Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has traded NFL Draft picks plenty of times, including moving and acquiring multiple first-round picks. Sitting back and watching the Los Angeles Rams over the last few years and comparing it to Beane shows the contrast between building with first-rounders as opposed to surviving without them.
On Saturday, the Rams traded their next two first-round draft picks along with a third-rounder and young QB Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. While I truly commend them for having the intestinal fortitude to move on from their former first overall draft choice (most teams won’t admit that mistake until it’s too late), their recent track record in the first round is incredibly striking.
Since taking Goff in 2016, they haven’t made a first-round selection of any kind. They traded their 2017 first-rounder as part of the package to get Goff. They traded their 2018 pick for WR Brandin Cooks. They traded their 2019 first-round pick, 31 overall, for a second-and third-round selection. The 2020 and 2021 picks went to obtain cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Now their 2022 and 2023 picks were used to acquire Stafford.
By trading away so many top picks, you’re ensuring that you don’t have young, cheap talent at your disposal moving forward. Sure Ramsey is better than a first-round cornerback, but he is extremely more expensive than two first-round picks on their rookie deals.
In the trade for Stafford, they got back a 33-year-old quarterback with a few good years left in the tank but at a premium price. It’s a win-now move in a sea of win-now moves.
With a shrinking salary cap due to COVID-19, the Rams are pushing all their chips in the basket for the next two years. Kick the salary-cap crunch down the road without having young talent developing into potential stars. Ride the arm of an aging quarterback while you still can and worry about the long-term effects later.
Rams salary cap figures for 2021 ...— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 31, 2021
DT Aaron Donald: $27.892M
CB Jalen Ramsey: $22.5M
QB Matthew Stafford: $20.0M
WR Cooper Kupp: $14.5M
WR Robert Woods: $13.875M
LT Andrew Whitworth: $11.167M
Total for Top 6: $109.934M
Rams will have to keep hitting on middle-rounders.
It’s a bold strategy but completely different than the one employed by Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane.
When the Bills traded up for their quarterback in 2018, they used their first-round pick and two second-round picks to get the job done on Josh Allen. That’s a lot on the line—second round picks are valuable—but the Bills had bullets in the chamber from earlier trades of Ronald Darby, Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor, Cordy Glenn, and a move down in the 2017 first round. Then Beane traded up for LB Tremaine Edmunds using a third-round pick. He used five picks from the first three rounds to obtain two cornerstones of his vision; his franchise QB and stud middle linebacker. Allen was 21, Edmunds just 19.
With those two cemented in their roles (and young studs Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, and Matt Milano from the year before), Beane could use the team’s cap space to build around them, adding receivers to help with Allen’s development and spending liberally on the defensive and offensive lines as well as the secondary. When the team needed an alpha receiver to get over the hump, they traded for a 26-year-old Stefon Diggs instead of drafting a rookie and expecting him to be a game-changer without training camp. Looking ahead, the team was set up to pay their young stars at roughly the same time veteran free-agent signings were to come off the books.
The plan—not just a two-year plan like the one in Los Angeles, but a long-term plan—was to build the franchise for sustained success and multiple bites at the apple. Has COVID-19 and the constrained salary cap altered that plan? You bet. Buffalo is going to have to let good players go this offseason that they would have been able to retain under normal circumstances, but they are still under the cap right now.
The Rams are going to have to shed multiple players just to get under the cap in 2021. They won’t have the depth to weather injuries or declining returns from veterans. They barely squeaked into the playoffs in 2020 at the sixth spot and are betting that Stafford over Goff (and not much else) gives them a few more wins and makes them a championship contender.
Meanwhile, the Bills have their full complement of picks in 2021. They traded a fourth-rounder as part of the deal for Diggs but received a fifth-rounder for Zay Jones. They won’t have their original seventh-round selection, but received a seventh-round pick in exchange for Marshall Newhouse, a veteran they were going to cut two years ago.
Once again, Beane has bullets in the chamber to restock the shelves with talent. The Rams have one bullet in the arm of Matthew Stafford. It doesn’t mean the Bills will succeed and the Rams will fail, but it means the Rams have to be more accurate with their picks and the Bills have some room for error.