In professional sports, it’s understood that if a team has a legitimate chance to win a championship, the front office needs to operate as if they’re in the final frame of play, and down by one score.
The Rams have run like this since they moved back to Los Angeles in 2016. They sacrificed a 2017 first-round pick to jump up in 2016 and select Jared Goff. The current Detroit Lions’ starter was the Rams’ last first-round pick.
They have used those picks to acquire what they believe is top-tier talent. Bringing in ready-made stars is a common tactic in Los Angeles professional sports — see the Lakers, Dodgers, and even Kings with Wayne Gretzky — that has proven championship results. The strategy has resulted in the Rams going to the Super Bowl in 2018, and a victory last season, but unlike the NBA and MLB, there is no luxury tax in the NFL.
A hard salary cap means the Rams can’t use their massive resources to always outspend other teams. Instead, five games into this season, they appear to not have a chance at going back to back. With no first-round pick in 2023, it’s already time to start selling. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer is reporting that the Rams are looking to trade Cam Akers, their 2020 second-round pick.
Akers is inactive for their Week 6 matchup against the Carolina Panthers after missing multiple days of practice, and his relationship with the team is not good. Glazer said he believes that Akers will never play for the Rams again. With the situation having deteriorated this far along with Akers coming off of an achilles injury and still not being as productive as the Rams hoped when they selected him, it’s unlikely they get better than a fourth round pick for him by the Nov. 1 deadline.
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There’s not much else for the Rams to trade without going into teardown mode, which will do nothing to keep Matthew Stafford off of his backside the rest of this year, or improve their downfield passing game. Unless they scoop up a couple of star players that get waived like they did last year with Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr., this team appears a long way from title contention.
So was it worth it?
Since 2017, the Rams have been a consistent playoff presence. Two Super Bowl appearances since returning to Southern California, after only one appearance in the big game in their previous stint in LA/Anaheim. The Cleveland Browns have never advanced that far, so count your blessings, Rams.
They had to make an impact to try and quickly gain some relevance after the NFL had been gone for two decades, and the Rams’ were behind the Raiders in local popularity when both teams bolted from the area after the 1994 season. The franchise kept the pedal to the metal, even after a major setback with Todd Gurley’s injuries and Jared Goff turning out to be a mistake as their last first-round pick.
Recovering from both to pull off a championship in a Super Bowl that was in their home stadium is a significant accomplishment, but it’s going to be difficult to make sure that’s not the franchise’s only highlight until 2030. They have quite a bit of salary tied up into Stafford, Donald, and Ramsey. That Allen Robinson signing looks worse by the week, even thout Bobby Wagner is still producing both as an inside linebacker, and part time security. The defense is still a top-10 unit per Football Outsiders.
In every major professional sport, drafting is a key factor in roster development. It’s the cheapest way to bring in talent, and keep them under contract at a reasonable price. With no first-round pick from 2017-2023, the Rams’ future is murky. No return they get from trading a star would result in a package equivalent to what they had to pay out to bring in Ramsey, Stafford, or even Brandin Cooks in 2018.
That Super Bowl banner will hang in SoFi Stadium forever. If in 20 years the Rams finally become as popular as they were during the days of the Fearsome Foursome, they will be able to point to that championship as the day Rams came back to Los Angeles in body, mind, and spirit.
But the Rams didn’t return to Baltimore, Cleveland, or even Houston. To keep the locals in front of the TV on autumn Sunday afternoons and away from brunch, the beach, or hikes in the hills, the Rams need to be worth watching. If not, they could fall back into their 1993 relevance real quick.