The Rams constructed a large chunk of their roster upon the largesse of another team’s big bet, having acquired a mountain of players and picks from Washington in the Robert Griffin trade. Now, despite knowing firsthand how those sort of massive gambles often fail to work out, they’ve moved all their chips into the middle by trading with Tennessee for the first overall pick.
Assuming that they’re projected to go 8-8 next year, a fair bet with Jeff Fisher around, the Rams paid about $1.70 on the dollar as part of the deal, per Chase Stuart’s draft value chart. It’s not all bad; as Mike Sando noted for Insider, you can understand why they made this specific trade at this specific time. Despite having an excellent defense and a promising running game around Todd Gurley, Los Angeles has one of the worst quarterback situations in football and no clear way to improve it without making this sort of trade. And as Mel Kiper mentioned in his Insider piece, the Rams have a young roster by virtue of the picks from the Griffin trade.
I don’t think it’s a good trade for the Rams — these sorts of deals rarely work out, and this is still a team with a subpar offensive line, major question marks at receiver, and holes in the secondary — but it’s about as defensible as a deal like this can be, given the context of where the Rams are right now. But what about the rest of the league? In a draft where there wasn’t (and actually still isn’t) an obvious top pick, there’s going to be an enormous knock-on effect for how this deal impacts the teams who have to follow the Rams at one.
Let’s run through a few of those organizations and see how their situation shifts from this deal, starting with the team who is now staring up at Los Angeles and perhaps looking longingly at Tennessee:
The Browns lose more than any other team with this deal
The best-case scenario for the Browns, in just about every way, was for the Titans to stay put and draft Laremy Tunsil with the first overall pick. The Browns could theoretically have an interest in drafting Tunsil themselves, but with 31-year-old superstar Joe Thomas entrenched on the left side for the next several years during what would be Tunsil’s rookie contract, it’s exceedingly unlikely that they’ll want to draft a right tackle with the second overall pick. Right tackles are more important in pass protection than ever before, but the league just doesn’t value them at that level.
If the Titans took Tunsil first, the world was Cleveland’s oyster. They would have been able to choose between Carson Wentz and Jared Goff with the second overall pick, with the option of going for a wild card like Jalen Ramsey or Ezekiel Elliott as a fallback plan if they didn’t like either of the quarterbacks. The fallback plans will still be there, but now, the Browns won’t be able to choose between their favorite of the passers at two. It’s possible that Los Angeles and Cleveland could come to entirely different conclusions on which quarterback they want, but it’s even more unlikely that the Browns are in love with both passers and would be happy with whichever one of the quarterbacks falls to them at two.
To be honest, though, this hurts the Browns even further in terms of what they most likely wanted to do with the second overall pick: trade down for future picks. If the suggestions that the Browns are going to pursue a heavy emphasis on analytics are true — and there’s little reason to think that the suggestions aren’t true — the first credo of any historically-inclined draft approach is to acquire as many picks as possible. The Browns basically sat out free agency and acquired four compensatory picks, including three fourth-rounders, for the 2017 draft. Their roster is threadbare, somehow devoid of both stars and depth.
I firmly believe that organizationally the Browns would have tried to make this exact sort of trade with a team like the Rams to trade down and acquire more picks. It fits their organizational mindset at the moment to a T. The only reason they wouldn’t have made that sort of deal would have been if they had fallen in love with Goff or Wentz, and if that were the case, it’s more plausible that they would have traded up to the first overall pick before now.
Now, Cleveland’s trade leverage is halved at best. They were always going to have to wait to see what the Titans did with the first pick before they could consummate a deal with a team who was desperate to acquire one of the top-ranked passers, but at least then, they could agree to terms with a team in advance who would know that they would get the quarterback of their choice. Now, assuming that the Rams wait until draft day to reveal which quarterback they’re taking (and aren’t grabbing Ramsey),that opportunity is gone. They’ll either have to agree to terms on tentative trades with a team (or perhaps two teams) who are waiting to see whether their guy will be available with the second pick. Those teams, knowing that they won’t be competing in a two-quarterback market, won’t be offering as much in return. Not ideal.
It’s possible that a team coveting Tunsil could now trade up and grab their franchise left tackle at No. 2, but that seems less likely than a team falling in love with one of the quarterbacks and sending a haul of picks to move up. If you want to spin this as a positive for the Browns, the best way I can figure is that there was a chance the Titans might have taken Ramsey first, and he might be the best player at a position of need for the Browns in the draft pool. Cleveland’s chances of acquiring him rise as part of this deal. Otherwise, though, this has to be considered a major disappointment for the Browns.
Simultaneously, it helps the Chargers
With Philip Rivers on a no-trade clause and signed to a long-term extension, the Chargers weren’t drafting a quarterback. With Tennessee and Cleveland ahead of them, there was a non-zero chance that the Chargers would have been stuck with the top two quarterbacks still available on the board at three. If the Chargers wanted to trade down and acquire more picks, that scenario wouldn’t have been a problem, but San Diego badly needs offensive line help to keep Rivers upright. With Tennessee picking first, it seemed unlikely that San Diego would end up with a chance to draft Tunsil at three. Now, with the Rams taking a quarterback and the Browns hardly in need of a left tackle, there’s a good shot the Chargers can draft their left tackle of the future with the third overall pick.
The Cowboys lose some trading leverage
As I wrote about earlier this month, it didn’t make sense for the Cowboys to draft a quarterback with the fourth pick. It was always more likely that their interest was a smokescreen designed to create a market for them to trade down and acquire additional picks. They could still find a trade partner if the right quarterback falls to four, but with one of the two top passers guaranteed to be off the board, they lose some flexibility heading into the draft. And if their interest in Wentz or Goff was real, obviously, they’ll be even more disappointed.
The Jaguars and Ravens have to be happy
Neither Jacksonville nor Baltimore wants a quarterback. Now, if a desperate team sitting below them sees one of the two quarterbacks come off of the board, they very well might trade up to grab the passer they want, either giving the Jags or Ravens extra picks or ensuring that both quarterbacks are gone before Jacksonville’s seat at five.
Alternately, this might make it easier for either of these teams to trade up. If the Jaguars are in love with Ramsey, they might very well want to move from five to two to snap him up. They couldn’t compete with the sort of haul the Browns would have received for their pick if both quarterbacks had been on the board, but in a much quieter market, that sort of deal could be far more friendly to Jacksonville.
San Francisco loses options
If this trade doesn’t work out, it may benefit the 49ers in the long run, given that the Rams would be a less threatening opponent. In the short term, though, this hurts the 49ers in a couple of ways. The Rams needed a quarterback, and while they hadn’t publicly suggested that they were interested in acquiring Colin Kaepernick, they were also saying as recently as last month that they were going to go into the season with Case Keenum as their starter. In other words, teams lie.
The 49ers might have hesitated to trade Kaepernick within their division, but it’s not out of the question to imagine a move where the 49ers would have dealt Kaepernick to the Rams, possibly in a deal to get back current Rams backup Nick Foles, who had his best season under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Foles could very well still end up in San Francisco, given that the 49ers have plenty of cap room, while the Rams currently have an $8.8 million third quarterback they don’t need. The Rams actually won’t realize much savings by trading Foles — they already paid the benched Arizona product a $6 million roster bonus which won’t come off their cap by trading him — but it would be a $1.8 million savings versus what it would cost to keep Foles on the roster or cut him, so expect the Rams to try and find a trade partner in the days to come.
Now, though, the 49ers lose a possible destination for Kaepernick, while the chances that one of the two top-rated quarterbacks will fall them to that seventh overall pick drops dramatically, given that the Titans were not taking a passer and the Rams are surely going to do so. The best-case scenario for the 49ers might be to trade down and draft Paxton Lynch, but they just saw a motivated trading partner in LA run right by them. If anything, if the top two quarterbacks are gone by seven, it might cause the 49ers to reach for Lynch at seven, a move which is aggressive at best.
It’s harder for the Eagles to do something foolish
Despite re-signing Sam Bradford to a two-year deal and paying a premium for Chase Daniel in free agency, rumors still suggested the Eagles were smitten with the idea of trading up to number one, likely to grab Wentz. The Eagles wouldn’t have had to pay as much to make the move, given that they were dealing from the eighth overall slot to the 15th pick, but that still would have cost them their 2017 first-round pick and one other premium selection.
That wouldn’t have made sense on a number of levels. The Eagles are already missing their second-rounder from last year’s Bradford trade, so they need to hold onto the picks they have. Philly could trade Bradford, but they would still owe $11 million in dead money for him on this year’s cap, and there would be a sparse trade market given that the Eagles would have virtually no leverage after trading up. And with formerly-deposed general manager Howie Roseman back in control, the Eagles are more likely to treat draft picks as a precious commodity, given his previous history with the team versus Kelly’s disastrous stint running player personnel.
It’s a great day for the Titans
Regardless of what happens from here on out, this is a stunning haul for Tennessee and new general manager Jon Robinson, who made the most Belichickian trade imaginable in acquiring a haul of future picks for the number-one selection. The Titans now have more draft capital (70.2 points, per Stuart’s chart) than anybody else in the league for 2016, and they have an extra first- and third-rounder to play around with in 2017, giving them more draft capital for next year than anybody else, too. Keep in mind the Rams aren’t exactly guaranteed to make the playoffs with Goff or Wentz next year, either. (Another reminder: Arizona and Seattle share that division.)
Think about that for a moment.
Robinson was successfully able to manufacture that sort of deal even though every team in the league knew the Titans weren’t taking a quarterback with the first overall pick, and it came in a draft where there really isn’t a prospect with the pedigree of Griffin or even Jameis Winston. This is supposed to be a deep draft without an obvious number-one pick, and Robinson traded into the strength of the draft while extracting a premium so another team could draft a player he didn’t really want. Now, instead of forcing Tunsil into a spot where the Titans would be overcommitting at tackle, Robinson has six top-76 picks. As Trey Wingo noted on Twitter, that’s a historically impressive haul.
While Robinson still has to hit on some of those picks to make this trade worth it for Tennessee, he’s positioned the organization to be in the best possible situation to succeed. There are no guarantees in football, and either Wentz or Goff may turn out to be a superstar, but the Titans are better off today than they were yesterday.