SEATTLE – Les Snead, the Rams’ general manager, wrote down the words “Remember the Feeling” after his team lost a home playoff game to the Falcons in January.
The pain of that defeat has presumably been the driving force for Snead’s frenetic remaking of the Rams, one that straddles the line between bold genius and reckless overreach.
You know who else remembers the feeling, in a different context? That would be Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who might even get wistful when he observes the Rams having the financial freedom to load up on stars like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (signed as a free agent), cornerback Aqib Talib (acquired in a trade with Denver), cornerback Marcus Peters (trade with Kansas City) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (trade with New England this week).
“It’s a cycle of the cap,” Carroll said last week at the NFL owners meeting, speaking to a small group of reporters that included Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times. “They’re at a good part of the cycle.”
Yes, it’s a brazen, unambiguous attempt by the Rams to put themselves in position for a strong Super Bowl run. Yes, it’s a time-honored way to grab attention in the overcrowded Southern California sports marketplace, vitally important for the Rams with the upcoming unveiling of a stadium that has nearly a $5 billion price tag. And, yes, it’s a potentially toxic mix of volatile players that runs the risk of ruining team chemistry.
But more than anything, it’s a replication of the process the Seahawks used to build a Super Bowl champion in Carroll’s early days with the team, specifically 2012, coming off a playoff loss to Atlanta. Positioned back then at the “good part of the cycle” – in other words, with emerging quarterback Russell Wilson and defensive stars Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright all on rookie contracts – the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin and signed Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to free-agent contracts.
We know the rest. Harvin was largely a bust and a clubhouse irritant, but he did make an impact in their 43-8 Super Bowl rout of the Broncos. Bennett and Avril became pillars of the defense, and the Seahawks nearly added a second title the following year.
But the NFL is legislated to ensure that no team (except, somehow, the Patriots) can sustain that sort of run. And right now the Seahawks find themselves at the bad part of the cycle, which helps explain an offseason makeover every bit as explosive as the Rams’.
The departures of Sherman, Bennett, Jimmy Graham and possibly Thomas are at least in some part a result of the Seahawks’ evolving salary structure that now includes a huge salary-cap hit for Wilson. The Seahawks steadfastly refuse to use the word “rebuild,” but there seems little doubt that they are setting themselves up with the cap room to reload next offseason.
The Rams, on the other hand, are in full “load up” mode right now with quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley – the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 – both still on reasonable rookie contracts. The Eagles used that formula last year, with Carson Wentz on a rookie deal, to add a core of key players that helped lead them to the Super Bowl title.
Considering that the Rams won the division last year at 11-5 and embarrassed the Seahawks 42-7 at CenturyLink Field in Week 15, that has to be a worrisome development for Seattle. Especially with the 49ers also on the rise after winning their final five games under quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the 49ers locked up long-term this offseason.
“They have had the benefit really of the seasons they were at the bottom, and the draft situations,” Carroll said of the Rams in Orlando. “They got the quarterback, and the quarterback is young, and the cycle of the cap allows them to make these kinds of choices. So they are doing a good job. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
With players like Peters, who was booted off the team at the University of Washington and wore out his welcome in Kansas City, as well as Suh, who has faced allegations of dirty play throughout his career, and Talib, who had his own issues in Denver, the possibility of implosion from within is present in Los Angeles.
“It is a fascinating group of guys they are putting together,” Carroll said. “And they’ve lost some guys, too. They’ve lost some significant players and they’ve regained some, so it’s kind of what happens, and what the offseason is all about.”
The losses include defensive end Robert Quinn, linebacker Alec Ogletree and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, as well as their first-round draft pick in 2018. In fact, the Rams won’t be on the clock until the third round, No. 83 overall.
Asked if he thinks the Rams feel they are close to championship contention, Carroll replied, “I think that’s pretty obvious. I think that’s what they are thinking. … I think anytime you are talking about Ndamukong Suh, you are talking about right now. I think that’s a pretty obvious case.”
From the outside, it sure looks like the balance of power is being turned upside down in the NFC West. The Rams, who just two years ago suffered through a 4-12 season that resulted in the firing of coach Jeff Fisher, are the clear front-runner. The 49ers, who haven’t had a winning season since 2013, are on the rise. Meanwhile, the Seahawks and Cardinals, who each finished first or second in the division from 2014-16, are both in transition.
“It’s just kind of the cycles you go through,” Carroll said. “I think this is a really exciting time for the L.A. fans and the San Francisco fans. The coaches have done such a fantastic job, the newness and them being through the cycle of draft picks and really the beneficial aspect of the cap right now, they’ve got a great chance.
“This is kind of how the cycle works. We have kind of always been in kind of a different situation than that, and we’ll try to keep this thing going. The challenge stays there of the division being loaded again.”
With the Rams loading up fast and furiously.
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