Rams are willing to build a team without first-round draft picks

The St. Louis Rams play the Washington Redskins
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One of the most intriguing angles emerging from the trade that will send quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Lions to the Rams for quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick comes from the ongoing willingness of the Rams to surrender first-round picks.

The Stafford trade, as noted on Saturday night, means that the Rams will have gone without a first-round pick in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

That’s too many first-round picks out the window for this trend to be regarded as a fluke. As some in the league are suggesting, the constant trading away of first-round picks at some point supports a conclusion that the Rams don’t want to expose themselves to criticism and accountability for making mistakes with those first-round picks.

In this specific case, the reluctance to use first-round picks possibly sprang from the aftermath of the trade that allowed Washington to acquire quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012. The Rams flipped the second overall pick that year for the sixth overall selection, two future first-round picks, and a second round pick. The haul prompted G.M. Les Snead, who was hired just months before the RGIII trade, to boast that the team’s objective was to “build to dominate” with Washington’s picks.

They didn’t. Several years ago, the Washington Post looked at the aftermath of the RGIII trade. The Rams definitely did not “dominate” with those picks. From Michael Brockers to Janoris Jenkins to Isaiah Pead to Rokevious Watkins to Alec Ogletree to Stedman Bailey to Zac Stacy to Greg Robinson, those players didn’t become the nucleus of a contender.

The other first-round picks used by Snead and the Rams — with the exception of one — also didn’t pan out. Receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick in 2013, somehow earned a big-money extension. Both the draft status and the contract were mistakes. Running back Todd Gurley, the 10th pick in 2015, became the NFL’s offensive player of the year in 2017, but chronic knee issues hampered him down the stretch in 2018 and resulted in the Rams severing ties after 2019 — two seasons into a big-money extension.

Goff started strong, too. After three years, he made it to the Super Bowl and earned a market-value contract. He’s now gone (or, more accurately, will be gone on March 17), after the organization quickly soured on him.

The lone exception, of course, was defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Left on the board by the Lions — who were entering contract years with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and definitely had a need at the position — Donald has become one of the best defensive players in all of football, thanks to the lottery ticket the Rams scratched off to get him in 2014.

After trading up for Goff two years later, however, the Rams got out of the lottery ticket business, possibly because they otherwise had a pile of used tickets that did nothing to help the team get better.

It hasn’t kept the Rams from being relevant and competitive. It has, however, kept them from developing a group of young players who grow and develop and provide year-to-year consistency. That puts even more pressure on coach Sean McVay to craft a winner from the unique lump of clay that the offseason roster becomes, as veterans come and go and as new first-round picks don’t join the franchise as players who potentially can grow and thrive as long-term members of the organization.

16 responses to “Rams are willing to build a team without first-round draft picks

  1. Right. Because Snead and McVay are money geniuses. They sign the bigglyest and bestest contracts ever.

  2. Donald will likely be traded next off season too.

    These decisions by LAR will not lead to a title.

    Arizona……now is your chance. Seattle, LA and San Fran are all good but don’t appear capable of going further for awhile.

  3. Similarly, the Patriots often trade away their first round pick. The difference is that the Patriots trade to acquire more picks later in the draft, while the Rams trade to get established veteran players. Both are viable strategies that reflect all first round picks are lottery tickets. Even sure things (Aaron Curry anyone?) are hit or miss. As a fan of the team with a GM who could use to shake up his “stand pat and draft BPA” approach (the Giants), I’m pretty interested in what the Rams are doing.

  4. Their last three 1st rounders were Donald, Gurley, and Goff. All whom played large roles on their 2017-18 teams. Presumably they’d be able to find other players in the first round if they wanted to.

    It’s more like they think their window for a SB is now. No one has practiced team building like this in the salary cap, free agency era.

    Successful or not, they’re going to pay big time for this down the road.

  5. They’ve done it McVey’s whole time, and they’ve been pretty successful at it. Maybe Ram fans want to go back to the top five pick days where they go 7-9 or worse every year. They’ve found pretty good players with their other picks that are making significant contributions, which is probably the silver lining for Detroit since that same college scouting director is now their GM.

  6. The problem with their approach is if it doesn’t work this year and they have another hole to fill, they’re running out of assets to fill it

  7. They don’t need to build anything right now, it’s built. They fixed the big glaring need they had at QB. They are in win-now mode. Now, we see how well they built it.

  8. Running back Todd Gurley, the 10th pick in 2015, became the NFL’s offensive player of the year in 2017, but chronic knee issues hampered him down the stretch in 2018 and resulted in the Rams severing ties after 2019 — two seasons into a big-money extension.
    While they extended him early, i don’t think the actual extension had kicked in. They were forced to pay him the guaranteed new money/signing bonus in his extension without him ever playing a down under it.

    Guess who else won’t play a single down of their 4 year market setting contract extension with the Rams? Hint: He now plays for the Detroit Lions.

    I would like to formally request the Rams sign me to not play for their team for a ridiculous amount of money. The Rams seem to have no problem signing players to no show contracts.

  9. Each team gets at least 7 draft picks per year. Rounds 2-7 are also very important when building a team. Would’ve pick 25 yielded a better player for the 2021 Rams than Matthew Stafford? Probably not. The Rams did grossly overpay to acquire Stafford and jettison Goff.

  10. Good luck building a team with very few good draft picks. You better nail the draft with the picks you have.

  11. First round draft picks are a crapshoot anyway. The chances of drafting a great player are 50-50 at best. In some respects it’s not a bad deal to trade two first-rounders for a star player (Jalen Ramsey). The Rams problem is they’ve made mistakes in throwing around money (Goff, Gurley, Fowler) and now they’re paying for it in the form of draft choices. I can’t imagine any team would trade away their first round picks because they’re afraid of being criticized. If that were the case the Jags would have started trading their first rounders (including Ramsey and Fowler) years ago.

  12. Contracts aside, you don’t think there is a certain amount of logic to letting the other guy make mistakes rolling the dice on a draft pick vs you getting a known commodity? There is a logic to getting a player you KNOW is good vs one that you think is good. That’s why Belichick throws more darts. He isn’t a notably better drafter, he chooses a lot of players. So IF you have a limited number of picks, makes sense to convert them into players are… you know, good.

  13. All draft picks are crap shoots, meaning the more a team has, the more likely they are to hit on good picks. The Rams now have little or no room for error. Someone above is correct — the team is largely “built”. However, they’d better win in the next 2 years, stay healthy, and nail the few picks they have, because 2 years from now, the cupboard of talent will not be overflowing.

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