The NFC Championship isn’t the only thing at stake on Sunday. Sure, for some, those stakes create enough drama, but for the Rams and the Saints, this game is the culmination of their respective all in strategies. They both utilized damn near every resource at their disposal in order to win a title. Win or lose both teams have a lot of questions to answer next year and not a lot of options to do so. Going all in is the new normal and teams have yet to fully understand the consequences of going full tilt.
Since 2011, teams have slowly figured out that they can load up on assets if they have blue chip players on very favorable rookie deals. The Eagles saw what the Seahawks did and took it to the next level by dealing draft picks to trade for established players that can fill in the margins of their team (i.e Jay Ajayi) and the Rams took that approach even further. Rams GM Les Snead traded several picks in order to overhaul his defense with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters while adding a weapon in Brandin Cooks on offense. During the summer he hit the buy out market and scooped up Ndamukong Suh for almost all of their remaining cap, with the rest of it going towards running back C.J. Anderson later in the season.
The Saints offseason wasn’t as dramatic. Their only major offseason move was adding back up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as their Nick Foles type insurance policy. The problem is that the Saints are near the bottom of the league in cap room next year and have a few players such as Mark Ingram to take care of. They’re capped out because of GM Mickey Loomis’ spending spree. Fortunately, he also hit big on the draft last year affording them blue-chip players such as running back Alvin Kamara and DB Marshon Lattimore that kept those moves from decimating them further. They also burned a first round pick to Green Bay in order to trade up for pass rusher Marcus Davenport.
The Rams enter next offseason with the 5th most cap space (about $77 million) but that doesn’t mean they’re in a good place. The reason their cap room is so robust is that they have A LOT of players coming off the books. Suh was on a one-year deal but so was Dante Fowler whom they traded a third-round pick for at the trade deadline. Furthermore, safety Lamarcus Joyner is playing on the franchise tag and can hit the open market next year as well. On offense, the Rams guard Rodger Saffold is also a free agent and there’s still the matter of extending quarterback Jared Goff.
That’s a lot of spots to replace and the Rams don’t have a lot of draft capital to do it as they only have their 2019 first but lost their 2nd and 3rd for Peters and Fowler respectively. Since their first will be towards the end of the round its possible they trade down and collect more picks but that isn’t a guarantee. They might not lose out on all of their free agents and could get lucky and resign some at a bargain but that’s a big IF.
The Eagles Super Bowl gamble last year is coming due next season as they are the bottom of the league in cap room and have to shed assets just to get under the cap. They also gave up a lot of picks in the last few years so they have to figure out how to extend their window before having to pay Carson Wentz. The Rams are in a similar boat, and the Saints are trying to extend Drew Brees‘ window before all their rookie contracts come up. The Minnesota Vikings went all in on quarterback Kirk Cousins because their skill players and defense were all on team friendly deals but they busted out before the season ended and now they stand to lose some of their major pieces on defense such as Anthony Barr.
The Rams were smart and locked up a lot of their core talent but that doesn’t guarantee them a slot in the playoffs every year. Just look at the Vikings. It could all end just as quickly as it began. If the Rams can win a Super Bowl then it will buy them time to rebuild while the 49ers, Seahawks, and the rest of the NFC play catch up. If they crap out then any regression will cause Les Snead’s once cool seat to suddenly heat up again.
Championship windows are short, just ask the Denver Broncos. The Patriots are the only team to create a near 20-year window and that’s by virtue of some Voldemort level dark magic. The name of the game is to take advantage of every team friendly deals while they can. For the Rams and Saints, this could be the last time they can be head and shoulders above everyone else for a while.