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- The Los Angeles Rams are through to the Super Bowl just two years removed from a miserable 4-12 season.
- The Rams turnaround was sparked by quarterback Jared Goff, whose rookie contract allowed the team to go on a spending spree unparalleled in the league.
- Spending big around a quarterback on a rookie contract is now one of the biggest trends in NFL roster building, and given the Rams’ success, will likely be around for some time.
On Sunday the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet in Super Bowl LIII to battle for the Lombardi Trophy and the right to call themselves champions.
While both teams’ seasons will end in the same place, their journeys were vastly different.
For the Patriots, it’s a story of continued dominance – the past three years Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the systematic march of the Patriot Way has returned New England again and again to the biggest game in football.
For the 2018 Rams, it all began with an all-in bet in the offseason on quarterback Jared Goff.
There is no bigger bargain in the NFL than a quality quarterback on a rookie deal. There’s a market rate set for every position in the league, and quarterbacks lead the way by a wide margin.
As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell broke down ahead of the 2018 offseason, the highest annual average salary for quarterbacks had cleared $28 million – close to $10 million more than any other position on the field. The Rams currently have Goff on a rookie deal that pays him less than $28 million for four years of service.
With such a bargain locked in at the most important position on the field, the team was able to spend big elsewhere and build around him.
The Rams were by far the biggest spenders of the 2018 offseason, bringing in a slew of Pro-Bowl caliber players and locking in more than $300 million worth in contracts to turn themselves into a potential dynasty.
In a span of just a few weeks, the Rams extended wide receiver Brandin Cooks with a huge contract that should keep him in Los Angeles as the team’s No. 1 target through 2021 and agreed to an extension with stud running back Todd Gurley for four years, $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed.
Then just before the season began, the Rams finally reached a deal with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald – a $135 million deal that made him the richest defensive player in NFL history.
These big moves coincided with smaller, yet still important deals for the team, including filling out the secondary with Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and pairing Donald with Ndamukong Suh on a one-year, $14 million deal.
It was a spending spree the likes of which the NFL had never seen before, and it all came thanks to the Rams’ faith in one of the biggest trends in the NFL – building around a rookie quarterback contract.
In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles embraced this idea, surrounding quarterback Carson Wentz with a star-studded offensive line, investing in running back depth, and locking defensive standouts – not to mention a backup quarterback in Nick Foles that wound up being another key piece to their championship season.
In 2018, it was the Rams’ turn to take advantage. With Goff only making $7 million combined during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Los Angeles had two years to spend like crazy before the cap became a significant issue.
It was a small window, but the Rams decided to push their chips to the center of the table, and it paid off with a trip to Super Bowl LIII.
- Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Expect the trend to continue.
The Chicago Bears were able to invest a ton in the 2018 offseason thanks to Mitch Trubisky’s rookie deal. They brought in offensive weapons like Trey Burton and Allen Robinson, and traded for and immediately extended Khalil Mack, who like Donald is one of the most dominant defensive players in the league.
While the Bears didn’t reach the Super Bowl, they fell just a double-doink short of facing the Rams in the NFC divisional round, and look set to contend alongside Los Angeles in the conference for years to come.
Additionally, with an impressive five teams committing to rookie quarterbacks in 2018, there will likely be even more franchises looking to speed up their turnaround this offseason, working fast to bring in talented players to surround their young, affordable quarterbacks, and spending a ton to do it.
It’s a risky proposition – if your quarterback isn’t up to the task of winning close games, or if you mismanage your excess payroll in the wrong places, such a move can set a franchise back years.
But as the Rams proved this season, when the bet pays off, it pays off big.
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