The Rams don’t hate draft picks, they’re just more creative than every other team

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Every time the Rams make a blockbuster trade for a big-name player (see: Jalen Ramsey, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Matthew Stafford, Von Miller), fans and analysts have the same reaction.

“The Rams don’t value draft picks.”

“Les Snead is letting his scouts take draft weekend off.”

“Sean McVay is never going to make a first-round pick.”

OK, so that last one might be a little bit true, but it’s inaccurate to say the Rams don’t value draft picks or don’t care about the draft. They do see picks as assets. They carry a lot of value to the Rams, in fact. It’s just at Snead and the front office view them differently than just about every other team.

Rather than taking a chance on a rookie who likely won’t contribute much in his first year, the Rams prefer to trade picks for proven players. And looking back, you can’t really say that a single one of their headline-making trades hasn’t worked out.

Sammy Watkins was the closest thing to a failed trade that the Rams have made since 2017, but even he was productive by scoring eight touchdowns in 15 games in Los Angeles. Peters, Talib and Cooks were all a huge part of the 2018 team that made it to the Super Bowl, as was Dante Fowler Jr. – their midseason acquisition that year.

In 2019, they traded a fifth-rounder for Austin Corbett, who has been a starter for the last two years. Ramsey has been an absolute superstar since being acquired two years ago and Stafford is one of the favorites to win MVP in his first season with the Rams. It remains to be seen how the Miller trade will work out, but there’s no doubt he makes their defense better right away.

Snead gets why people find it fun to joke about the Rams’ usage of picks – he even got a mug from his kids with a well-known meme on Rams Twitter expressing his feelings about draft picks – but he knows it’s false to say Los Angeles doesn’t value them. The Rams just don’t hold onto them with a vice grip like most other teams do.

“I get the shallow narrative and it’s fun and entertaining. We like to think we use our picks innovatively, maybe creatively and because we value draft picks, it’s actually valuable to the Denver Broncos,” Snead said. “There’s a lot of nuance in this, but to say we don’t draft picks would probably – I get why it would be said, but as we’ve discussed many times, you look at our offensive line, most of those players were drafted by us. Some not as early as we consider what valuable draft picks are, but we do believe in utilizing every round of the draft. We do believe in our symbiotic relationship with our coaching staff in knowing what we’re looking for. We believe in their ability to develop those players and we believe in their courage to play them when it’s time to play them versus going out and signing veterans to fill roles as contributors.”

The other element that a lot of fans don’t take into consideration when they spew hot takes about the Rams devaluing draft picks is the compensatory formula. The Rams play this game better than almost anyone, developing talented players and letting them leave in free agency in order to collect compensatory draft picks the following year.

They did it with John Johnson, Cory Littleton, Lamarcus Joyner, Rodger Saffold, Fowler and others. They know exactly what they’re doing when they let free agents walk because it allows them to recoup picks that they might’ve traded away for a veteran.

For instance, the Rams gave up a second- and third-round pick for Miller, but they’re expected to get back at least a fourth-rounder alone for Johnson leaving in free agency, as well as three others for the losses of Troy Hill, Samson Ebukam and Gerald Everett.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

And if Miller leaves in free agency next offseason, the Rams can get up to a fifth-rounder for him in the 2023 draft.

“What’s not on the draft sheet right now is we’re going to get – if you go to the NFL website, we have Brad Holmes’ compensatory third-round pick,” Snead added. “We are projected to get four more compensatory picks based on the players that signed elsewhere last year, so should have around eight total picks. So we knew that, and there were even talks in this trade where whether we give up a pick this year’s draft or the ’23 draft because we don’t necessarily know how many comps we’re getting then – the ’23 draft – we felt like it’d be better to give up more this year because we knew we were going to collect Brad’s plus four more.”

If the Rams didn’t value draft picks, why would they let their best players leave in free agency? Part of it is to save cap space, but it’s also to gather compensatory picks that can then be used on rookies – or get this: traded to teams for proven veterans.

It’s almost a never-ending cycle.

Draft players, let them leave in free agency, recoup compensatory picks, repeat.

Or in the instance of a trade for a veteran who doesn’t stay long-term, the Rams give up picks and then expect to get back a compensatory selection for him leaving in free agency – like Fowler, who netted the Rams a third-rounder in the 2021 draft after he signed with the Falcons one year prior.

Knowing what a crapshoot the NFL draft is, the Rams would rather give up an unproven rookie for a veteran who has established himself in this league. They’ve hit on some picks in recent years – like Cam Akers, Van Jefferson, Darrell Henderson Jr. and Jordan Fuller, but the Rams have also whiffed on several players, too. Like this year, for instance. Only Ernest Jones and Robert Rochell have made any sort of contribution. From last year’s class, Terrell Burgess and Brycen Hopkins have done almost nothing.

As previously mentioned, the players that the Rams acquired with picks all helped in meaningful ways: Cooks, Peters, Talib, Fowler, Ramsey, Corbett, Stafford, Michel. Whether the Rams “won” those trades, so to speak, is something that fans can debate, but those in Thousand Oaks know what they’re doing when they give up picks for players.

McVay knows it’s not for everyone, but for the Rams, it works.

“You talk about ‘we don’t value picks.’ That’s not true at all. We do value picks, but there is a formula to a lot of the things that we’re doing behind the scenes,” McVay said this week. “That there’s a vision in place. We feel like it fits for us and it might not be for everybody, but I think it’s been a real credit to those guys to have the agility and the flexibility to figure out creative avenues of being able to onboard a player of Von Miller’s caliber and saying, ‘Okay, we’ll give you these picks. You take a certain portion of the salary.’ There’s a lot of nuances to it, most of which are way above my head, but hey, let’s go.”

There could be a future cost to making these blockbuster deals and then giving players big-money contracts. It’s cheaper to have players on rookie contracts than lucrative long-term deals.

But as long as the salary cap keeps going up and the Rams keep finding cheap talent in the middle rounds of the draft, they can make this work. And if it nets them a Super Bowl ring, why not keep doing what’s been working?

Maybe someday other teams will take this approach. But for now, the Rams are fine with being the only ones using this strategy to build a team – a team that’s made the playoffs in three of the last four years and is currently 7-1.

List

Every trade the Rams have made since hiring Sean McVay in 2017