Congratulations to the LA Rams. They’re heading back to the Super Bowl only a few years after losing to the Patriots at the climax of the 2018 season. This time instead of Tom Brady they’ll be facing Joe Burrow. The fact the Rams are in the Super Bowl in their first year after trading for Matthew Stafford hasn’t been lost on Colts fans. However, I would caution those who suggest that Indianapolis would have been as successful if they’d traded for Stafford or will enjoy similar results if they are equally aggressive in pursuing a Quarterback this offseason.
The Los Angeles Rams have been as aggressive as any team in NFL history when it comes to trades and free agency signings over the past few years. It is telling that GM Les Snead’s approach is often humorously summarized as “Fuck them picks.” It is important to remember that some of these deals, such as trading up for Jared Goff and the big contract they gave to Todd Gurley didn’t work out. Mistakes they’ve had to bear the consequences of.
Their more recent big moves seem to have been more successful. They gave up two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey, who has arguably been the best cornerback in the league since. Matthew Stafford has been far from perfect at Quarterback but has offered much more than Goff. Whilst Von Miller and Odell Beckam Jr have made a notable impact, especially during the 2nd half the season and the postseason.
The result of all these moves is that the Rams will go almost a decade without a first-round draft pick, having also given up some of their middle round picks over the same period. Nor do they have any cap space, a problem that will only get worse as they don’t benefit from drafting players who make a big impact whilst on cheap rookie deals. The Rams are totally all in, realistically for this year and the next. The five years afterwards will likely be tough for them, but it’s a price they’re willing to pay.
Why have the Rams taken this approach and why does it make sense for them? The simple answer is Aaron Donald. For all the other talent on the roster including Cooper Kupp and Jalen Ramsey, the best indicator of future Rams success is whether they still have Aaron Donald and whether he is still at his physical peak. He is that brilliant and disruptive a player and is impossible to replace. At 30, Donald could have a few more years left at his peak, but given his age, the Rams can only really bank on one more year of peak Donald. It therefore makes sense for them to use all their draft capital and cap space to maximize their chances of winning a Super Bowl this year or next. It may be that they need to undergo a major rebuild and trade away players like Kupp and Ramay in a few years’ time. But if they win a ring in the process, they’ll feel it was worth it.
Indianapolis is in a different situation. The Colts have dealt with the retirement of Anthony Castonzo last year and may lose veterans Hilton and Doyle this Spring, but the poor drafting in the Grigson years means they don’t have a lot of talent at the end of their careers. The Colts have a young team, with an exciting core of players in or entering their primes. The key crunch point for the Colts is probably in five years or so when 2016 draftees DeForest Buckner and Ryan Kelly retire. Once they retire, the team likely won’t have enough time to properly replace them before it must deal with the retirements of the 2018 draft intake of Nelson, Leonard and Smith. Not that all the players drafted in the same year will retire at the same time. That will vary based on position and a host of other factors.
Therefore, whilst the Rams strategy has been about maximizing their chances of winning a Super Bowl in this year or the next, the Colts strategy must be about giving them the best chance to win over the next five years.
Colts owner Jim Irsay has made it clear that the Colts will be ‘all in’ this year. It’s an approach I welcome and I’m looking forward to the team hopefully looking to address needs like WR, TE and an edge rusher in free agency (I think LT is more likely to be addressed in the draft). That is not to say I expect the team to pursue the most expensive options at those respective positions.
This doesn’t meant Indianapolis will be as all in as the Rams have been for the past few years, nor should they be. Given the Rams have been as all in as any team in NFL history, I don’t think they should be setting the standard for being all in.
As I discussed in a previous article, if Russell Wilson is truly available this offseason than the Colts should be aggressive and go and get him. If he isn’t available, it doesn’t mean you have to put all your chips in on someone like Garoppolo, Cousins or a rookie QB. You don’t want an aggressive (or desperate) move at Quarterback this year to jeopardize your chances of success for the four years that come afterwards. If no great QB upgrades are available this offseason, it can be prudent to run it back with Wentz, address other needs and look to make an aggressive move in 2023 in more favourable circumstances.
Despite the fact Stafford is playing in the Super Bowl, I maintain that the Colts were right not to trade for him given the high price the Rams paid for him. With Copper Kupp and either OBJ or Robert Woods to throw to, Stafford has had better offensive weapons with the Rams than he would have enjoyed with the Colts. As such, I don’t think Stafford would have been as good or successful in this Colts offense as he has been with the Rams. At the price the Rams paid for him, Stafford has to be good enough to win your team a Super Bowl to make his trade worthwhile. I don’t think Stafford on this Colts team wins the Super Bowl.
There will likely come a time soon, probably next offseason when the Colts need to make an aggressive move at Quarterback. But fans shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that it is as simple as being aggressive and success following. Indianapolis needs to get the right option, one that sets them up for success for the next five years, not just the immediate future.