INGLEWOOD, Calif. — All in often leaves teams all out.
There have been countless cases in every team sport when teams go big-game hunting, land expensive star players and they’re let down when those stars don’t deliver.
The Rams went all-in for 2021. They built a dream team, throwing caution to conventional wind and wisdom that says teams are best constructed one draft pick at a time.
The Rams put together a group that they believed would take them to the Promised Land: Super Bowl LVI in their home, SoFi Stadium.
And Sunday night’s NFC Championship game against a 49ers team that had already beaten them twice this season and had won the previous six meetings, was to be the Rams’ second-to-last hurdle en route to that goal.
All-in looked like it had been working quite well for the Rams entering the conference title game against their NFC West rivals as the acquired stars they brought in to make a difference, almost to a man, were making a difference.
So what if the Rams haven’t had a first-round draft pick since 2016 and don’t have one until 2024? If this journey were to end with the Rams hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in two Sundays, they’ll look like geniuses.
If you weren’t aware that George Steinbrenner has been gone for more than 11 years and you looked at the Rams’ aggressive win-now mantra, you could be convinced that the Boss was pulling the strings. Rams general manager Les Snead definitely has a little bit of Steinbrenner in him.
The Rams jettisoned Jared Goff, the quarterback who’d helped them get to the Super Bowl four years ago and acquired Matthew Stafford in his place. Goff got exiled to Detroit, where Stafford had toileted for the previous 12 years.
The trade for Stafford cost the Rams two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Goff, whom Snead had traded up to draft in 2016.
Other key acquisitions have included adding Von Miller, one of the best pass rushers of the past decade, to an already fearsome front headlined by Aaron Donald, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was acquired in a trade with Jacksonville that cost the Rams two first-round picks.
The latest star to join the band was Odell Beckham Jr., who was added to a receiving corps that already had Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods (who’s injured) and Van Jefferson. Running back Sony Michel, plucked from the Patriots, has bolstered the backfield.
The Rams have plenty of first-round draft picks on their roster, they just weren’t their own first-rounders.
“The neat thing about doing it this way is that you’re not guessing, the player [you’re acquiring] has lived up to his draft status,” Snead said earlier this season in an interview with the New York Times.
Indeed, most of these marquee acquisitions have lived up to their billing.
Stafford completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,886 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Michel rushed for 845 yards and four touchdowns. Beckham entered Sunday second on the team in receptions (37) since he was acquired and has caught a touchdown in six of 10 games he played. Ramsey had four interceptions in the regular season. Miller had five sacks, 12 tackles for losses and eight quarterback hits in the eight regular-season games he played.
After the Rams sent a second- and a third-round pick to Denver to get Miller in November, coach Sean McVay praised Snead’s “agility” to make those kinds of acquisitions on the fly.
“I love the fearlessness, I love the aggressiveness, and that approach and philosophy has kind of been ongoing and evolving,” McVay said at the time. “We’re not afraid of whatever those consequences are, because we’re going to attack the opportunity to be successful.”
McVay scoffed at the notion that the Rams won’t place a high value on draft picks.
“That’s not true at all,” he said. “We do value picks, but there is a formula to a lot of the things that we’re doing behind the scenes. There’s a vision in place, and we feel like it fits for us. It might not be for everybody.”
The results are difficult to argue. The Rams are a combined 55-26 over the past five seasons.
“We only live once, so don’t live your life scared,” Snead told reporters in 2019. “You’re not playing for the tie. You’re trying to go win.”