All-In: How The Rams Bold Offseason Approach Paved Their Way To The Super Bowl
“Winning The Offseason” is a phrase that is often thrown around in jest because it’s not always a recipe for success, no matter the sport. Just ask the 2011 “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles, the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers after they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, or the 2015 San Diego Padres after they acquired multiple former all-stars in hopes for a return to the playoffs.
Last Spring, the Rams were coming off an 11-5 regular season. It was their first winning season since 2003 and playoff birth since 2004. They were in an enviable yet peculiar situation. They had just hit a home run on their coaching hire. They found their franchise quarterback and had legit MVP candidate’s on both sides of the ball, in Donald and Gurley, while also having two franchise tag worthy players in the secondary hitting free agency. What did they need to do to in order to take the next step and become the perennial Super Bowl contender that every organization aspires to be?
Los Angeles made a splash in free agency but Rams GM, Les Snead, decided to renovate the roster largely through trades. While trading has picked up in the NFL the past few years this is not a traditional route, especially for teams looking to capitalize on their Super Bowl window while their Quarterback is on a rookie deal.
Three of the last six Super Bowls were won by teams who had Quarterbacks on their rookie deals. The last two to pull off that feat were the Eagles and Seahawks. To Seattle's and Philadephia's credit, they were each active in the trade market in the season leading up to their Super Bowl victory but their largest spending and infusion of talent was done via free agency.
2017 Philadelphia Eagles Free Agent Signings: QB Nick Foles, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith, RB, LeGarrette Blount, CB Patrick Robinson, DE Chris Long & S Corey Graham, etc.
2013 Seattle Seahawks Free Agent Signings: DT Michael Bennett, DE Cliff Avril & DT Tony McDaniel
The Rams chose the road less traveled and made six headline-stealing trades in a matter of months.
1. February 22nd - Chiefs Trade Marcus Peters to Rams
The Marcus Peters rollercoaster is an exhausting ride. After consulting with the coaching staff, Les Snead decided to acquire the playmaking corner who had worn out his welcome in Kansas City and previously at the University of Washington.
True to his time in Kansas City, Peters play has been quite volatile in 2018. Of course, he made the game-sealing interception against his old team, but he played poorly for a large stretch in the middle of the season. It should be noted he did battle a calf injury but he had his fair share of mistakes and mental lapses as well. Peters has turned things around in recent months and his overall play has taken off since Aqib Talib has returned to the lineup. More on that later.
2. March 2nd - Rams Trade Robert Quinn to Dolphins
3. March 7th - Rams Trade Alec Ogletree to Giants
The Rams did some spring cleaning of their own as they shipped off Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree in a one-week time frame. These deals were crucial to the Rams offseason as they cleared cap space to trade for Aqib Talib, which happened the day after the Ogletree trade, and also opened up cap space in the years to come which allowed them to more easily hand out extensions to Donald, Gurley, and Havenstein later in the offseason.
Not totally dismissing the draft-and-develop route, the Rams also recouped some mid-round draft picks along the way.
4. March 8th - Broncos Trade Aqib Talib to Rams
With the Broncos heading towards a rebuild, Talib made it known early in the offseason that he was focused on reuniting with Rams Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips. The Rams made room and added another talented yet controversial corner.
Talib was put on Injured Reserve with an ankle injury in Week 4 but when healthy he has changed the Rams secondary from one of the worst units in football to one of the best.
Here are some staggering splits from Pro Football Focus on the effect Aqib Talib has had on the Rams defense:
2018 Rams Defensive Splits
Talib In (8 Games): 74.5 Passer Rating Against (3rd Best In NFL)
Talib Out (8 Games): 111.6 Passer Rating Against (3rd Worst In NFL)
Marcus Peters PFF Grade:
Talib In: 78.5 Grade (17th /118)
Talib Out: 44.9 Grade (114th / 118)
In 2015, Talib won the Super Bowl with the Broncos and made the Pro Bowl under Wade Phillips and if not for injuring his ankle he might have been able to repeat that feat this year.
5. April 3rd - Patriots Trade Brandin Cooks to Rams
The last of the offseason trades was acquiring Brandin Cooks, who McVay admitted that he was in pursuit of the prior offseason before he was acquired by New England in a similar fashion.
McVay saw Cooks as a perfect chess piece in his passing game since he can play all around a formation. His 4.33 speed allows him to stretch the field vertically on deep passing routes and horizontally on end-arounds and crossing routes.
Cooks was as advertised in Year 1, posting 80 Receptions, 1,204 Yards Receiving and 6 Total TD's. He also became the 1st player in NFL history to post 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons with three different teams (New Orleans, New England & Los Angeles).
6. October 30th - Jaguars Trade Dante Fowler to Rams
In need of an outside pass rusher, the Rams went out and acquired Dante Fowler at the trade deadline. Fowler hasn't set the world on fire since his arrival but he's certainly stepped up in the playoffs. Through 2 games he has 8 Tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 Sacks and 3 QB Hits. It wasn't Aaron Donald or Ndamukong Suh who hit Drew Brees on his interception in overtime. It was Fowler.
It hasn't been perfect along the way but the Rams all-in approach this past offseason has paid off. Donald, Gurley and Cooks are locked up for the foreseeable future. Jared Goff has a few years left on his rookie deal and the Rams still have a decent amount of cap space (~$35.7M per Over The Cap) heading into the 2019 offseason with Suh, Joyner, and Saffold hitting free agency. In 2020, the Rams currently have $91.8M in cap space with Talib and Peters hitting the market. The Rams flurry of offseason moves set them up for short and long-term success.