Good Trade: Now Make it Count
by Rick Venturi
The Rams’ deal with the Redskins has all the makings of a springboard for rebuilding, which new boss Jeff Fisher and Co. so desperately need. By attaining two No. 1 one picks as well as a high second, you have ensured, barring more moves, nine investment picks (five No. 1s and four No. 2s) in a three-year period. The fact that the established Fisher is considered the long-term solution as head coach, his window of opportunity will be longer than the approximate 32-game opportunity that newbies are given. With that in mind, this deal gives the team a chance to build a successful and lasting program.
Because the Rams should now think long-term and not short-term fixes, the brain trust should focus on getting “game-changing” players regardless of position. The difference in good and bad teams is the amount of play-makers at the top of the roster. I truly believe the middle and bottom of rosters are mostly the same guys - solid core guys who fill roles, do a solid job, and don’t lose the game. The difference in is the eight to 10 players at the top of the feeding chain who actually change the game.
In St. Louis, one only has to look back to those terrific teams of 1999 through 2001, and count the top guys that changed the landscape and took what had been a bottom-tier team, and elevated it to championship caliber. Though not to slight the overall roster, the team found the mountain top based on the excellence of Marshall, Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Orlando Pace, and D’Marco Farr. Take any one of the offensive playmakers off that team, and you drop exponentially.
I view the nine picks as poker chips: five blue chips, and four red chips. They only have value if the Rams use them to their fullest whether it is the selection of playmakers or packaging for better position. Along with this, the Rams must use every available tool to get better, middle-round picks, low picks and free agents. With the addition of Cortland Finnegan, the Rams have added a player who matters to the top of its roster. Though the contract is inflated, Finnegan can play the game and makes you better. I hope they keep going as far as the salary cap will allow, because this team is in need of help everywhere. When Fisher says he “is starting over,” I get it! If you simply get better incrementally position by position, you take the “need” effect on the draft.
The reason this is so important is that most of the mistakes made in early rounds occur when a team allows “needs” to drive their selections. The Rams need “impact” players at the top of the roster, where they are painfully lacking. If they stay at No. 6, they can’t hesitate to take a great player, regardless of position. If it’s Trent Richardson, the running back from Alabama, so be it. What would be a big mistake is to compromise greatness to fill a need. Remember, it will take a core of great players to turn this around, not a bunch of pedestrian “Wal-Mart” guys.
The biggest disappointment (of early free agency) has been the inability to upgrade a woeful receiver corps. You have a $78 million talent at quarterback, and you surround him with a busload of “Dollar General” perimeter weapons. It’s like carrying a .357 Magnum without any shells. The Rams have gone through two offensive coordinators in three years, and have managed to hover around a meager 12 points a game. It’s been painful to watch, and until this is addressed, you will continue to struggle in River City.
There may have to be a creative approach here, by which would be to find a way to move back up in the draft, dealing with Minnesota, Cleveland, or Tampa, in order to ensure the selection of elite receiver Justin Blackman. Blackmon validated his value by blowing out the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day recently. This guy would be worth “chips” because he would give Bradford a big-time weapon, and because he has the type of character and work ethic that justifies the investment. Remember my old adage: “When you invest and pay big for a guy, he must be a guy who puts the ball in the end zone or he knocks the quarterback down.” Thus the contracts to Mario Williams and Vincent Jackson. Someday, the Rams will actually come to grips with the “playmaking” idea of constructing a team.
If you go the other route and trade back, you better be right. To walk away from a great player, you have to be convinced the player you will get will be a playmaker. My experience with this hasn’t been good. This trade was not a hard one to make. They had a coach in Mike Shanahan who desperately needed a movement quarterback, and an owner who will pay whatever price it takes. They could and did make an “offer you couldn’t refuse.” Now it’s up to Fisher and Les Snead to play the chips and hit the jackpot. The hard part now begins.