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Rams continue on downward trajectory following Brandin Cooks trade

Brandin Cooks trade
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade Thursday evening, sending former 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans.

The trade looks good on paper. Los Angeles rid itself of Cooks’ bad contract. It was able to pick up a late second-round pick in this month’s NFL Draft while sending back a fourth rounder in 2022.

With that said, this is the latest example of general manager Les Snead and Co. downgrading a roster that’s just one-plus calendar year removed from earning a trip to the Super Bowl.

Here’s why: Los Angeles had already lost multiple key contributors to a team that many had pegged as the next great dynasty under offensive mastermind Sean McVay. It did not start with Cooks. It will not end with Cooks.

The trade: Struggling to maintain any resemblance of draft capital, the Rams needed to add an early-round pick. They did just that in acquiring a second rounder from Houston. But it’s not enough.

  • Cooks struggled to the tune of less than 600 receiving yards last season. He’s the fifth highest-paid receiver in the NFL in terms of average annual salary. Getting rid of him helps the Rams long-term.
  • Unfortunately, it does not help Los Angeles next season. Cooks has been the Rams’ No. 1 receiver since they acquired him from the New England Patriots ahead of the 2018 season. There’s now a vacuum to be filled.
  • Said vacuum will not be filled with a late second-round pick regardless of how deep the 2020 NFL Draft is at wide receiver. Los Angeles still doesn’t have the cap room to add an upgrade at receiver behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.

The draft: As noted above, Los Angeles is without the draft capital to build up its roster and depth. Previous trades pretty much gutted the prospect of team-building in this manner.

  • The Rams dealt away both of their first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 as well as a 2021 second-round pick for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. It did not pay off during a disappointing 2019 campaign for the team.
  • Los Angeles is now in position where it has to extend Ramsey or face losing him in free agency. Despite his struggles with the Rams last year, the boisterous defensive back will want to top Byron Jones as the highest-paid corner in the NFL.

Other recent deals include Los Angeles acquiring Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of the 2018 season. He played less than two seasons with Los Angeles before being dealt to the Baltimore Ravens for pennies on the dollar during the 2019 campaign. This has Los Angeles in a less-than-ideal situation as it relates to the draft moving forward.

The 2020 offseason: In cost-cutting moves, the Rams have lost both talent and depth at need positions.

  • Todd Gurley: Los Angeles’ decision to release Gurley after a down 2019 season came as a surprise to many folks. He’s a former Offensive Player of the Year candidate. The loss of Gurley leaves a pedestrian Malcolm Brown and unproven Darrell Henderson as the Rams’ top two backs.
  • Brandin Cooks: It’s now clear that Los Angeles will have to rely on an average receiver in that of Josh Reynolds behind Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. It will also have to target this position early in the draft, taking away from upgrading in other areas.
  • Clay Matthews: This six-time Pro Bowler did well in a part-time role, recording eight sacks in his only season with the Rams. Now that they have released Matthews, there’s a big pass-rush hole for Sean McVay and Co.
  • Cory Littleton: A Pro Bowl performer back in 2018, Los Angeles faced an uphill climb to retain Littleton in free agency. When Las Vegas threw the Brinks Truck at him, it was all over. Littleton, 26, recorded a combined 259 tackles, 22 passes defended, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions over the past two seasons.
  • Dante Fowler Jr.: Yet another player Snead and Co. gave up draft pick compensation for, Fowler Jr. signed a three-year, $45 million deal with Atlanta after recording 11.5 sacks last season. The addition of former Bears first-round bust Leonard Floyd does not change the dynamics here.
  • Nickell Robey-Coleman: One of the better slot corners in the NFL, Robey-Coleman took a team-friendly deal with the Eagles in free agency. He’s one player the Rams could have afforded to re-sign. Alas, it was not to be.

The NFC West: The defending conference champions are right back on top. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals have improved big time. Los Angeles is in trouble.

  • The San Francisco 49ers might have lost DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, but they have the depth to overcome that and are in position to ace the 2020 NFL Draft.
  • In Arizona, the Cardinals added a plethora of talent to a young roster. The headliner here was the acquisition of DeAndre Hopkins in a blockbuster trade. With Kyler Murray set to take that next step, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Arizona is better than the Rams right now.
  • Sure the Seahawks have had their fair share of issues this offseason. They are still without an offensive line to speak of. But with Russell Wilson under center, these Hawks will always find a way to compete for a playoff spot.

At this point, it’s not too overblown to conclude that Los Angeles is closer to last place than the top of the NFC West. What a stunning drop from the pedestal for this team.

Bottom line

Los Angeles might have technically won the Cooks trade. That’s what happens nowadays when doing business with Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien.

Even then, the loss of Cooks is not going to help these Rams short term. It was yet another subtraction from a roster that had these Rams in Super Bowl contention just a short while ago.

Without much draft capital and cap room and existing in a tough NFC West, these Rams are no longer playoff contenders. It’s that simple. Moving on from Cooks for a late second-round pick as a way to save cash proves that the Rams’ brass agrees with that sentiment.

Time to retool and rebuild. It’s not happening in 2020. That’s as clear as day right now in Los Angeles. It’s the objective truth.