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.