While the transition from laughing stock to NFL powerhouse and Super Bowl contender seemed to happen overnight for the newly minted LA Rams, the process was meticulous, risky and just what they needed to flip the switch.
Owner Stan Kroenke wasn’t a fan favorite, to say the least, when he decided to move the franchise from St. Louis back to Los Angeles. Missouri residents were PISSED, and NFL fans and pundits alike were clamoring about how stupid Kroenke must be to think LA wanted a football team again. Despite the opposition, the vote to move was passed in the owners’ meeting and plans for a brand-new super stadium were put in the works.
After going with the ol’ Jeff Fisher special in 2015, the Rams ended with a 7-9 record once again. GM Les Snead decided to keep Fisher as the head coach for the transition to Los Angeles due to his prior experience moving with a franchise, wanting stability for their shiny new first overall pick in quarterback Jared Goff and the notion of “f**k it, Jeff is the perfect tank commander for year 1.”
A completely abysmal season in 2016 ended with Head Coach Jeff Fisher fired, the Rams looking like THE worst team in the league despite their division rival 49ers out-tanking them. Their first overall pick looked like a booty butt bust, and their fan base no longer existed. Things were looking rough.
Then came the 2017 off-season that changed everything. Enter Sean McVay. The youngest head coach ever hired with the mind of a genius and the play calling creativity of a Renaissance artist. The Rams went from a 4-12 record to winning 11 and 12 games, respectively, the next two seasons.
McVay turned Goff from a wasted pick to nearly two straight seasons of 4,000+ pass yards and 30 touchdowns to go with his Pro Bowl selection. He hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator, and brought over specialized coaches ala Aaron Kromer, Shane Waldron and Zac Taylor to assist McVay with his offensive duties.
Even today, headlines are dominated with coaching searches for anyone who’s even looked Sean McVay in the eyes. Everyone wants to replicate the greatness the Rams stumbled upon.
As great as McVay is, the other piece to this puzzle is the amount of work Les Snead has done to somehow find a way to fit all these NFL Superstars’ contract on one salary cap. In the last two years the Rams have spent beaucoup bucks on their own draftees and free agency to create an All-Star Squad.
Rams signed running back and Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley to a 4-year, $60 million extension. This makes him the highest paid running back of all time. Shortly after, Aaron Donald (Multi-time All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year) was signed to a 6 year, $135 million contract, making him the highest paid defensive player of all time (until Khalil Mack used that to reach his contract with the Bears).
In free agency, LA enlisted the services of one Ndomukong Suh to a 1-year $14.5 million contract. Next they went after secondary players Nickell Robey-Coleman, Sam Shields, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters. On offense, the Rams traded a first round pick to the Patriots for Brandon Cooks and signed him to a 5-year extension. Cooks joined former Bills wide receiver Robert Woods and third round draft pick Cooper Cupp to create a threatening recieving corps.
On the offensive line, Snead signed veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Colts right guard Austin Blythe. Both gentlemen went on to be some of the highest graded linemen in the league by PFF.
On paper, this team looked unstoppable. But as any football fan knows, paper don’t mean a damn thing until you have those championship trophies in your hands. If this team didn’t have success this year, we would probably all be laughing at how much of a let down they were.
Luckily for the Rams, players did what they were paid to do, and that’s win. With a little help from the football Gods, the Los Angeles Rams are in Atlanta this week waiting to take on Bill, Tom and the rest of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
If they succeed in defeating the evil empire on Sunday, whatever kind of cap hell they end up in will have been worth it. Going all-in can work if you do it the right way.