For more than five long, uninterrupted minutes in August, Les Snead, the Los Angeles Rams’ general manager, sat on a perch near the N.F.L. team’s outdoor weight room and explained his philosophy on building a roster.
He had just watched one of the first training camp practices that included Matthew Stafford, the Rams’ new quarterback, whom Snead had traded for earlier in the off-season, and laughed about his thought process.
“It’s a good thing this is a newspaper deal,” Snead said in an interview, “because you can’t explain all of this quickly on television.”
The Rams’ draft methodology needs some untangling to understand from the outside, especially after the Rams this week traded 2022 second- and third-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Von Miller, one of the best outside linebackers in the league. The team’s trades have left the Rams without any first-round selections until 2024 and only four picks in the next draft, the earliest of which is in the third round.
“You have to be aware of what window you’re in,” Snead said.
Even before Miller’s arrival, the Rams (7-1) were viewed as a Super Bowl favorite, with a defensive unit that leads the league in sacks (25). The trade made clear that Los Angeles, which will host the Super Bowl in its home stadium this season, is in “win-now” mode.
But the team’s willingness to give up draft capital limits its ability to extend that window in the cheapest way possible — by developing players into starters while they are on rookie contracts.
Since trading up 14 spots to select quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, Snead and the Rams’ front office have frequently doled out draft picks to other teams to poach their best assets. They reached the Super Bowl in the 2018 season with Goff, then tried to build around him through trades, most notably acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2019 from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for picks, including two in the first-round that year.
When it became clear Goff would not lead Los Angeles back to the championship game, Snead netted Stafford by packaging Goff’s contract with picks, including two in the first round.
Stafford and Ramsey were top-five selections in their drafts, and the Rams have not been willing to lose enough to be in contention to draft that high. Snead said it has been more valuable to trade picks that would probably have landed in the mid-20s to acquire proven players.
“The neat thing about doing it this way is that you’re not guessing,” Snead said. “The player has lived up to his draft status.”
There is no mystery about how Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011 and an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, will be expected to perform. The Super Bowl most valuable player in the 2015 season, he has 110½ sacks in his career and four and a half this season. His presence on a defense with Ramsey and tackle Aaron Donald will further complicate offensive coordinators’ game scripts and should alleviate double teams of Donald.
The Rams last week traded a starting linebacker, Kenny Young, to the Broncos to free space under the salary cap. Rams Coach Sean McVay told reporters last month that he initially did not think the team would make a splashy move before the trade deadline on Tuesday, but he and Snead pounced on the possibility of trading for Miller.
“I love the fearlessness, I love the aggressiveness, and that philosophy has been kind of evolving and ongoing,” McVay told reporters on Monday of his relationship with Snead.
“We’re not afraid of whatever those consequences are because we’re going to attack the opportunities to be successful,” he added. “That’s the mind-set I think we have as an organization, as a team and in our building.”
Snead and McVay balked at the idea that the team’s aggressive trade approach meant the organization did not see value in the draft.
“We still believe in it, and we feel like you can use it in a very particular way depending on the options we have,” Snead said.
The Rams have been able to find contributors in later rounds, which they attribute to their scouts finding underrated players and their position coaches developing them.
The team’s top receiver, Cooper Kupp, a third-round selection in 2018, leads the league in catches (63), yards (924) and touchdowns (10). Receiver Van Jefferson and running back Cam Akers, who tore his Achilles’ tendon before training camp, were second-round picks in 2020.
“There is a formula to a lot of the things that we’re doing behind the scenes,” McVay said. “There’s a vision in place. And we feel like it fits for us, and it might not be for everybody.”