At first glance the trade of All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams on Tuesday evening seems like a win-win for both franchises. However, the trade may indicate further issues for both teams, especially as they move forward with championship aspirations in their respective conferences.
Upgrade on defence
Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead continued to live up to his reputation as one of the most aggressive team builders in the contemporary NFL, rivalled only by his counterpart Howie Roseman in Philadelphia for his willingness to engage in blockbuster trades.
With former Pro Bowl and All Pro cornerback Marcus Peters shipped off to Baltimore earlier in the day, Snead moved decisively to replace one ball hawking defensive back with another in Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is undoubtedly an upgrade for L.A. over Peters who at times could be a liability in coverage due to his tendency to aggressively attempt the interception rather than playing the receiver.
Having said that, Peters is clearly a difference maker in the position, racking up 24 interceptions during his five years in the league. Those numbers have dropped off significantly though since Peters took his talents from the AFC West to the NFC West in 2018. But when we look at the Rams’ defence this year, it’s right to question whether this undoubtedly expensive move for Los Angeles was entirely necessary.
The unit currently ranks 14th and 16th best respectively in passing and rushing yards allowed per game. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t fantastic, but does it necessitate the addition of Ramsey?
Given the limp performances of Sean McVay’s offence in recent weeks, perhaps the Rams should be focusing their resources on improving the talent around offensive centrepieces Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. The offence is currently ranked 6th in passing yards per game but 22nd in rush yards per game with an average of 98.3 yards.
Teams seem to have cottoned on to the Rams recipe for success, which revolves around the running game which opened up the play action passing game for Goff. For instance, against the San Francisco 49ers last weekend the Rams run game was shut down, aside from their opening drive, putting the ball in Goff’s hands. Nonetheless the L.A quarterback had no time to throw due to the penetration of the Niners front four.
For a team whose offensive scheme relies on the effectiveness of running the football, Snead and McVay could have done with upgrading the offensive line to help backup runners Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown as well as providing Goff with time to find receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks downfield. It could have been a better use of draft resources to try and prise Trent Williams from Washington as current left tackle Andrew Whitworth moves into the twilight of his career.
An unsustainable recipe for success?
The Rams will now not have had a first-round pick for a period of 5 years, after not drafting in the opening round since 2017. That trend will continue for the next two years if Snead isn’t able to pick up another first rounder from another franchise. Is that a sustainable way to build a roster? Snead has been adept at manipulating the salary cap to fit a number of high profile additions within L.A’s wage structure but those decisions on who to pay can’t be moved down the road for later continuously.
This upcoming offseason Talib, Fowler, Michael Brockers, Cory Littleton and Greg Zuerlein are all scheduled to become free agents. Whitworth, who is currently 38, seems more likely to retire than be extended.
The problem is that all those players are starters and do the Rams currently have players on the roster capable of replacing them?
The team only has over $4 million in cap space currently, which limits their ability to extend any of those players in-season. Next year that may increase to around $21 million, but a large chunk of that needs to be committed to extending Ramsey given the amount of draft capital given up to acquire him.
The team will also want to lock up Kupp and potentially other starters in safety John Johnson, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and tight end Gerald Everett. Whilst they may be happy and willing to move on from some of those names mentioned, others such as Kupp are building blocks for the team’s success going forward.
The need to pay elite talents like Ramsey robs L.A of the ability to build effective depth on the roster behind its high-profile starters. As a season’s wear and tear builds up on a roster, championship franchises are often defined by the ability for second and third stringers to slot into the starting lineup.
In addition to this, Snead and McVay have been able to recruit top tier players to the franchise because of the level of success the team has had under McVay. Can they do that if the Rams struggle to make the playoffs or appear a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Currently they don’t look like either.