The Los Angeles Rams have once again traded away the most valuable draft capital they have in pursuit of winning football games. The organization sent out two first-round picks and a third-rounder to replace Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford. Those picks had to be in 2022 and 2023 because the Rams don't have a first-round pick this year. They also didn't have one last year. Or the year before.
It stands out as an extreme outlier because even the most trade-happy teams in the NFL are loathed to give up first-round picks. Giving up a first-rounder means passing on the opportunity to pick up a valuable contributor on a reasonable contract for five years. Even for teams that fancy themselves regular playoff contenders, those mid-to-late picks could yield anywhere from a rock-solid starter to a hidden gem of a star for great value.
They could, of course, also end up as busts. No team's scouting department is perfect. The Rams are clearly of the opinion that trading potential good players in the form of draft picks for players that have already established themselves as very good is the best way to compete. Former GM-turned-media-man Mike Tannebaum disagrees with that school of thought. Vehemently.
It is rather hard to believe the Rams will go eight straight years without picking a player in the first 32 selections of the draft, but here we are. Let us summarize and evaluate if all those transactions were worth it and weigh if it was, indeed, reckless and irresponsible.
In 2017, the Rams didn't have a first-rounder because they used it to trade up in 2016 to get Goff. They probably would not have done that if they knew they were going to trade him five years later, but since Goff was good enough to put the team into contention every year and led them to a Super Bowl berth, that's still worth the cost.
The 2018 first-rounder was sent to the New England Patriots in exchange for two years of Brandin Cooks. Cooks caught 122 passes for 1,787 yards and seven touchdowns in that span, and helped Los Angeles reach the Big Game in 2018. Could have been better, but definitely could have been worse. The bigger issue was they gave Cooks an extension and then traded him, costing them over $20 million in dead cap space.
In 2019, the Rams traded out of the No. 31 overall selection to move back and add a few extra picks. No real opportunity cost there.
Los Angeles traded its 2020 and 2021 first-rounders to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey. I don't think anyone in that front office regrets that particular trade; Ramsey has been a top-five cornerback both seasons he's been with the Rams and single-handedly transformed their secondary with his stellar play.
Which brings us to now. Whew. After all that and the Stafford trade, the Rams do not have a first-rounder until 2025.
Was all of it reckless and irresponsible, like Tannebaum decries? The Cooks trade is really the only iffy one out of those transactions. He was only there for two years and was a good, not great, player. With the benefit of hindsight, the Rams probably would have enjoyed having Calvin Ridley under contract through 2023 than Cooks for 2018 and 2019. But otherwise, the decisions haven't really come back to bite them at all.
Tannebaum is right when he points out that depth could be a real issue. Fewer draft picks means fewer quality players on the roster, which means the difference is more substantial when a starter goes down. But every GM in the league would tell you that he'd rather take a swing on a guy like Ramsey rather than build the depth of his roster.
Star players do not come around often. The Rams have two on the defensive side. They recognize that the time to win is now, while their best players are at the peak of their powers. If that means sacrificing multiple first-round picks to bring in more good players (and especially at the most important position in football in the case of Stafford), then it's worth it.
Because, at the end of the day, the absolute best-case scenario for a team is that any first-round pick will end up with the value of a player like Ramsey or Stafford. The Rams see that and figure that burning the picks they have for players they already know are good is an equal trade-off. It may not work. Los Angeles might not win a Super Bowl, and even if they do, the path to acquiring more good players is much murkier without the cushion of a high draft choice.
It's just a different way of doing things. A bold way, sure, and one that could cost Les Snead his job if it doesn't pan out as hoped. He likes to swing big on known quantities, rather than lay hopes of immediate contention on a rookie developing quickly. But reckless and irresponsible? I don't think so.