The Los Angeles Rams gamble bigtime and win
Moving back to Los Angeles after spending 21 years in St Louis, the Los Angeles Rams set out to be a success both on and off the field in one of the most competitive sports markets in the USA.
While the Rams had a successful two decades in St Louis, winning one Super Bowl and losing another (which turned out to be Tom Brady’s first of seven Super Bowl wins), Los Angeles is a lot different to St Louis.
Los Angelinos are used to their sporting teams being successful, led by the LA Lakers and LA Dodgers, who have won 17 NBA championships and 7 World Series, respectively. Even hockey’s Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups over the past decade.
With the city home to Hollywood and its associated glamour, the Rams decided to go all in both on and off the field.
Off the field, owner Stan Kroenke spent US$5 billion on the new, state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium close to Los Angeles Airport. In fact, it is so close to the airport that the stadium architects placed the field itself 100 feet below ground level to ensure compliance with maximum height regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The stadium is a work of art, seating up to 100,000 people, with a roof and a double-sided big screen that all spectators can see. The Rams and cross-town rivals the Los Angeles Chargers share the stadium after the Chargers also moved back to Los Angeles in 2017.
On the field, though, things were a little more difficult.
The NFL is a very competitive league, with the owners and the league trying to ensure as much parity as possible via the annual NFL draft, a salary cap and revenue sharing. While baseball’s Dodgers or basketball’s Lakers can just spend more than opponents to try to field superior teams, that option wasn’t available to the Rams given the NFL’s hard salary cap.
Even so, that didn’t stop the Rams under Sean McVay, the youngest man ever to be appointed Head Coach of an NFL team at age 30 in 2017, from making Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots. Unfortunately, Patriots Coach Bill Belichick outcoached McVay and with Tom Brady still under centre, the Patriots won 13-3 in what was a dull and boring game.
Trading high draft choices
Following that disappointment, the Rams decided that going one better meant trying to win it all now. They deliberately chose to swap valuable early round draft picks for veterans. This included trading two first-round draft picks to Jacksonville to nab cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2019, and also trading second and third round draft picks to Denver for outside linebacker Vonn Miller in November 2021.
That same month the Rams also signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. off waivers.
However, probably their biggest move occurred before the 2021 season started, when they traded starting quarterback and former first round pick Jared Goff to Detroit for veteran Matt Stafford. The Rams also gave Detroit two first-round picks and a third-round pick for Stafford.
Stafford is a former number one draft pick who played for the Detroit Lions for 12 years. While he generally played on average or poor teams, he proved himself as one of the most consistent and best quarterbacks in the league.
While he never complained, Stafford wanted to someday have a chance to test himself in the big games and perhaps the biggest of them all, the Super Bowl.
After an 8-1 start to the season, the Rams proceeded to lose 3 games in a row. However, they rallied to finish the regular season with a 12-5 record, good enough to win the NFC West.
Playoff victories over the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers followed, with the Rams being the second team in two years to make the Super Bowl at their home stadium after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did so last year.
Of course, the Rams ended up winning the Super Bowl, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, with Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Cupp excelling on the offence and Aaron Donald and Vonn Miller powering the defence. Donald ended the game by forcing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to throw an incomplete pass on fourth down with 43 seconds to go.
After gambling bigtime, the Rams pulled it off.
Who knows what the next few years hold, though, given the Rams have traded away so many high draft picks – they aren’t due to pick in the first round until 2024 – that it will be more difficult to use the draft to replenish their squad like other teams.
Is winning the Super Bowl enough to justify potentially three or five years of relative mediocrity?
Opinions may differ but given the Rams have just won the big game, I don’t think many of the coaches and players really care!