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Les Snead, the Rams, and the folly of chasing “windows.”

NFL Combine - Day 2

In March 2012, a month after being hired as the Rams General Manager - after having served three years as the Falcons Director of Player Personnel - Les Snead fleeced the Washington Redskins in a trade for the number 2 pick in the draft. The Rams received Washington’s first (#6) and second round picks in 2012, as well as their 2013 and 2014 first rounders. Washington received Robert Griffin III, one glorious 2012 season, and several years of subsequent misery as a result of the loss of draft capital and a futile dedication to trying to make the RG3 project work out.

I’ve explored it elsewhere on the site, but even though the Rams got more - from a player production standpoint - out of the trade than Washington did (Janoris Jenkins or Michael Brockers, alone, far outstrip RG3’s career production), Snead failed to truly capitalize on the bounty he was delivered that winter.

In 2013, he used Washington’s first round pick to trade up with the Bills to #8 to pick Tavon Austin, an undersized WR (5’8”, 178 lbs) who has caught for over 500 yards only once in his eight-year career. In 2014, with the #2 overall pick, he took Greg Robinson, an underwhelming offensive tackle who managed to stick with the team for just 3 years. Fortunately for his career prospects, however, Snead did manage to pick superstar Aaron Donald at #13, with the Rams’ own selection.

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Running Wild

In 2015, Snead took Todd Gurley - whose surgically repaired knee scared some teams off - at the number 10 spot in the draft. Gurley proceeded to play just about as well as anyone could hope an RB could play for the next several years, posting three 1,000+ yard seasons with the Rams over the next five, as well as being selected to several pro bowls and a couple of All Pro teams. In 2017, he was the Offensive Player of the Year.

However, with Gurley, Snead managed to violate two of the cardinal rules regarding running backs: 1) Never take a running back in the first round; 2) Never pay a running back lots of money on a vet contract.

In early 2018, the Rams not only executed the 5th year option on Gurley’s deal, but eventually signed him to a record breaking 4-year, $60 million dollar deal, with $45M guaranteed.

Towards the end of the 2018 season, as the Rams made their eventual run to the Super Bowl, Gurley’s arthritic knee caught up with him, severely hobbling him in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, where he had 10 carries for 35 yards.

Gurley’s 2019 season was his worst in the league, “only” collecting 857 rushing yards and 14 TDs, and he was eventually released by the Rams before the 2020 season. That move saddled the Rams with $11.75M in dead cap hit in 2020 and $8.4M in 2021.

Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Christian McCaffrey are all good to great RBs, but each has helped to demonstrate the folly of drafting an RB very early and doubling down on that mistake with a big second contract.

Trading Away First Rounders - Part 1

In 2016, after several years of middling performance - the Rams had won 7 games or less in each of the past 4 years - Snead decided it was finally time to strike for a QB in the draft. Los Angeles traded #15, two second round picks and a third round pick, as well as its 2017 first and third round picks to the Titans for #1 overall, a fourth rounder, and a 6th rounder. Snead took Cal golden boy, Jared Goff, and Goff proceeded to go 0-7 in his first season - Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s last season with the team.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

McVay Saves Snead’s Bacon

In 2017, as has happened so many times under Dan Snyder’s ownership tenure, Washington’s loss would be another franchise’s gain. Sean McVay, previously Washington’s uber-talented Offensive Coordinator, would be snatched up by Snead, and the Rams’ fortunes would change almost overnight. The Rams, under Snead’s guidance, had been 31-48-1 before McVay’s arrival. In McVay’s first season with the team, they would go 11-5, win the NFC West, and Goff would improve his completion percentage by 7 points and make the Pro Bowl.

Despite not having a first round pick in the 2017, Snead would grab TE Gerald Everett in the second and WR Cooper Cupp in the third, both of whom would become key contributors in subsequent years.

McVay’s success would be consistent, with the Rams going 43-21 in his four years there, so far. He would also make the Super Bowl in 2018 at the age of 33, the youngest head coach to ever do so.

Trading Away First Rounders - Parts 2, 3, & 4

In 2018, Snead traded the Rams first round pick (#23) to the Patriots for WR Brandin Cooks. Cooks would have a great season that year, collecting over 1,200 yards, but dropped off dramatically in 2019, posting his lowest totals since his rookie season. Before the 2020 draft, the Rams traded Cooks and a 4th round pick to the Texans for a second rounder.

In 2019, the Rams traded their first round pick (#31) and their sixth rounder to the Falcons for their second and third round picks. For those trades, they netted a handful of picks, yielding mediocre (or worse) players like Taylor Rapp (S), Greg Gaines (DT), and Nick Scott (S).

During the 2019 season, and under the impression that his team was within striking distance of a Super Bowl victory, Snead pushed all his chips to the table and offered the Rams’ 2020 and 2021 first round picks, as well as a 2021 4th rounder, for CB Jalen Ramsey of the Jaguars. Ramsey played 9 games with the Rams in 2019, but the team ended up going 9-7 and finishing without a playoff berth. In September of 2020, the Rams signed Ramsey to a record breaking deal of 5 years for $105M, including a $71.2 guarantee.

The Window Begins to Close

With Ramsey’s signing, a young, tough defense built to “win now,” an arsenal of offensive weapons, and cap hell looming on the horizon, the Rams were all in for 2020. The Rams went 10-6 during the regular season, with the best ranked defense in the league. They drew a match against the Seattle Seahawks - the NFC West Division winners - in the wildcard round, and beat the Seahawks 30-20.

In the divisional round, they ran into the Packers, whose offense was simply too much for the Rams, particularly with Aaron Donald at less than 100%. The Packers won 32-18, and it appeared, with a $31M projected cap overage in 2021 - before any proposed reductions in the 2021 cap - that Rams were in a very bad way.

Key 2021 draft capital traded away, a player pipeline running dry as a result of highly underwhelming drafts in 2018 through 2020, and faced with the prospects of having to cut vets, the 2021 Rams were beginning to look a lot like the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles: A senescing team who had sold their seed corn (or done such a poor job drafting that young depth was a problem) to try to “win now.”

A Hail Mary: Trading Away First Rounders - Part 5

Faced with the prospects of cap hell and a roster built to win now, Snead decided to double-down this offseason, trading away Jared Goff, the team’s next two first rounds, and a 2021 third rounder to the Lions for Matt Stafford and the opportunity of unload a large piece of Goff’s salary.

In terms of QB performance, there’s not a ton that separates Goff and Stafford. Both are middle of the league QBs with similar career passer ratings. Goff is 26, while Stafford is 33, and Goff has suffered fewer significant injuries in his career. Under the deal, Goff will still count $22.2M against the Rams’ cap in 2021 (as opposed to roughly $35M). Meanwhile, the Rams get Stafford for 2 years at $43M. This still doesn’t look like a great situation for the Rams, but it gets them out from Goff’s poorly conceived deal fairly early on. It’s hard not to have flashbacks to the Gurley debacle, however.

Conclusion

Snead began his career with the Rams with a gift from Dan Snyder. All things considered he wasn’t able to do much with that potential, particularly leaving it in the hands of Jeff Fisher. Washington’s generosity struck a second time, however, as Sean McVay used his exceptional skills to quickly right the Rams’ ship. Even McVay, however, couldn’t secure the NFL’s top prize, however, and in his attempt to build a Super Bowl winning roster, Snead has continually leaned on trading the team’s most potent draft capital for expensive free agents. At this point, the team won’t have a first round pick until 2024.

While one, perhaps final, gamble has been placed on Matt Stafford, the Rams’ window continues to close, and given the way Les Snead has chosen to built the team, it seems unlikely to open again any time soon. For Snead and the Rams, it’s either Super Bowl or bust or Super Bowl AND bust.

Rams’ Records by Year:

2012: 7-8-1

2013: 7-9

2014: 6-10

2015: 7-9

2016: 4-12

2017: 11-5

2018: 13-3

2019: 9-7

2020: 10-6

Poll

Would you prefer a management style like the Rams, built on trading away draft and cap resources for a shot at immediate success?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Yes, we should try to win now, while we can.
    (79 votes)
  • 90%
    No, I prefer to build for long term success.
    (738 votes)
817 votes total Vote Now