Here we go again.
Just like two years ago, the St. Louis Rams find themselves with the second overall pick in the NFL draft and no pressing desire to take a quarterback. Last time it was Robert Griffin III, this time it is likely to be Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater.
The Rams only have this opportunity to trade away the second overall pick again because of their last trade. The second overall pick in this year’s draft is the final of three first round picks they received in 2012 from Washington.
Largely because of Griffin’s torn ACL, Mike Shanahan’s franchise finished with the second worst record in the NFL last season. Shanahan was subsequently fired, while Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and Sam Bradford remain in St. Louis.
This is very much a luxury situation for the Rams. They weren’t expecting this pick to be so high. It’s very unlikely that they take a quarterback to move on from Bradford, so they will have the option of trading down again or taking a top prospect at another position.
A line of thinking exists that the Rams will be able to secure another huge deal for the second overall pick. A deal that will give them multiple first round picks in later seasons. That seems unlikely simply because of the way this draft is set up.
It also seems like the less desirable move because the Rams head coach and general manager don’t have the same long-term security that they had in 2012.
Bradford’s injury and the youth on the roster last season somewhat excuses the failings of those in charge, but even Jeff Fisher can’t expect to continually stay in charge if the Rams don’t threaten the playoffs next season.
The Rams need to be better in 2014, they must focus on maximising their playoff potential for the short term. That’s not to say they should mortgage their future, but they also don’t need to sacrifice short term quality for long term quantity.
So should the Rams trade down or should they take a top prospect from another position?
Why not do both?
It’s impossible to know what kind of offers the Rams will receive, but some educated speculation can give us realistic expectations. Very rarely will a team trade up for a non-quarterback and give up a bumper deal, so unless someone falls in love with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Rams will likely be dealing with quarterback-needy teams.
There are three quarterbacks who appear to be in demand: Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. Bortles is expected to go first overall to the Houston Texans, so the Rams will likely be dealing with teams who eye Bridgewater or Manziel as franchise quarterbacks.
Realistically, the Cleveland Browns, who pick fourth overall, the Oakland Raiders, who pick fifth overall, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who pick seventh overall, the Minnesota Vikings, who pick eighth overall, and the Tennessee Titans, who pick 11th overall, are all potential trade partners.
The Raiders have a lot of cap room, so their roster should look very different come draft time, but it’s unlikely that they will have enough quality strung through their roster to justify giving up draft picks.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just hired Lovie Smith, a defensive head coach who brought Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl, and they have a viable starter in Mike Glennon already on the roster.
The Tennessee Titans just hired Ken Whisenhunt, a head coach who has extensive experience with quarterbacks and someone who will likely feel that he can get the most out of Jake Locker.
If you cross of those teams, the main competition appears to be between the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings. There are other longshot teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals who could make a big move, but that would be unexpected.
The Browns have lots of draft picks and a relatively strong roster around the quarterback position. Brian Hoyer is their most viable long-term starter who is currently in the league and he may not be a perfect fit with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
In Minnesota, the Christian Ponder era appears to be over. The Matt Cassel era appears unlikely to ever get going and the Josh Freeman era is even less likely to begin. The Vikings need an identity and a quarterback who Norv Turner can develop.
Even though the Browns have more assets to trade than the Vikings, the Rams would be more likely to get more from the Vikings than the Browns because of the distance they’d have to drop down the order. Unless the Rams could play the Vikings off of the Browns to bloat their asking price that is.
The key to this situation is how far the Rams will be willing to drop.
The top of this draft appears to be laden with very, very talented non-quarterback prospects. If they drop as far as eighth overall, then they likely will have no shot at a star receiver such as Sammy Watkins, an outrageously gifted left tackle Greg Robinson or the seemingly special defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Because there are three quarterbacks, the Browns are unlikely to give up multiple first round picks or even multiple higher round picks from future seasons to move up two spots. The Browns’ motivation to trade up would be so that no other team could jump ahead of them.
For that reason, the Browns are likely only going to be willing to part with a third round pick or a second round pick this season.
In a vacuum, a high third round pick to drop two spots for the Rams against two first round picks to drop six spots is an easy choice. You’d take the first round picks and look to restock again for the future.
However, considering the situation of the franchise and the quality of the draft, the Browns offer should be a lot more appealing than the Vikings’.
Dropping to eighth overall would mean that the Rams are looking at players such as Khalil Mack, Jake Matthews or maybe even Mike Evans. Very good prospects, but seemingly not special. Dropping to fourth overall would likely still allow the Rams to take one of Clowney, Robinson or Watkins, while still getting another potential starter in the third round.
The impact of one of those players on the field in 2014 opposed to the impact of a presumably later first round pick in 2015 would be much, much greater for Les Snead and Jeff Fisher.
Becuase of their previous drafts, the Rams should have a lot of depth strung through the roster already. Because they still have their own draft picks for this season, including a first round pick at 13th overall, the Rams wouldn’t be hurting their potential to fix weak spots either.
In the NFC West, you need to have a strong, well-rounded roster, but you also need to have star players who you can build your success on.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf.