When the Los Angeles Rams — the back-to-the-future franchise — shoved their draft coin to the middle of the table to get the top pick from the Tennessee Titans, most football fans wondered if this is 2016 or 1994, the last year the Rams were in Los Angeles.
So many similar trades have bombed. Further, the Rams are banking on a big variable — a rookie quarterback. And we can’t even agree on which one they will take in 10 days. All we know is either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz will lead the Rams back to Hollywood, and into the future.
Jerry Jones, the loquacious owner of the Dallas Cowboys, chimed in on the matter, sardonically saying he didn’t know Herschel Walker was still around. The reference, of course, is to the trade between the Vikings and Jones’s fledgling Cowboys, who were getting smacked around the NFL, with Troy Aikman and little else.
The Vikings surrendered a king’s ransom in 1989 for Walker, a good player who didn’t make the Vikings great. Meanwhile, the Cowboys used those draft picks, along with Jimmy Johnson’s keen eye for college talent, to build a dynasty.
History is on the side of the team that stockpiles draft picks, or at least against the team that gives them away. The Vikings never reached the Super Bowl with Walker. The Saints hemorrhaged an entire draft 10 years later for Ricky Williams, who wound up in Miami. The Redskins bet the farm 13 years later for Robert Griffin III, who’s now in Cleveland.
There’s some odd symmetry to the teams in these deals.
The Rams, oddly enough, were the team that gobbled up Washington’s picks. Every year we’re told this is the year they ride their robust defense to the playoffs, and yet they’re now a headless team heading west.
The Redskins were the beneficiaries of Mike Ditka’s brain cramp in New Orleans. And while they drafted LaVar Arrington and Champ Bailey with some of those picks, owner Daniel Snyder was too busy playing musical chairs with his brain trust to recapture their 1980s eminence.
So, in fairness, only the Cowboys molded a treasure trove of picks into gridiron gold. But in pro football, draft picks are the quintessential currency. It’s more a matter of the team getting them. Give the Steelers, Packers or Patriots those picks, and you’d likely see them in a Super Bowl very soon.
At least the Titans have the one thing the Rams need — a QB. Marcus Mariota proved he’s more than an embellished wishbone quarterback. If head coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson can flank Mariota with talent — they have the 15th, 43rd, 45th and 76th picks this year, along with a first and third-round pick next year — they will ascend quickly in a league that loves the outhouse-to-penthouse narrative.
So after all the dealing and draft picks and speculation, what do we know? Based on history, the Titans, who haven’t been great since Jeff Fisher was their coach, aren’t likely to climb their ladder of draft picks to the Super Bowl.
But, based on these deals, we are pretty sure that Fisher’s current team, the Rams, will either pick the wrong player or pick the right one and still mess it up. Because no matter how good their QB is, they won’t have draft picks to build around him.
Perhaps the most solid equation of all — beyond draft boards and algorithms that grade each round — we’re talking about two losing franchises that just did business with each other.
So either the new climes give the Rams a fresh and prosperous start, or they will be the Rams, who haven’t been to a Super Bowl in 15 years. The Titans will either take these picks and build a wall around Mariota, or they will be the Titans, who haven’t been to a Super Bowl in 17 years (when they lost to the Rams).
Even harder than picking a great player is shedding the culture of losing. So it’s up to two losers to use the former to accomplish the latter. It’s been done before, though history says to bet against it.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.