IINGLEWOOD, Calif. -- The NFL just got put on alert Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams didn't merely win Super Bowl LVI by a score of 23-20 over the Cincinnati Bengals -- they also reminded us that there's a new way of doing business in this league, one that can generate the type of rewards every franchise covets. The Rams made blockbuster move after blockbuster move over the last 12 months, a bold streak that earned them a championship.
All the lamenting about what this team will do five years from now feels irrelevant. All the speculation about how they'll handle life without a first-round pick until 2024 suddenly seems silly. The Rams went all in with the notion that compiling stars means more than sweating salary cap trouble down the road. Nobody can question the value of such a strategy.
"It's a lot of good decisions stacked on one another, but it's also a lot of really mentally tough, special people finding a way to be at their best in those critical moments," said Rams head coach Sean McVay when asked if this championship validated the team's aggressive personnel moves over the course of the year. "That's what is so great about football -- the best team doesn't always win, but the team that plays the best in that winnable time does. I'm just really pleased to be associated with a group that isn't afraid to shoot their shot, take chances on things that we feel are in the best interest of the football team. There were a lot of rolled eyes at us. ... It's sweet. I'm really happy for these guys."
McVay does make a legitimate point. There was more to this Rams team than flashy names on a top-heavy roster. They overcame a three-game losing streak in the second half of the season, vanquished Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champs in the Divisional Round, erased some serious demons by ending a six-game losing streak to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game and then marched to the winning touchdown in the final minutes of this Super Bowl. This team definitely didn't lack for heart.
The reality is that people won't remember that part of this team's success as much as the way this team was built. The Rams traded quarterback Jared Goff to Detroit in March for a more talented signal-caller in Matthew Stafford. They made another huge trade at midseason when they added eight-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Von Miller to a defensive line that already had the game's premier D-lineman, Aaron Donald. If that wasn't enough, Los Angeles signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after the Cleveland Browns waived him in early November.
It often felt as if general manager Les Snead was running his team in the same way some senior citizens operate slot machines in Vegas. He kept yanking on the lever and waiting for the jackpot to arrive. The entire strategy was a calculated risk that had some merit solely because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had won a championship doing something eerily similar a season ago. The Bucs signed Brady in free agency, added a few other veterans -- including tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Leonard Fournette -- and beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
The obvious difference between what the Bucs and Rams did comes down to cost. The Bucs didn't mortgage their future for any of those stars. The Rams traded away an assortment of selections -- Stafford's deal alone stripped the franchise of two first-round picks and a third-rounder -- without any public regret. What they revealed is something that should be readily apparent by now: Teams always look a lot smarter when they're hoisting trophies and raising banners.
The Rams made a lot of risky moves, but the players who arrived delivered. Miller had nine sacks for this team after his arrival. Beckham scored seven touchdowns in 12 games with L.A., including the first score in this contest before he left the game in the second quarter with a non-contact knee injury. (UPDATE: Beckham is believed to have torn his ACL during Super Bowl LVI.) Stafford enjoyed arguably the best season of his career and made several huge plays throughout the postseason. He also helped wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the Most Valuable Player of this game, become the league's Offensive Player of the Year.
As much as these Rams were known for the players they added, this team owed much of its success to the chemistry those acquisitions managed to create with incumbent talents.
"This is just a long time coming for a lot of guys," Stafford said. "Andrew Whitworth, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Robert Woods, Cooper. So many guys I could name for the way they go to work every day, the way they care about each other. I'm just so happy to get it done for those guys."
Another factor that likely contributed to the Rams' championship is the urgency that came with this squad. You make that many moves and there's a clear realization that the window of opportunity won't be open long. There already are intriguing questions about this team that will need answers in the offseason, including the financial management required to remain a championship contender. This may very well be the best chance this current group had to win a title.
Miller is expected to test the free-agent market when his contract expires in March. Beckham was playing on a one-year deal, as well, but it's difficult to even project his availability next season until more is known about his recovery timeline; though, he has expressed his interest in staying with the franchise. Whitworth, the team's 40-year-old left tackle, might retire now that he has his first Super Bowl win, one that came against the franchise that drafted him into the NFL. There were pregame reports on NBC that Donald said he might also walk away from the game if he became a champion.
"This meant everything," Donald said in the postgame. "This organization drafted me eight years ago. To start in St. Louis and have our struggles and then to come to L.A. and build something special, it means a lot. One thing I told [McVay] when he got here and I got to know him, I told him that as long as he's here, I want to be a part of this organization and help build a legacy. Legacies aren't built from individual stats but team success. The ultimate goal is always to be a world champion."
The Rams can feel much better about their place in the Los Angeles sports scene with this victory. They moved back to this city from St. Louis in 2016, then promptly went 4-12. Over the next five years, the Dodgers won the World Series and the Lakers won the NBA championship. Both of those franchises are more firmly entrenched with this city's sports fans than the Rams.
That should change a little more when the Rams hold the first NFL championship parade that Los Angeles has experienced since the Raiders were here in 1984. It will be a celebration of many things -- the energy of McVay, the redemption of Stafford, the long waits for all those veterans -- but one aspect of this team won't be forgotten as time goes by. The Rams approached building a winner with a level of aggressiveness that has rarely been seen or succeeded in this league. What they proved is that it's much easier to worry about tomorrow when you're the best in the league today.