The Secrets In St. Louis
With four weeks until the draft, not much is known about how things will unfold in the first round. The Rams, who own picks No. 2 and No. 13, might hold the key to unlocking the drama. What will GM Les Snead and company do on May 8?
Peter King is tending to personal matters after the death of his older brother Kenny in England. Peter and his family greatly appreciate the outpouring of support they have received. Greg Bedard is pinch-hitting for Peter on Monday Morning Quarterback duties this week.
* * *
Thursday will mark the four-week mark from the draft, which is being hailed in league circles as one of the deepest in years. If there’s any team that holds the keys to the major drama that could unfold in the first round, it’s the St. Louis Rams. With the second and 13th overall pick, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead know the options are limitless, including numerous trade scenarios.
Yes, Snead and the Rams already have opened for business on the trade market.
“We have had some conversations with multiple teams,” Snead said on Sunday night. “They’re more flirtatious calls than anything. We have numbers 2 and 13, but Houston has number one. Nobody can really seriously chat with us until they are happy with at least two players. I think what might happen as we get closer to the draft, maybe it comes to fruition what Houston is going to do, maybe it doesn’t, you have more serious talks probably the week of the draft going, ‘Hey, if our player is there at 2, this is what we’re going to offer.’ I think it will get more serious.”
Snead certainly knows how this works. In his first draft in 2012, the Rams traded the second overall pick to Washington in the Robert Griffin III trade. St. Louis, which was coming off a 2-14 season, received first-round picks in ’12, ’13 and ’14 and a second-round pick in ’12 in exchange for the second selection.
Things will likely be different this time around because of the quality of the draft, the apparent lack of surefire quarterbacks and where the Rams are in Year 3 of the Fisher-Snead regime.
In ’12, Andrew Luck was the no-doubt first overall pick. Only two other quarterbacks, Griffin and Ryan Tannehill (eighth to Miami), went in the top 20. Will any of the quarterbacks in this year’s class (Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles) be viewed as such must-haves that a team will move up swiftly to take one? Debatable.
Snead thinks that in this particular draft, you don’t need to be a thrower of the ball to get people interested, not with top positional talents like pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, receiver Sammy Watkins and tackles Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews available.
“I actually think there’s more than one player that people would want to move up for. I just don’t know what they’d want to give to move up,” Snead said. “At the top maybe there’s four or five players who were one step or one notch ahead of the very good, and sometimes a team might say we need to get that guy. You don’t know the value of what people would be willing to give. The fact that there could be multiple teams eyeing one of those guys could drive up the price a little bit.”
The Rams themselves have an interesting dilemma. After two consecutive 7-9 seasons, including last season when Bradford missed the final nine games (ACL), the Rams are knocking on the playoff door. A trade down from either draft spot might keep the team stocked in the draft for years to come, but how will that play if the Rams don’t post a winning season in Year 3 of Fisher and Snead?
“I think the way to get it right is you make the right decision for the organization, and I like to say you make the best decision long term because the short term is by definition short—it won’t last as long,” Snead said. “But because this draft is really good, it’s a good chance for us to take some shots with picks in this draft to improve the team. Not only tomorrow and opening day, but also four and five years down the road.”
The Rams have rebuilt their roster, which won 15 games in the five seasons before Fisher and Snead arrived, to the point where no player save Watkins might play right away at his targeted position. St. Louis has a star end in Robert Quinn, and a very good one in Chris Long, which would put Clowney or Mack in a reserve role, at least initially. The Rams have Jake Long, Joe Barksdale and Rodger Safford as capable offensive tackles, meaning Robinson or Matthews would likely play elsewhere along the line as rookies.
Snead doesn’t mind. He points to when the Ravens took future Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden fourth overall and played him at left guard for a year before Tony Jones was traded.
“They made a long-term decision and they made it work short term,” Snead said of those Ravens. “At the end of the day, that may have been something that helped Jonathan because you get to go in and get your feet at maybe a less vulnerable position. And in going from tackle to guard, you have to think quicker sometimes so that can make moving to tackle a smoother transition.
“I’ve said this and sometimes people have taken it out of context and they think we have arrived. What I’ve said is we’re pretty much returning everybody at each position who started for us last year. And the only [potential opening] is one of the guard positions. That gives us a chance to say we don’t have to pick someone just to start. So now we can weigh our options moving back [or] staying, taking really, really good football players. A lot of these guys can help anybody, and the more we have the better.”
With the draft a little more than four weeks away, teams will soon begin their final deliberations. Snead said the scouting and the coaching staffs will meet in three of the next four weeks to “fine tune” the draft board. Then the trade talks will become more serious. With the cards they’re holding at the top of the draft, the Rams figure to be very popular. But when the time comes, they’re going to have to make a difficult decision about the present and future in this crucial draft.
“I don’t think I ever look at it as, ‘This is it,’” Snead said. “When we first got here there was a goal to build, develop and coach the football team to win consistently for the long term, but we wanted to do it as rapidly as possible. So as we sit here, as you measure things, we’ve probably moved the needle. Before we got here they had 15 wins in five years, and we’ve had 14 in two. But, trust me, 14 wins in two years—7-9, third and fourth in the division—is not the goal. Never has been and won’t be. We want to start winning back-to-back or multiple games in a row more consistently. There’s no question this draft, where we are, can help us do that. This is a nice draft to have those picks.”