Why the Kansas City Chiefs’ win against the L.A. Rams should be a cautionary tale

Nick Wagner/nwagner@kcstar.com

Some 284 days ago, after a parade down Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, Rams general manager Les Snead stood on a temporary stage with his players draped behind him in Super Bowl hats. Snead would keep the ensuing speech brief, but he allotted enough time to take a shot at those who’d questioned his players-over-draft picks method of securing this celebration.

“Eff them picks,” he said. “We’ll use them to go win more Super Bowls.”

Well, 284 days in the NFL is quite a long time. Long enough to make you feel as though you’ve aged a generation, if you let it.

For instance.

The Chiefs beat the Rams 26-10 on Sunday, a game that never felt that close and a result that is more expected than notable for one reason:

The Rams are nothing resembling the team that shared that stage in February, and that’s by their own design. This was, in fact, a game that pitted the largest point spread in the NFL this season.

Turns out, that whole worry-about-the-future later method — ahem, “Eff them picks” — has its consequences. The draft picks matter. The future matters.

This is not a column about the L.A. Rams.

It’s about the team standing on the opposite sideline Sunday. The team that is located 1,600 miles from Los Angeles but separates itself even further in roster-building strategy.

The Chiefs’ strategy just got reinforced with heavy-duty tape.

This is a topic I have addressed in the past, but never has the evidence been so vivid and so up-close, literally sharing a field with the Chiefs. In flashing neon lights, the Rams supplied a warning of what the future can become if you don’t prioritize it.

The Rams are a terrible football team, and terrible in a way that not even a clean bill of health for quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp would solve. They are injury-decimated and 3-8 overall, but still just 3-6 in games in which Stafford starts, and 3-6 in games in which Kupp starts. Those injuries did not derail a season destined to end where it ended last year. The Rams were bad with them and even worse without them — third-stringer Bryce Perkins played Sunday in what turned into something resembling the late minutes of a preseason game.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, are well on their way to a seventh straight AFC West Division championship and are leading the race to make the conference title game come through GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium for the fifth straight season — because their quarterback is Patrick Mahomes, because their head coach is Andy Reid and because they are the antithesis of the Rams’ operation. In that order. But don’t ignore the last item.

The Chiefs did not decimate their roster to win Super Bowl LIV, nor decimate their future in order to keep the group together to reach another Super Bowl the following year.

Over the course of three hours Sunday, we were treated to the resulting theories from two contrasting hypotheses. As the Rams opted for the present over the future — and saw the initial payoff before later paying for it — the Chiefs made a different decision altogether.

One or the other? How about both? The present and the future.

“Sustained success is the hardest thing to do in the National Football League,” said right tackle Andrew Wylie, in his fifth season with the Chiefs. “It is the hardest thing to accomplish.”

Yet here Kansas City sits, year after year.

That’s by design, and the design isn’t hoping and praying it all falls into place when you get there. It’s carefully putting every piece of the puzzle into place years before the assignment is due.

As the Rams failed to total even 200 yards of offense Sunday, the Chiefs improved to 9-2, still holding a one-game lead in the AFC’s race for the No. 1 seed (and actually two games better than they were at this spot last year).

You know, that’s back before they really went full-bore with this blueprint. Before they traded one of the game’s best wide receivers for draft picks with an eye toward the future.

The upshot isn’t accident but rather a reward, with the potential for more on the way.

The Chiefs have 11 draft picks in next spring’s draft; L.A. has six, and just two in the initial five rounds. In numbers that will change, the Chiefs have the 12th most salary cap room of any team next season; the Rams are already toppling over the projected 2023 cap number.

And the Chiefs just won this year’s game by more than two touchdowns.

The Rams have a slightly above-average defense; they performed as one of the league’s worst offenses even when Stafford was healthy; their offense line is as bad as any in football. The pipe has burst, and they have only enough resources to buy a Band-Aid to plug the hole.

They are not the anomaly, and that’s the most important reminder in its application to the Chiefs. The Chiefs will be faced with similar decisions in the future, same as they were last offseason. It can be enticing to push the chips to the center of the table when you feel your hand is good enough to win the pot. To ship the draft picks for players.

Restraint will keep the Chiefs from turning into the mess we saw from the Rams on Sunday. Mahomes helps, of course. Reid, too. They are A and B in this equation.

But Step C is the cautionary tale Sunday.

Maybe, instead, collect them picks.