There is something admirable about the Los Angeles Rams’ black-and-white approach to roster construction.
General manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay give away draft picks like candy on Halloween, fervent in their belief that star talent is more important than potentially productive players on cheap contracts.
It has brought them quarterback Matthew Stafford, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and edge rusher Von Miller, who, paired with Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and others, have Los Angeles in the Super Bowl conversation this year.
But for the past three weeks, the downside of the philosophy has been on full display. In a stars and scrubs approach, any time key players don’t live up to the billing, it is hard for the team to be successful.
Stafford has been the culprit of late. After a hot start to the season, he has thrown a pick-six in successive games to the Titans, 49ers and Packers. The NFL is so parity-rich that an interception return for a touchdown can often be the difference between a win and a loss, and all three were huge blows in the defeats.
Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in the Rams’ last three games. pic.twitter.com/MJ0SR2Bocw
— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) November 29, 2021
Stafford has shown off his prodigious arm strength this season, but his inaccuracy has been an issue. The Rams dealt Jared Goff, a pair of first-round picks and a third-rounder for Stafford this offseason, convinced he could unlock an offense held back by Goff’s deficiencies.
The Rams were No. 2 in offensive efficiency heading into Sunday’s loss to the Packers, so there is evidence the trade worked, but the loss to Green Bay has dropped Los Angeles two games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.
While the Rams expected to be in the playoffs this season, they certainly didn’t plan on heading into it as a wild card, which will likely be the case now.
The Rams have been perennially successful under McVay, and it’s too early to proclaim that their extreme win-now approach will not work out in 2021. But if it doesn’t, the trajectory is not promising.
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey will have combined cap hits of about $50 million next season, leaving Snead precious little wiggle room to improve the team through free agency. The team doesn’t have a first-round pick until 2024, a consequence of continually adding these high-profile players via trade.
The Rams are the experiment that other teams are watching.
Collect stars; dead money and first-round picks be damned.
— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) November 16, 2021
The deal for Von Miller, which has yet to pay dividends, cost Los Angeles second- and third-round picks in 2022, and now Los Angeles is down to a single third-round compensatory pick in the first four rounds.
The Rams are still talented enough to win it all this season, and there should be a level of respect given to a team willing to push hard during its championship window.
But it’s never easy to win the Super Bowl, and Los Angeles could be in a precarious position in ensuing years because of these decisions. Not only will the roster start to age, but there won’t be blue-chip draft picks available to replenish the talent pool.
The Rams are built to win now, and they better, because the Cardinals are poised to be the class of the division for the foreseeable future.
A Jumbled Mess In the NFC
Playoff expansion has succeeded in keeping fanbases more engaged for longer periods of time the past two years, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
There are 16 teams in the NFC, and 15 of them could be within one game of the postseason if the Seahawks beat Washington on Monday night.
How tight is the NFC playoff race?
Washington is currently the 12 seed.
A win tonight lifts them to the 7 seed, in line for a playoff berth. pic.twitter.com/YOWpsQVE1o
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) November 29, 2021
As it stands, the 5-6 Minnesota Vikings currently hold the No. 7 seed, and it is quite possible that the final playoff team in the NFC enters with a losing record. In a season that already has a small sample size, it seems pretty unfair to allow such a team into the playoffs and give it a chance to knock off a superior opponent.
The Packers, Buccaneers or Cardinals are likely going to finish as the No. 2 seed, and while that team will be a heavy favorite in the wild card round, upsets happen all the time in the NFL.
The No. 2 seed should have a first-round bye like in the past after proving its mettle for 17 games, not be susceptible to an early exit.
Bill Belichick Now Coach of the Year Favorite
The Patriots won their sixth straight game on Sunday, easily dispatching a short-handed Titans team. New England now sits atop the NFC East at 8-4 and Bill Belichick has zoomed to the top of the Coach of the Year odds at +300, per DraftKings.
It’s hard to argue with that placement. New England is only two years removed from the departure of Tom Brady, and yet Belichick has seemingly rebuilt the team on the fly and returned it to contender status after only one down campaign.
Bill Belichick (+300) is now the favorite to win Coach of the Year, per DraftKings. Kliff Kingsbury (+400) dropped to second.
— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) November 29, 2021
Truly impressive stuff, as Belichick has proven once again he is arguably the best coach of all-time.
The defense has been phenomenal this season, and cornerback J.C. Jackson is a player who deserves more shine. He had his seventh interception of the season against Tennessee, which pulled him to within one of Trevon Diggs for the league lead.
Jackson has an incredible 24 interceptions in only his fourth season. He has the 12th-most career interceptions among active players and is still only 26 years old.
Help Wanted: AFC North Quarterbacks for 2022
It was pretty clear heading into the season that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be quarterback shopping in 2022. Ben Roethlisberger has put together an illustrious career but it would be a shock if he plays beyond this season.
But Pittsburgh may not be the only team in the division switching signal-callers. Baker Mayfield had another poor outing on Sunday, as Cleveland’s high hopes for the season seem to be crashing quickly.
If the Niners are fully sold on Trey Lance in 2022, the #Browns should get on the phone and get Jimmy G there next year. Mayfield loses you games, Jimmy doesn’t.
— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) November 29, 2021
The Browns have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL on paper, but quarterback struggles have torpedoed a shot at contention. Mayfield seemed like a logical player to extend before the season, but now it’s fair to wonder if Cleveland will have someone else at quarterback in 2022.
Both teams have solid defenses and expect to contend for the playoffs next year, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.