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With the Los Angeles Rams set to appear in their second Super Bowl in four seasons, the en vogue topic for many pretenders is to attempt to copy GM Les Snead’s unorthodox style of team building.
Unlike their Super Bowl counterpart in Cincinnati, which was largely built through the draft, the large majority of the Rams’ cornerstone players have been acquired either as free agents or through lavish trades. From Jalen Ramsey, to Matthew Stafford and Odell Beckham, Snead and coach Sean McVay have rewritten the script when it comes to building the ideal 53-man roster.
While the Rams’ strategy may be the envy of others, many GMs who have tried to duplicate their approach have failed in spectacular fashion. For proof, look no further than in-division rival Seattle, which has shipped out countless picks for proven star players only to see their roster slowly deteriorate as a result. Long before the disaster that was the Jamal Adams deal, Seahawk brass shipped out multiple first-round picks for the likes of Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin. Foolish decisions such as this have likely fueled the team’s recent lack of postseason success. Seattle has one playoff win in the past five seasons.
What Snead and his staff have done is an outlier. The backbone of the Rams’ success has been and will continue to be future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald, whom the team selected 13th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Combine that with the acquisition of Cooper Kupp at the beginning of round three back in 2017 and you’ve got perhaps the two best players at their position this season.
Which brings us to the Arizona Cardinals, a team that has not shied away from the occasional splash move. Say what you want about GM Steve Keim, but it’s clear he does not operate from the free-agent formula utilized in ultra-conservative Green Bay or Pittsburgh. In Keim’s nine years as the team’s general manager, he has orchestrated nearly 20 trades of significance. Deals for All-Pros Chandler Jones and DeAndre Hopkins, combined with Keim’s questionable draft classes, fuel the Red Sea’s desire for the Cardinals to go full L.A. in their pursuit of the teams’ first Lombardi Trophy.
While it’s fair to expect Keim to continue his aggressive methods in hopes of an eventual Super Bowl, the team would be better off by allowing the polarizing executive more swings at the plate; preferably in the draft’s middle rounds where the large majority of NFL rosters are built. Outside of Kyler Murray, Keim’s first round-track record is mostly dreadful but his ability to find quality outside of the first 32 picks should not be ignored.
- Tyrann Mathieu (3rd Round, 2013)
- John Brown (3rd Round, 2014)
- Markus Golden (2nd Round, 2015)
- David Johnson (3rd Round, 2015)
- Budda Baker (2nd Round, 2017)
- Christian Kirk (2nd Round, 2018)
- Byron Murphy (2nd Round, 2019)
- Zach Allen (3rd Round, 2019)
- Rondale Moore (2nd Round, 2021)
Excluding his day-2 picks, only Murray and D.J. Humphries have secured Pro Bowl berths among his remaining draft picks. When Keim has able to strategically navigate day 2 of the draft, the Cardinals benefit in the form of prolonged success. Acquisitions like Mathieu and Johnson were franchise changers for this organization, in large part because of their performance compared to what the Cardinals initially had to pay them. As great as the trio of Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Rodney Hudson is, the guaranteed dollars associated with them often times create unobtainable expectations.
There is also the risk of acquiring and subsequently paying older players especially when you consider injuries as a primary factor. Both Hudson and Hopkins missed significant time this season due to injury. Both will be over 30 years of age by the time next season begins. On the flip side, cornerstone talents such as Baker, Murphy and Allen combined for only two missed starts in 2021. Young talent remains cost effective and most importantly available to play on almost every Sunday.
The clock on Kyler Murray’s eventual extension with the Cardinals continues to tick toward generational wealth for 24-year-old signal caller. Once that happens, it will be imperative that Keim is able to build a roster capable of sustaining adversity such as the team faced this season. The best way to ensure that happens is to make a conscious effort to flush the team’s draft board with day-2 prospects. No singular player is going to be the difference maker when it comes to overtaking L.A. The Cardinals need an infusion of young talent built for the next five to seven years.