Jalen Ramsey has been one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks ever since he stepped foot on a pro field and now he’ll finally be paid like it. The Rams inked their star corner to a five-year, $105 million extension just a day before the 2020 NFL season kicks off.
As expected, the deal blew up the market for cornerbacks. Ramsey’s average annual salary of $21 million is easily the highest at the position, with the No. 2 player on the list, Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White, coming at $17.5 million a year. That’s a 20% increase!
The Rams paid quite the premium and they have only themselves to blame. In a naive effort to get their 2019 season back on track, Los Angeles sent two first-round picks to Jacksonville in exchange for the talented corner in an effort to spark what had been an underachieving team. After giving away that draft capital, the front office had no choice but to give into Ramsey’s demands, something his agent, David Mulugheta, surely realized.
(This has been a trend in recent years. The Bears reset the market for pass rushers after trading multiple first-round picks for Khalil Mack. The Texans did it after the Laremy Tunsil trade. And now the Rams. Up next: The Seahawks after their trade for Jamal Adams.)
The Rams are now stuck with a top-heavy roster that isn’t all that good once you get past its two best players, Ramsey and Aaron Donald. Those two, as great as they may be, are probably making more than they should be based on how individual defenders affect a game. But NFL teams don’t get bad by overpaying elite talents. They get bad by pouring a lot of money into average players, like Jared Goff, whose recent deal will pay him an average annual salary of $33.5 million, a top-five figure for quarterbacks.
The Rams were the only team with two players in the top 20 for cap hit percentage, and that was before the Ramsey deal. Now, they’ll be using at least a third of their cap total on three players, leaving little room to maneuver in future years.
As recently as Tuesday, the Rams were over the salary cap and needed to make some roster moves to help pull them under. The front office really isn’t getting any bang for all those bucks, either: Look at this depth chart! Outside of defensive tackle, there really isn’t a position that you can point to as an obvious strength.
It’s an underwhelming roster with a bloated payroll and, after pulling off a bunch of win-now trades for overvalued veterans, the Rams don’t have the resources to inject it with young, cheap talent, which has been the key to maintaining a successful roster in the post-2011 CBA NFL.
Some may be shocked that the Rams fell off from the high perch they had reached in 2018, but the signs were there even during their Super Bowl run. In December of that season, I wrote an article with the headline “If Jared Goff is their future, the Rams are running out of time.” Here’s the key excerpt from that piece:
Goff’s second contract will be a big one. It will probably break records, as every new quarterback deal seems to do now. The Rams have a key question to ask themselves: Would it be easier to build a supporting cast good enough to win a Super Bowl with Goff making all that money OR to start over at the quarterback position, use that money to keep this great supporting cast together and deal Goff for draft picks that will make that process much easier. They can’t have it both ways.
The Rams tried to have it both ways. Not only did GM Les Snead give Goff all that money, but he followed it up with the trade for Ramsey, off-loading two more first-round picks. Thanks to Snead’s wheeling and dealing, Los Angeles hasn’t drafted in the first round since trading up to take Goff, and for aa second consecutive offseason, they had to let some key players walk in free agency. Last year, Roger Saffold’s departure took down the offensive line. This year, it could be Corey Littleton’s departure taking down the defense.
Snead, to his credit, has been able to maintain a veneer of talent over the roster but it’s getting harder and harder to cover-up the rotten core — a product of his complete disregard for cap space and draft capital.