Les Snead and Sean McVay, the general manager and head coach respectively of the Los Angeles Rams, aren't running the team like a typical NFL franchise. Instead, they appear to be following the tried-and-true blueprint of a different operation in a different sport across town.
The Los Angeles Lakers have won 17 NBA titles by aggressively and unapologetically acquiring and attracting star players, making win-now, championship-or-bust, in-season trades and caring little about the annual draft.
It works for them. It works in the NBA.
Does it work in the NFL, where conservatism tends to rule, let alone for the Rams?
We’ll see. Snead and McVay have gotten L.A. to one Super Bowl (a 13-3 loss to New England three seasons ago) and have never stopped seeking big names with big talent that can get them back.
Monday, on the eve of the NFL’s once-sleepy trade deadline, they did it again, shipping their second- and third-round picks in the 2022 draft to Denver for eight-time Pro Bowl edge defender Von Miller. As part of the deal, the Broncos will pay almost all of Miller’s remaining salary ($9 million of $9.7 million owed) this season.
This was about the 2021 season that L.A. is all-in on. It already sent away its first-round pick in 2022 (not to mention a third-rounder in 2021 and a first in 2023) to Detroit as part of a trade that allowed the Rams to upgrade at quarterback from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford.
Now this move continues to shore up an already strong defense as the Rams (7-1) focus on a Super Bowl run out of the top-heavy NFC. Arizona (7-1), Green Bay (7-1), Dallas (6-1), Tampa Bay (6-2) and, perhaps, New Orleans (5-2) are all legit title contenders.
To get out of the NFC – and to a Super Bowl, which will be played in the Rams' home So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood – is going to be a dogfight. So the Rams got themselves another fighter. They didn’t need Miller. They already rank as the second-best defense in the league (and best in the NFC) per Pro Football Focus, trailing only Buffalo. The Rams' run defense ranks first in the NFL and its pass rush sixth, per PFF.
That isn’t the point. They can use Miller. That's what matters There is an old question that gets asked in the NBA, where in-season trades have traditionally been more commonplace than the staid NFL: As you travel for a critical playoff game, do you want that guy on the plane?
With Miller, the question is absolutely.
Even at 32, he’s a force, ranking as the seventh-best edge defender in the league this season, according to PFF and third-best in rush defense. His five sacks are more than respectable and every offensive coordinator on the Rams' schedule has to be terrified of trying to stop Miller on one side and Aaron Donald on the other.
L.A. clearly doesn’t cherish and horde draft picks the way most other NFL teams do. Almost assured of picking deep in the 20s, if not the 30s, there is belief that what the Rams can get in established talent is better than what they can get on draft night. How many rookies could even make their roster next season anyway?
The Rams are down to just four draft picks in 2022. They have a compensatory pick in the third round that was awarded to them when Detroit hired away assistant general manager Brad Holmes. They also still have their original fourth- and seventh-round picks, plus a seventh that came in a deal involving Aqib Talib. The team will likely add a few more compensatory selections for free agent losses.
Regardless, that isn’t much of a draft. The college scouting department might want to take a weekend or three off. The Rams are good with it.
Dealing picks is what got them Stafford, who has played brilliantly this season. It's what got them, back in 2019, defensive back Jalen Ramsey, who is the key to the secondary.
They haven't had a first-round pick since 2016 (when they took Goff first overall) and currently have none until 2023. Whatever.
This is about winning a Super Bowl, this season. This is about making a splash in a town that doesn’t care for slow builds or close-enoughs. This about making the team impossible to ignore, even in the crowded, local professional sports landscape. This is about making the most of some prime careers (Stafford, Donald, et al).
This is about a sense of urgency and daring that isn’t common in the NFL.
This is about the comfort of having Von Miller on that plane, and on that line, when the biggest game or the most critical series of the season arrives.
To Snead and McVay, that’s a lot more valuable than having some 103rd overall pick in their pocket. Will it cost them in the long term?
Maybe? Even the Lakers get stuck in a rebuild every once in a while.
But if that happens, maybe the shine off their Super Bowl rings will comfort the blow.