Big decisions are coming and few draft picks remain to make up for them. The Rams haven’t thrown their future away outright, but they have made it quite difficult to keep up with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers for NFC West dominance.
In 2017, The 49ers had a brief glimpse of their ceiling while the Rams, under Sean McVay’s first year, went from perennial losers to getting bounced in their first playoff game. This led to a perceived “arms race” of sorts, one that the 49ers bowed out of early allowing the Rams to win. A win that may have future consequences.
2018 was a rush to get whatever possible to build on both teams’ momentum. The 49ers and Rams tried to get Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Khalil Mack, but the Raiders decided to send him to the Chicago Bears. They both went after Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, whom wished to not go to San Francisco. For a fifth-round draft pick, he went to Los Angeles.
That’s about the extent of of San Francisco’s involvement. The Rams’ transactions don’t end there. They signed Ndamukong Suh to a one-year prove-it deal to helm the defensive line. They also did a trade in February to acquire Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs. In the middle of the season they even traded for Dante Fowler. That’s not it for the trades, they also sent a first round pick to the New England Patriots for Brandin Cooks. The very same New England Patriots they lost to Sunday evening in Super Bowl LIII, almost a year after the transaction.
Cost of doing business: having just four draft picks remaining and $34 million in cap space for 2019. We’ll see how those 11 draft picks from 2018 work out. 11 picks, mind you, that don’t have a single start between them for that very same season. 11 picks with stats that make a Trent Baalke draft go to shame. Draft picks that began in the third round due to all their transactions. Yeah, those draft picks. Can they get out of this? Sure they can, if some of those 11 picks can replace who they’ll have to move on from after 2019—or at the very least start a game. Sure they can, if they don’t whiff on their four picks for 2019.
For 2019, the Rams hold a first, fourth, fifth and sixth round pick. There’s an argument to be made that draft picks are overrated, what isn’t overrated is the ability to develop players on the cheap. Maybe a first round pick is overrated, but limited draft picks isn’t, and the Rams just gambled their future to get on the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
Then there’s the $34 million. Suh will need a new contract if he’s going to stick around. Moving into 2020 offseason is where the negotiations get interesting because at the end of 2019 there’s a few free agents. Quarterback Jared Goff will have completed the last year of his rookie deal (though what he commands after his Super Bowl performance is anyone’s guess). Talib, who played in just eight games during 2018, will have an expiring deal as well. That’s two names right there.
$34 million and four draft picks makes things mighty difficult. Maybe their projected cap space in 2020 (an estimated $92 million) can save the day. But they better hope those 11 draft picks along with the four selections they have in 2019 can pan out, because this roster of superstars isn’t going to last and they can’t funnel more money to replace them. Players are going to need to get paid. And it’s not looking good for the 2018 draft class. Again—they have the means to keep the ship sailing, but with 2018 in the rear-view mirror, it looks more and more difficult. And yes, the 49ers hold few draft picks in 2019 as well, but they also don’t have a bunch of stars hitting the end of their contracts at season’s end, nor are they saddled with a limited salary cap to keep them all at once.
The NFC West isn’t the Rams’ to lose, it’s wide open. While the Rams can overcome this and keep fielding a competitive team, it will be much more difficult to keep up when Seattle and San Francisco have more options at their disposal.
Your move, NFC West.