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NFL: What on earth happened to the LA Rams?

Yearn for a 22-year period in the playoffs featuring five titles and six total trips to the finals. Something the San Antonio Spurs achieved recently in the NBA, but something that is almost impossible in the NFL… unless you are the New England Patriots.

On average from 1991 until 2018 the number of returning teams to the NFL postseason is 6.4 out of 12. There has been only one back to back Super Bowl winner in the 21st century, and aside from the New England Patriots, only one team has even made back to back Super Bowls in the 2000s – the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2019 the number of returning playoff teams improved slightly on the average, as seven familiar faces made it back while five dropped off. One of those five teams were the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, who not only missed out on a playoff berth, but did not come close to a division crown finishing third in the NFC West. A 9-7 record, 3-3 division record and sitting one game behind a wildcard spot spelled complete underachievement for a team that felt it was ready for a second go at the Lombardi Trophy.

They were not a one-year wonder, or at least did not seem to be, as they mustered 11 wins and a home playoff game the year prior, which ended a 13-year playoff drought. Sean McVay was emerging as a truly exciting young coach, the defence had some nasty and quarterback Jared Goff to put the bow on top, finally showed off his Pro-Bowl talent. Unfortunately their progress took a few steps back last season. The Rams aligned themselves with the well-documented Super Bowl ‘hangover’. They were one of nine runners-up in the last 10 years to either decline in win totals or playoff finish, and fail to make it back to the Big Dance.

The foundation was there for McVay, Goff and Co. to establish their own Patriot-like dynasty, and to be fair they have had three consecutive winning seasons. But over the last year the franchise has consistently stripped themselves of talent via trades, cuts or free agency, which has amounted to a massive list of All-Pro and Pro-Bowl level guys who are no longer on the roster. Todd Gurley (the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year), Ndamukong Suh, Eric Weddle, Marcus Peters, Clay Matthews, Aqib Talib, Pharoh Cooper, Rodger Saffold, Connor Barwin, Corey Littleton, Greg Zuerlein, as well as Dante Fowler Jr., Lamarcus Joyner, Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins, Sam Shields and Trumaine Johnson,  among many, many others, have all departed.

Eric Weddle, who retired, is the one outlier.

That is a lot of key pieces. I can tell you right now, no one else in the NFL, without even investigating has lost that much in two years. How did it happen?

It seems to be part of a reality the team were expecting. The franchise made big, win-now moves shortly after relocating to Los Angeles, bringing in the likes of Cooks, Watkins, Peters and Talib at the expense of valuable draft picks. It all worked, but it had an end date. Money was needed to pay the newbies as well as those needing extensions over the next year or so, who would logically demand big pay packets. Money was, is, and will be scarce.

Thus, out with the sword and let the severing begin. The roster has never looked so bare since the days of Jeff Fisher as coach.

They did add Jalen Ramsey last year, an All-Pro corner who is one of the very few athletes that can back up their own self-proclaimed hype (in other words, Ramsey talks too much).  His upcoming extension talks could create minor headache, but communication has so far been good according to ESPN.

As of June 3 the Rams have a shave over $6,300,000 in cap room thanks to Gurley’s release being penned as a post-June 1 move, and they can spread his dead cap across two seasons, but the team still holds a total of $24 million in dead cap. Cooks (who was traded) has followed almost the same trajectory, being signed to a big-money deal a little under two years ago and not even halfway through his contract, he is gone. His trade left the team with a large cap liability.

As Pro Football Talk said back in March, there is a way to replace these pieces and temporarily compensate for a terrible financial position, but the Rams do not have the ammunition to do that.

The best way to replace departing veterans is the draft, but the Rams are short on draft capital. They’ve traded away this year’s first-round pick and fifth-round pick, and they’ve already traded away next year’s first-round pick, fourth-round pick and fifth-round pick. They also traded away their first-round picks in 2017, 2018 and 2019, so they haven’t had an influx of high-end young talent.”

No draft assets and few big-time players on the roster leaves the Rams in a difficult position for 2020, but by 2021 they could have around $56 million based on Over The Cap’s projection of a $215 million salary cap next year (which could drop due to Covid-19), and the team’s room should grow by the year.

But with the rise comes little return. As well as Goff, who is struggling to match his production value with that of his contract, and Aaron Donald already taking up a big chunk of the cap, both Ramsey and wide-out Cooper Kupp will be off contract next year and in high demand, so you can kiss a good portion of the cap away to those two (not that they are not worth it).

The Rams did make a trio of good signings this offseason – retaining offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and bringing in defensive tackles Michael Brockers and A’Shawn Robinson. Linebacker Leonard Floyd was also added and can play, but he is a risky move given his connection to the term ‘draft bust’.

So big problems, with no immediate solutions.

It is a real shame when you consider the meteoric rise of coach McVay, who went from unproven coordinator to one of the game’s very best. Known for his intelligence, photographic memory and innovation, McVay is sure to stick around for some time and leave an imprint on the NFL.

It is far-fetched to say he is being wasted at the Rams as there is plenty of time for his career to blossom and at some point and the franchise will turn around their current financial struggles. The Rams will also face an uphill battle on the field again in the 2020 NFL season, whenever it does start. Other teams are stepping up as conference contenders, headlined by the Seahawks and 49ers, both in the Rams’ division, as well as the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Expect something in the realms of a 7-9, 8-8 season, but expect the front office to do everything in their power to transform the team as best they can. Remember, they did that not so long ago.

Lachlan Waugh View All

Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.

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