There’s a reason teams don’t listen to fans in the offseason. If front offices went with what fans wanted, they’d be chasing splashy move after splashy move in the (misguided) belief that their team is just a move or three away from the Super Bowl. More often than not, those splashy moves that sound great in March and April need only about six months of hindsight to look terrible. Front offices are the Fyre Festival employees requesting to push the festival off for a year to prepare. Fans are the Fyre Festival marketing executive who said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
The Rams are on the cusp of becoming legends. The team parlayed the most aggressive offseason in the NFL into a Super Bowl appearance. With quarterback Jared Goff on a cheap rookie contract that allows the team to splurge at other positions, and after head coach Sean McVay turned what was the 30th-ranked team by Football Outsiders’ DVOA in 2016 into the second-ranked squad in 2017, Rams general manager Les Snead made a series of win-now offseason moves to maximize a title window. It worked. The Rams are in the Super Bowl largely because of the cannonball-sized splashes they made in trades, free agency, and contract extensions from late February to late August. Here are the eight biggest offseason moves that fueled the Rams’ Super Bowl run, ranked.
No. 8: Trading Away Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn
- Rams Received: 2018 fourth-round pick, 2018 sixth-round pick
- Giants Received: Linebacker Alec Ogletree and 2019 seventh-round pick
- Rams Received: 2018 fourth-round pick, 2018 sixth-round pick
- Dolphins Received: Defensive end Robert Quinn, 2018 sixth-round pick
The Impact: These deals are the forgotten moves of the Rams’ offseason, but they made just about everything else the team did possible. Combined, the two trades saved the Rams more than $8 million of cap space in 2018, almost $25 million of cap space in 2019, and almost $12 million in 2020. The two trades cleared the space necessary to pay Los Angeles’s high-profile stars while recouping some draft capital in the process. Dealing Quinn was not surprising, considering he signed a four-year extension for $41.2 million guaranteed and worth as much as $57 million after registering 19.0 sacks in 2013, and followed it up with 19.5 sacks in the next three seasons combined. Trading Ogletree was a bigger surprise (just five months earlier, the team extended him on a $42.8 million deal with $21.4 million guaranteed). The two moves cleared the Rams’ muddied financial picture and turned the risk level of their offseason down multiple notches.
No. 7: Extending Todd Gurley
The Move: The Rams signed Gurley to a four-year contract extension worth up to $57.5 million with $45 million guaranteed.
The Impact: The deal will keep Gurley a Ram for the foreseeable future and reset the running back market in the process, but it is more influential in terms of the Rams’ future than the present. Unlike Aaron Donald, Gurley was not entering a contract year and gave no indication he would hold out. Gurley led the league in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns this season, but there’s no evidence that his play would have been significantly impacted by his contract status. It’s a big move for their future, but not as critical to their success this season as it would seem.
No. 6: Choosing Lamarcus Joyner Over Sammy Watkins
The Move: The Rams franchise-tagged safety Joyner for one year at $11.3 million and let Watkins walk in free agency.
The Impact: With only one franchise tag and two candidates to use it on, the Rams chose Joyner over Watkins, who left for a three-year, $48 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) with the Chiefs. The $11.3 million price tag on Joyner is higher than other safeties who signed this offseason (or midseason) like Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro, and the Rams safety has been burned multiple times this postseason. Still, Joyner has become an important and versatile part of coordinator Wade Phillips’s defense.
No. 5: Re-signing Center John Sullivan
The Move: The Rams signed Sullivan to a two-year, $10.75 million contract with $5.25 million guaranteed.
The Impact: It’s hard to quantify what a good center can mean for an offensive line, but Sullivan is an underrated part of what makes the Rams offense tick. At 33 years old, he’s the same age as head coach Sean McVay, and McVay leans on Sullivan to fine-tune the offense in a way that can be downright adorable. The Rams offensive line this year finished as the best run-blocking team by Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and graded the highest in run-blocking by Pro Football Focus. On paper, the Rams line is not the most talented in the league, but it performed among the league’s best in large part because of the veteran savvy of Sullivan, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and left guard Rodger Saffold. The Rams line would still be good if Sullivan had signed elsewhere, but it may not have ranked among the best in the league.
No. 4: Cornerback Shopping Spree
- Rams Received: Cornerback Marcus Peters, 2018 sixth-round pick
- Chiefs Received: 2019 second-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick
- Rams Received: Cornerback Aqib Talib
- Broncos Received: 2018 fifth-round pick
The Move: The Rams signed cornerback Sam Shields to a one-year, $1 million deal.
The Impact: You know when you try to buy something on Amazon and click the purchase button too quickly and accidentally put three of the same item in your shopping cart? That was the Rams and cornerbacks this offseason. Cornerback was slated to be a weakness with Trumaine Johnson (who had been franchise-tagged two years in a row) leaving, but the team acquired some serious talent, though not as much production as it had likely envisioned when it made the moves. Talib played just eight games this season after injuring his ankle, while Peters started all 16 games but played through a calf and groin injury that sapped his burst. Shields mostly contributed on special teams after sitting out all of 2017 with lingering effects of head injuries. Peters has played much better since his tough start, Talib is back for the playoff run, and Shields caught the fake punt that swung the tide of the first half in the NFC championship game. Individually, each move was underwhelming in the regular season, but collectively, they shored up what would have been the weakest part of their roster.
No. 3: Trading for (and Extending) Brandin Cooks
- Rams Received: Receiver Brandin Cooks, 2018 fourth-round pick
- Patriots Received: 2018 first-round pick, 2018 sixth-round pick
The Impact: The Rams offense was among the league’s best this season, and Cooks played a larger part than his numbers indicate. His 80 receptions on 117 targets for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns may seem underwhelming for the no. 1 receiver in an upper-echelon passing offense, but Cooks allows the Rams’ other receiving options to thrive. His versatility, both in where he can line up and his movements on end-arounds, keeps defenses from focusing on Robert Woods or (before his injury) Cooper Kupp. (And at $16 million annually for five years, the Rams signed him for the exact annual value that Sammy Watkins got for three years in Kansas City.) None of Cooks’s individual games jump off of the page (he had 159 yards on seven catches against lowly Arizona in Week 2 and no more than 116 against anyone else) but his presence is a big part of why the Rams’ whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
No. 2: Signing Ndamukong Suh
The Move: The Rams signed Ndamukong Suh to a one-year, $14 million deal.
The Impact: The one-two punch of Suh and Donald many envisioned has finally come to fruition this postseason, as Suh has logged his two best games of his season against the Cowboys and Saints, including stuffing Ezekiel Elliott on a fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter of the divisional round. He made things easier for Donald on the interior in the regular season, and Donald is likely going to repeat as Defensive Player of the Year (he led the league with 106 quarterback pressures a year after he led the league with 91). The job of a defensive tackle isn’t always glamorous, but Suh has been critical in their two playoff wins.
No. 1: Extending Aaron Donald
The Move: The Rams signed Aaron Donald to a six-year extension worth as much as $135 million, with $86.9 million guaranteed.
The Impact: Aaron Donald was a serious threat to hold out into the season without his extension, and without him, the Rams would have likely had one of the worst pass rushes in football and gone without the 20.5 sacks from the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. But even if Donald had returned without an extension, the negotiations may have wrecked the team’s chemistry. Donald is perhaps the most valuable non-quarterback in the sport. If the Rams had chosen to play hardball with him, it might have fostered a serious bitterness toward the organization, especially after the team signed Suh to a $14 million deal and extended Cooks with a long-term deal before he had played a game in a Rams uniform. Instead of a tense Khalil Mack–esque standoff that could have divided a locker room with many new personalities, the Rams gave Donald the biggest deal for a defender in NFL history (at least for 24 hours until Mack signed an extension after being traded from Oakland to Chicago). Donald is the Rams’ top dog, and everything fell into place after they took care of him.