TAMPA, APR 11, 2018 – I couldn’t believe it when I heard it…
Ok… I didn’t actually HEAR it, but it was inferred… and was as plain to see as a gentleman outside any stadium with a “NEED TICKETS” sign, as we all know he is actually your source for buying game seats. If it was any plainer, he’d be taken downtown in a Paddy Wagon…
I guess I’m showing my age… if you don’t know what a Paddy Wagon is, look it up… Google is your friend…
Back to point. Watching most of the sports channels two weeks ago when the biggest story was the Rams’ announcement of their signing free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, you could almost hear the clanking of the printing presses and smell the ink hit the cardboard as Los Angeles tasked the NFL to start production for their Super Bowl LIII tickets for Atlanta in 2019.
I’m sure the Eagles, Saints, Vikings or any number of competitive NFC teams will have a say in that decision, especially since the Rams’ trip to the playoffs last year came at the heels of a 4-12 season in 2016, avoiding the cellar of the NFC West only because the 49ers were kind enough to have a much more abysmal record at 2-12. The Rams wouldn’t even be fortunate enough to swing a Top-Five draft pick, trading it to the Tennessee Titans the year prior to move up and acquire Jared Goff.
Ok… the Rams were shopping for their franchise quarterback, and were banking on the Cal Berkley quarterback to bring their franchise back to prominence. However, to date the second pick (and quarterback) of that draft, Carson Wentz of the Eagles, has fared much better in guiding his team towards a Super Bowl run, teeing up Philly for an ultimate win this past February even though Nick Foles came in to finish the job.
The Rams did Goff and their offense a favor the previous year, tabbing Georgia running back Todd Gurley with the 10th pick in 2015’s draft. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards his rookie season and was voted the Associated Press’ Offensive Rookie of the Year. They also grabbed further weapons for Goff via both the draft and trade, acquiring Cooper Kupp in the third round of the 2017, while swapping E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second round pick to the Buffalo Bills for oft-injured but dynamic when healthy wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Watkins has since moved on in free agency this year, but the mold had been cast – the Rams were going ‘All In’ with players, staff (Head Coach Sean McVay and Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips), and attitude. They even updated… actually, ‘threw back’ to their original color-scheme of white on blue vice the yellow (and later gold) on blue which had been prevalent since the ‘80’s through their tenure in St Louis. Even their owner Stan Kroenke has the Rams moving into a state-of-the-art multi-billion dollar stadium set to open in 2020.
Yes, the Rams improved to 11-5 in 2017, good for first-place in the NFC West and a first round home playoff game, losing to reigning NFC Champion Falcons 26-13. They also had eight Pro-Bowlers on their squad, with Defensive Player of the Year Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald and grey-beard Offensive Tackle Andrew Whitworth joining Goff, Gurley and four special teamers.
So when the Suh signing was announced, coupled with the Rams’ previous recent trades for the incredibly talented (yet troubling) cornerback pair of Marcus Peters from the Chiefs and Aqib Talib from the Broncos, restructured wide receiver Tavon Austin’s contract for another year with the team, and then traded for Patriots’ speedy wide out Brandon Cooks, most of Southern Cal broke out in Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” mantra while making plans for their Super Bowl Winner’s parade.
Aaron Rodgers said it best in 2014, and Rams’ fans should take heed – “R-E-L-A-X”… I can guarantee you that ‘Winning Free Agency’ (coupled with their recent trades) does no way imply success for this upcoming year. April is NOT a defining month in the football calendar. If you don’t believe me, get a hold of the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones or the Redskins’ Dan Snyder, or a really good Medium to conjure up a conversation with the recently departed Wayne Huizenga from the Dolphins and inquire if any of their spending sprees for speedsters, pluggers, maulers or any number of high-priced vets have worked out in the Salary Cap Era.
Jones and Snyder in this millennium have opened up their vast coffers to attract high-priced talent to their NFC East teams without hoisting a Lombardi, and even if their teams were able to make it to the post season, they weren’t able to go very far. Ask Dez Bryant what a ‘catch’ is if you doubt me, or ask how welcome Albert Haynesworth was in the Skins’ locker room after his $100+million contract was coupled with his less than stellar work ethic (Read – LAZY). Yes, Bryant wasn’t a free-agent signee, but many of his teammates who were supposed to move the Cowboys to an NFC Championship didn’t live up to their contracts (e.g. Greg Hardy).
Need more examples? Although Huizenga had moved on from his ownership of the Dolphins’, many thought his second-coming was in existence when then man he turned ownership over to – Steve Ross – signed a certain high-priced Defensive Tackle (Ndamukong Suh ring a bell?) to lead the team to Championships… or at least to winning their division from their long-time nemesis in New England. Suh’s three-year tenure with Miami helped in giving them exactly ONE playoff appearance (2016’s ‘One and Done’ against the Steelers), not much bang for the buck as he earned $85.5M (guaranteed money with his signing bonus). The Rams’ one-year foray into the Suh market is cheap in comparison ($14M guaranteed), but it doesn’t GUARANTEE them nothing but a requirement to play a 16-game schedule in 2018.
On paper, the Rams do appear to be greatly improved from an eleven-win division champion, but remember teams don’t play on paper… they play on grass or turf, and in the Rams’ case, not even in their fabulous new digs for another two years. So R-E-L-A-X and let this season actually play out, but if you’re making your hotel arrangements for Atlanta, make sure you’re able to cancel your reservations without them charging your card if your grandiose plans don’t come to fruition.
Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor