No general manager had a busier, bolder spring than Rams general manager Les Snead. No decision maker has more work left to do in the coming months.
The Rams' trade tsunami resulted in a wave of incoming talent, diminishing salary cap space and only one long-term contract handed out, to little-known cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. The casual confidence Snead has in his coaching staff to assimilate all the team's new players is matched by his belief that he can make all the contractual puzzle pieces fit.
"We have plenty of space over the next two years to lock up these guys long term and have this core together, and that's the goal," Snead said at one of the Rams' seemingly daily press conferences earlier this month.
Ignoring conventional wisdom while balancing short- and long-term interests is a Bill Belichick speciality. The Patriotshelped kickstart this trade trend over the last three years and the team's most recent bombshell -- sending Brandin Cooks to Snead's Rams -- sets up the rare NFL draft with Belichick as a lead character. The Patriots need to re-stock their roster and possibly find Tom Brady's successor. After that, there are fires to put out in his own building with his two best players as they all try to get past one of the most painful losses in team history.
Rams' to-do list
1) Sign Aaron Donald: All signs indicated that Donald welcomed the addition of Ndamukong Suh to the Rams' formidable defensive line. That congenial attitude figures to disappear if Donald is forced to play for half as much money as Suh this season (as currently scheduled). Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is more likely to be playing on a contract closer to the groundbreaking pact Suh signed in Miami back in 2015. Snead has said repeatedly he has "budgeted" an extension for Donald and said this week Donald should become the highest-paid defender in football. That's been easier said than finalized for a year now. It will be a complicated contract that will presumably push a lot of salary cap pain into the future because the Rams have virtually no space at the moment.
2) Re-sign Brandin Cooks or Lamarcus Joyner to extensions: The Rams have three standouts from the 2014 draft class in Donald, Cooks and Joyner. Donald and Cooks are set to play this season on the fifth-year options of their rookie deals, while Joyner was retained with the franchise tag for more money -- $11.29 million. The Rams would love to free up the use of the 2019 tag by signing at least two of the three players.
Cooks is the better bet to get a contract quickly, with NFL Network's Steve Wyche reporting that the Ramsintend to sign him long term before the season. The Rams have until July 16 to sign Joyner to a long-term deal. A contract for either player would likely be backloaded to lower the cap hit for 2018 and push money into the future. That could become a trend for the team as it builds toward moving into its expensive new stadium in 2020.
3) Budget for Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters contracts: There is a general misconception that the Rams are in "win now" mode after all the recent transactions. To borrow the words of rival Pete Carroll, Snead is trying to orchestrate more of a "win forever" mindset. This is a relatively young team and the Rams' core players aren't even in their second contracts yet. After the 2014 NFL Draft class mentioned above, the Rams also have 2015 picks Gurley, Peters and two key O-line starters in Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown.
This is a roster built to last, but Snead will have to prioritize some contracts over others. Donald, Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff are the building blocks. Peters is under contract for the next two years for a total of just over $10 million. Considering Peters' roller-coaster career so far, the Rams may let the corner play out his fifth-year option in 2019 and see where they stand after that. They just need to get Peters on board with that plan.
4) Evaluate if Aqib Talib and Suh are short-timers: Not every young Rams player is destined to get a long-term contract, and not every veteran acquisition figures to be around for long. Suh is a free agent after this season and Talib's status figures to be year-to-year at age 32. It's hard to imagine Suh getting the guaranteed guap he'd like on a long-term deal in Los Angeles after the Rams presumably pay Donald. Talib is on the books for $8 million in 2019 and will have to show he is still near the top of his game to stick around. Acquiring quality veteran starters doesn't mean the organization is selling out to win now. They are just taking every avenue toward improving their roster, following in the footsteps of the last two Super Bowl champions, who relied plenty on short veteran contracts.
5) Construct McVay-Goff 2.0: The Rams' fire show on the transaction wire shouldn't overshadow all the work that coach Sean McVay has to do on the field. He did an incredible job building an offense around Jared Goff last season, but building on a breakout year at quarterback is no easy task. (Just ask Derek Carr, Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton.) NFL defenses should be better prepared to attack Goff's weaknesses, including throwing on the move, after a year of gathering film. McVay has earned the benefit of the doubt that he'll keep the Rams one step ahead, especially after upgrading from Sammy Watkins to Cooks at receiver.
6) Somehow find tackle depth and edge-rushing talent:Andrew Whitworth turns 37 years old this season, yet is one of the most irreplaceable members on the Rams' roster. Tackle depth is hard to find on nearly any team, but the Rams don't have any legitimate options behind Whitworth and right tackle Havenstein. While Snead has traded away his top two picks in this draft, he still has a third-round pick, three fourth-rounders and four sixth-round lottery tickets. The fourth round is where the Rams found outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, who is slated to play a huge role in Year 2 as an edge rusher. He's practically the only one on the roster. For all the Rams' defensive talent, that also remains a big area of need.
7) Make this buzz count: Two years into their Los Angeles adventure, the Rams are ahead of schedule. This season represents an incredible opportunity to bring new fans along for the ride with the move to the new stadium looming. If thisRams team doesn't inspire devotion and subsequent ticket sales, then no team will. All they have to do is win.
Patriots' to-do list
1) Reignite the spark with Tom Brady: It's April and the speculation about Brady retiringthis year hasn't even completely died. While that's an extreme long shot, there are legitimate reasons for Belichick to be concerned about Brady.
The most telling aspect to the ambivalent conclusion of Brady's Facebook show "Tom vs. Time" was the repeated allusion from Brady and his wife Gisele Bundchen that the quarterback wasn't having fun at his job anymore.
"It's a big commitment," Brady said. "I'm sitting here, laying here three days after the year getting my Achilles worked on, my thumb. And you go, 'What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this?' You've got to have answers to those questions, and they've got to be with a lot of conviction. When you lose your conviction, you should probably be doing something else."
Belichick doesn't necessarily need to invite the Bradys out for a weekend in Nantucket, but the two men need to be on the same page. Perhaps the early relationship infatuation has faded, but the two pillars of the Patriots dynasty need to keep up appearances for the sake of the kids. That won't be easy considering No. 2 on the to-do list.
2) Find the next Patriots quarterback: Drafting quarterbacks earlier than analysts expect is the Patriots' move. They're going to use it. It happened all the way back in 2008, when the team selected Kevin O'Connell in the third round. The Patriots have used valuable picks on Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett since. With two picks in each of the first two rounds, it would be surprising if the Patriots didn't invest in a potential quarterback of the future. That will be part of a necessary replenishing of the Patriots roster. ...
3) Re-stock the shelves: Because of trades, Deflategate and a lot of winning, the Patriots have made one top-50 pick in the last three drafts. This chart from the maestro Warren Sharp shows how out of step that is with the rest of the league:
New England's two first-round picks and the second-round pick gained in the Garoppolo trade offer Belichick a chance to find cornerstone pieces for a roster that has plenty of holes. The previous four drafts should comprise the backbone of a roster, and the Patriots are getting lackluster production from their 2014-17 classes overall, with the 2015 group being an exception. There are plenty of singles and doubles, but not enough home run picks of late.
4) Look for a left tackle and pass rushers: It won't be easy in this draft, but the Patriots would love to find another option to replace Nate Solder. They have returning veteran LaAdrian Waddle and 2017 third-round pick Antonio Garcia, who is cleared to play football again after missing all of his rookie season with issues related to blood clots.
A more pressing need exists in the defensive front seven. It's amazing New England had the ball with a chance to win late in the Super Bowl considering the total lack of individual pass rushers the team possesses. For all the rightful criticism Belichick took for benching Malcolm Butler, the toothless Patriots defensive front seven was the bigger problem.
5) Identify candidates for extension: So who will be the key Patriots after Brady retires? Belichick has always done a nice job identifying the team's core players and signing them long term as early as possible. Trey Flowers has been the best defender on two teams to make the Super Bowl and should be first in line. Guard Shaq Mason and defensive tackle Malcom Brown are other candidates for new money.
6) Sort out the team's receiver morass. Signing way too many free-agent wide receivers -- then seeing who sticks -- is a Belichick special. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell figure to be roster locks. But there's no telling who will emerge from the secondary group of Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson. Of all the overreactions surrounding the Patriots this offseason, the worry about Brady's wideout crew is the most shortsighted. His top receiving option, on the other hand ...
7) Get Gronk with the program. On the way home from the AFC championship comeback victory over the Jaguars, a game Brady called one of the great wins in Patriots history, Brady got Rob Gronkowski on the phone.
"You're a (expletive) animal," Brady said. "It's a miracle we won that game without you."
Gisele, in the passenger seat, then asked Gronk, "How you feeling, honey?" in a moment captured on Brady's show that was a reminder of how Gronkowski and Brady are practically family after eight years together. Gronk's disillusionment with his team is public now, which is usually the moment when Belichick decides to ship a player to some dusty NFL outpost. But Belichick learned early in his career with Lawrence Taylor that special players deserve special considerations. No player in Patriots history other than Brady is more special than Gronkowski.
In Brady and Gronkowski, Belichick has two of the all-time greats still near the height of their powers at relative bargain rates. This shouldn't be that hard a problem for a great coach to solve.