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The Rams Are Basically Betting the House on Jalen Ramsey

The suddenly desperate front office essentially swapped Marcus Peters for the All-Pro former Jaguar, an all-in move for a would-be contender that has hit a rough stretch

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Last year the Los Angeles Rams went all in. Rams general manager Les Snead traded a metric ton of draft picks for All-Pro cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, then signed All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to pair with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. It nearly won them the Super Bowl. Now, they’re hoping a similar approach will get them at least that far this year. On Tuesday, Snead traded Peters to Baltimore in the afternoon and then sent two first-round picks to Jacksonville for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the evening. It’s a shocking, borderline desperate series of moves for a team that isn’t holding a strong hand.

In exchange for Ramsey, the Rams are sending the Jags their first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, plus a fourth-round pick in 2021.

The Rams cleared way for Ramsey earlier on Tuesday by sending Peters to the Ravens for linebacker Kenny Young, which cleared $5 million of cap space (they also traded for Browns interior lineman Austin Corbett, the 33rd pick of the 2018 draft). Altogether, here are the moves the Rams have made in the past two days.

  • Rams gained: CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Kenny Young, C Austin Corbett, Ravens’ 2020 fifth-round pick
  • Rams lost: CB Marcus Peters, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick, 2021 fifth-round pick

For comparison, here’s what the Rams did last offseason:

  • Rams gained: CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, CB Sam Shields, Giants 2018 fourth-round pick, Giants 2018 sixth-round pick, unknown Dolphins mid-round pick, Chiefs 2018 sixth-round pick
  • Rams lost: DE Robert Quinn, ILB Alec Ogletree, 2018 fourth-round pick, 2018 fifth-round draft pick, 2018 seventh-round pick, 2019 second-round pick, 2019 seventh-round pick

Those lists do not include losing Talib, who was put on injured reserve with a rib injury on Monday and is in the final year of his contract. It also does not include the Jaguars trading Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams for a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick before last year’s trade deadline. The Jaguars suddenly have a lot to gain if the Rams faceplant in the next two years.

The moves are a massive gamble from a GM who has made gambling his signature move. Los Angeles is 3-3 after starting 3-0. The NFC West is among the toughest divisions in football, featuring the undefeated San Francisco 49ers, who just walloped the Rams on Sunday, and the 5-1 Seattle Seahawks, who beat the Rams on Thursday Night Football in Week 5. The Rams hope Ramsey—get used to Rams-ey puns—can turn them back into Super Bowl contenders, though it’s a strange thought process. The Rams offense, not their defense, has been the problem in 2019. Their offensive line has gone from a strength to a weakness, and it has nullified their run game (where even C.J. Anderson was thriving last year). It has also forced Jared Goff to throw with anticipation and under pressure to uninspiring results. Last year, the team had the second-most-efficient offense in football, per Football Outsiders. This year, they have the 17th. The Rams’ running game has evaporated with Todd Gurley still feeling the effects of a knee injury that stripped him of his powers in the playoffs, but the team’s passing efficiency has also disappeared. In 2017, Goff’s first season with Sean McVay, the quarterback ranked no. 1 in the league in adjusted net yards per pass attempt, which accounts for touchdowns, sacks, and interceptions. It is the most all-encompassing QB stat we have (peep the all-time leaderboard if you aren’t convinced). Last year, Goff dropped to no. 6. This year he ranks 25th, one spot ahead of Eli Manning. Since the Super Bowl, the Rams offense has been below average.

The defense has also unraveled during their three-game losing streak. Pass rusher Clay Matthews broke his jaw, Talib landed on IR with the rib injury (though he could return later this season), and safety John Johnson III suffered a shoulder injury on Sunday. Perhaps the Rams have looked at the Saints, who have accounted for a diminished offense without Drew Brees by leaning on an elite defense, and decided that giving defensive coordinator Wade Phillips another elite cornerback will get them back into Super Bowl form. But Ramsey is just one player, and while he can alleviate these concerns, he can’t quell them.

There is a long history of Super Bowl losers missing the playoffs the following year, and it would be more shocking for the Rams to reach the NFC pinnacle than it would be for them to go 7-9. The Jalen Ramsey trade may not fix their short-term outlook, but it certainly helps them in the medium term, assuming they sign him to a new deal. That’s likely, but not a guarantee.

The Rams did not agree to a deal with Ramsey before trading for him, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, as the Bears did with Khalil Mack. They have Ramsey under contract for next year at $13.7 million, and then could use the franchise tag on him in 2020 and 2021 at reasonable prices, so him leaving is not a massive concern. Still, Ramsey is going to want to be paid. He was the first true freshman cornerback to start for Florida State since Deion Sanders, and much of his career since then has been modeled after Prime Time—including wanting a big payday. He showed up to Jaguars training camp in a Brink’s truck, and he is likely going to want to be the highest-paid cornerback ever. The Rams dishing out two first-round picks for him only gives him more leverage.

Paying Ramsey would add a third major contract the Rams’ budget. They already made Donald the second-highest-paid defender in the league (essentially tied with Mack for no. 1) and signed Goff to a deal with $110 million guaranteed that he currently looks unprepared to provide any ROI on. Gurley’s contract carries ugly cap hits of $17.25 million in 2020 and $13.2 million in 2021, but the Rams can get out of the deal in two years with a small cap hit. Clearing cap space for Ramsey may be a challenge, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s impossible. The dollar amounts on contracts are so fluid and nonbinding that teams can always cut a player or restructure a deal to make room for someone else. The Rams’ real issue is that the easiest way to build around expensive players—cheap players on rookie contracts—just got a lot harder without the picks they’ve traded. That said, the odds of two first-rounders producing a player better than Ramsey are mighty low.

Rams and Jaguars fans may have mixed feelings on this deal, but there’s probably nobody happier than Ramsey. He has been requesting a trade for three weeks or 11 months, depending on how you count. Ramsey has not played since Week 3, and the official reasons he has missed games are illness, the birth of his child, and a back injury. But it looks like Ramsey would be playing if he wanted to be in Jacksonville—even Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone laughed and said “I don’t know” when reporters asked him when Ramsey hurt his back. As Peter King noted in his column on Monday, before Ramsey’s trade request, he had started 54 of 54 games for Jacksonville while averaging 64.8 of 66 snaps per game and had played all 79 snaps against Tennessee in Week 3. It’s as naked of an in-season holdout as it gets.

The Jaguars’ front office insisted it would not deal Ramsey, but he forced their hand—the latest star player to follow the NBA model of players forcing their way elsewhere. In this case, it looks like a win-win-win. The Jaguars got a solid haul, Ramsey goes from Jacksonville to Los Angeles, and the Rams get a superstar smack-talker to help open their new stadium in Los Angeles, which may need some help selling season tickets and private seat licenses. Maybe it will help them on the field, too, but if this team is more compelling than it was yesterday, the move isn’t a gamble at all.