline, Snead traded two first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey while trading Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib for cap relief and an Amazon gift card. This was an act of desperation in the vein of Howard in “Uncut Gems”. Just running from place to place dropping F-bombs and sweating profusely and the 2019 season ended almost the same way.
It appears as though Les Snead, Kevin Demoff, and Tony Pastoors formed a troika of cap mismanagement. And yet, despite all their bungling of cap space and dangerous trades they managed to escape true peril. They’ve done a good job of acquiring and developing talent late in the draft i.e. Cooper Kupp, John Johnson, Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Bobby Evans, etc. Considering they haven’t drafted anybody in round one since Goff, that’s not bad. They have a good coaching staff in place who have installed a good culture. YET every off-season turns into “Uncut Gems,” except the anxiety lasts for years.
The point here is despite having a knack for finding good players they get too excited to lock them up, future be damned.
Had they just let Gurley ride out his rookie deal, they’d have seen that the knee issues that followed him out of Georgia would rear their ugly head, and they’d have had money to keep Littleton and Greg the Leg.
Had they simply let Goff ride out his contract they’d have a better idea if he can be salvaged.
And perhaps if they had just waited to sign Cooks, he’d have been easier to trade and they could’ve been more competitive in free agency.
That’s hindsight, although, in some of these cases, the red flags were there, but red flags are impossible to see when wearing rose-colored glasses. Now they’re stuck with Goff for at least two more years and have to have him restructure so they can pay Leonard Floyd. It is possible they haven’t learned a damn thing, since, with the exception of Gurley, they’ve been able to find someone to take their garbage contracts.
Whether it’s the Giants, Dolphins, or the ultimate trade partner in Bill O’Brien who managed to trade DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney without getting back a single first-rounder. A man who despite coaching just one full season at Penn State and having a cup of coffee with the Pats, rose to become coach/GM of the Texans despite only winning two playoff games, and blowing a 24 point lead in round two of this season’s playoffs. He’s the master negotiator who’d trade his danish for a delicious doorstop. But seriously, the Rams should send him a fruit basket and kick the tires on a Watson for Goff sign and trade deal but that’s another story.
The Rams’ front office is playing with fire. They’ve acquired enough talent to get them to the Super Bowl with two division titles and three winning seasons in the Sean McVay era. The problem is that they gamble too much and then pay dearly when those gambles crater.
Next year Kupp, Johnson, Everett, and Ramsey are all due. They managed to get two second-rounders and two thirds in the draft to allow them to get younger and cheaper at positions of need. Losing Gurley and Cooks prevents them from doing anything meaningful for the rest of this season.
Ramsey will cost the most and given the deal Byron Jones just signed, that $58ish million next year will dry up quickly. If they can just be patient and honestly evaluate the long term talent they’ll be fine, or they wind up back in the same position two years from now. And eventually, there won’t be a Bill O’Brien to bail them out.