This is part two of a two-part series detailing the roster construction of the teams participating in Super Bowl LVI.
After spending weeks throughout the regular season as the perceived second-best team in their own division, the Los Angeles Rams are back in the Super Bowl. For viewers of the National Football League, that should be a familiar sight – of course, Sean McVay led this same Rams team to the same stage just four years ago, when he and his Rams were stymied by the Tom Brady-led Patriots in McVay’s sophomore season as head coach.
Well, maybe it’s not the same team. In terms of the jerseys, helmets, and the name of the team. Fine. It’s the same. But once that’s out of the way, the similarities don’t go much further than the superficial ones that simply make up the organization’s marketing campaign.
We discussed this in moderation in our preview of Los Angeles’ divisional round matchup against the Buccaneers; the Rams’ current roster compared to the one that fell just short of the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIII are hardly comparable. Some of the big, recognizable names still remain. For example, Aaron Donald is plugging up the middle of the defensive line and Cooper Kupp, who just posted one of the greatest single seasons for a wide receiver in league history, was (somewhere) on the Rams sideline in the Super Bowl four years ago (I say ‘somewhere’ because if you didn’t know he was on the roster that year, you aren’t alone – 2018 was Kupp’s rookie year and he spent the entire back half on the injured reserve). While he won’t be involved in this year’s Super Bowl, Robert Woods has survived the apparent exodus, along with Rob Havenstein and Andrew Whitworth on the offensive line.
If you’re looking for more important players to add to the list, you can stop. That’s it. Seriously. The starting quarterback is in Detroit. Both heads of their vaunted running back tandem are out of the league completely. Of the thirteen defensive players that played a snap for the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, twelve of them are no longer with the team. The one exception is the man that’s won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award three times.
So how did the Rams do it? How did they make a Super Bowl, completely destroy and rebuild the roster, and get back to the Super Bowl in the same amount of time it takes a college student to get a bachelor’s degree? There’s a number of different answers, but the biggest one may be their success in tapping into a relatively unused well when it comes to acquiring game-changing talent – the trade block.
Contrary to how the Bengals managed their blitz-quick rebuild, the Rams acquired some of their best talent not through the draft but by swinging deals. And before you come blast me on Twitter, I know – Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald, both world-beating players in 2021, were homegrown players acquired with draft picks. But Kupp and Donald are the exceptions, not the status quos, and the biggest and most obvious counter is the massive deal that the Rams swung at the trade deadline this season.
Los Angeles went out and acquired a truly elite talent at the trade deadline, a procedural date in the football calendar that teams use to fill out their depth charts and offload deadwood but rarely to bring in talent that can help lead a team through the postseason. But for this Rams defense, Von Miller has been exactly that. Acquired from the Broncos on November 2, Miller turned what had previously been a really good pass rush into a vaunted one – one that includes him, Donald, and Leonard Floyd.
Elsewhere on the defense, Jalen Ramsey was already one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL when he was traded to the Rams from the Jaguars. In return, Jacksonville received draft picks that turned into K’Lavon Chaisson and Travis Etienne. At this stage, it would be impossible to argue that the Rams haven’t come away as the winners of the deal.
On offense, the power of the trade block is evident as well. Matthew Stafford, the quarterback who was previously memed and clowned for coming up short in big games when he was at Detroit, has worked wonders in this more skilled Rams offense. Los Angeles’ two leading rushers – Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson – acquired via trade from the Patriots and Buccaneers, respectively. More than most other teams, the Rams have leaned on trade negotiation to build a strong core.
But that’s not the only place they’ve gone hunting for talent. The Rams roster is unique in the sense that they’ve brought in difference makers in a number of different ways. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was a waiver signing after he was let go by the Browns. Floyd, who has been a silent gem of this Rams defense, was a free agency signing. Kupp and Donald were draft picks, along with the likes of Taylor Rapp and Tyler Higbee.
The bottom line is this is a deep roster that’s been masterfully constructed using a number of different negotiation tactics. While other teams make clear the ways in which they prefer to build a team, the Rams have excelled in so many different disciplines that they can be players in all sorts of player markets. They’ve excelled so much, in fact, that they’re sixty minutes away from winning a Super Bowl just four years removed from bringing a roster almost completely unrecognizable to the current one to the same stage.
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