Last year, Rams general manager Les Snead tried to provide a different way of framing the coming off-season sell off. Not a rebuild, so much as a “remodel”. What seemed like a good spin proved to be more meaningful, as a youth movement propelled the Rams to the postseason after just a one-year absence.
On Friday, as he addressed media on Zoom for the first time since the Rams’ wild-card loss to the Detroit, Snead offered up a metaphor in the form of a bronze sculpture that lives in Snead’s office, of Sisyphus pushing his punitive boulder up the hill.
“The bittersweet part is, when the season ends, you get that boulder as high up the mountain as you can, then it just rolls back down,” Snead said. “Holy cow, in Detroit the other night, it took a lot of work to get that boulder to at Detroit, but when the clock hit zero, that thing went all the way back to the bottom. We haven’t even started pushing it up again. We’re trying to just get over that ball rolling over us as it went back to the bottom.”
Snead finds the Rams in a very different place than last January, or even other recent off-seasons.
The Super Bowl core of Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp has been reinforced by Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua, Steve Avila and Kobie Turner. Upwards of $40 million in cap space is available to play with. So is a first-round pick, the first since Snead traded up to take Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016.
Snead and the front office’s process will begin after the Super Bowl, watching cut-ups of the season and asking the existential questions: Who are we? Where are we at?
Then come the more practical questions as the NFL’s calendar spins forward.
What to do about your own free agents?
Contributors on both sides of the ball are hitting free agency. Snead tipped his hand on one of them on Friday, stating a desire to bring back starting right guard Kevin Dotson. The Rams traded for the former Steeler after the preseason, and he proved to be one of the better right guards in the NFL after taking over the starting job in Week 4.
“[Continuity] is definitely the vision,” Snead said of the offensive line. “I would bet with you that he’ll definitely have a marketplace, for sure. People are going to want him to come play football for them. We’re one of those teams.”
And what else can the Rams do with their newfound cap space?
Snead preached a patient approach, saying the Rams won’t rush to spend all their money on the first day of free agency. They will try to be precise, Snead said, asking, “What skill gives us an edge that this team might not have?”
And there could be an effort to be preemptive about future free agents, like linebacker and leading tackler Ernest Jones IV as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
“Definitely the leader of the defense,” Snead said. “In the past, obviously we’ve been invested in some other positions. But I think as we evolve and as teams evolve, there’s times where you might be less invested at a certain position than you were in the past and one of your better players is an inside linebacker. So he’s definitely someone we’ll discuss and definitely someone we’d like to have around.”
And what about that first-round pick? Will the Rams select at No. 19, or trade down, as they did in 2019? Snead kept open all possibilities, including a trade up.
That might be the most valuable asset the Rams have: Options. The offense suddenly has two more playmakers on rookie contracts. The defense admittedly exceeded even Snead’s expectations this year. So he can be more selective this off-season, and take the path that presents itself instead of trying to force any issue.
The remodel may be ahead of schedule. But the boulder still needs to restart its journey up the hill.