It was a typical February weekday in Los Angeles. Mild weather. Massive traffic. Downtown was bustling but not much more than usual, even though the newly crowned Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams took to the streets for a victory parade. Only about 20,000 people showed up. One social media jokester quipped that there were more Aaron Donald abs than there than fans. In comparison, the Kansas City Chiefs attracted more than 800,000 fans to their Super Bowl victory parade after the 2019 season.
Despite the sparse attendance, there was plenty of excitement around the Rams. Sure, the franchise was fresh off a few missteps and unfortunate events. There was the controversial, financially driven move from St Louis in 2016, which alienated a massive chunk of the team’s fanbase. Playing the 2020 season in an empty SoFi Stadium due to Covid-19 was not ideal. And sharing that stadium (and a market) with the Chargers didn’t help build a new fanbase either.
But in 2022 the Rams made their pitch to the city of Los Angeles in the splashiest way, with a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to win Super Bowl LVI. The Rams were full of stars and promise then – Donald, Cooper Kupp, Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr – not to mention their fiery head coach, Sean McVay. Given salary cap constraints, the roster would naturally shift a bit. The Rams had spent draft capital and plenty of Stan Kroenke’s money assembling a super team that accomplished its mission to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
Old Rams fans, bandwagon Rams fans, celebrity fans: they all came out of the woodwork even if they didn’t attend the parade. The Super Bowl win and the years of success that preceeded it presented the perfect opportunity to grow the fanbase and become part of the city’s culture.
But is a Super Bowl worth it if your franchise immediately falls off a cliff?
Any excitement was quickly halted once the Rams took the field last season. Andrew Whitworth, the team’s trusty left tackle, finally retired. The offensive line was a shambles, trotting out 11 different starters. It allowed 59 sacks, the third most in the league.
Miller, a massive part of the Rams Super Bowl run, became a Buffalo Bill after a midseason trade. Stafford, who threw 41 touchdowns in 2021, looked old and feeble with his new makeshift line. He missed eight games after suffering multiple concussions, a contusion, and a nagging elbow injury. The passing game resembled the Greatest Show on Turf Rams during the Super Bowl run, but were largely pulseless last season. The Rams had just four passing plays of more than 40 yards last year compared to 17 the year prior. Losing Kupp to an ankle injury halfway through the season didn’t help matters. The icing on the rotting cake was Mr Indestructible, Donald suffering a high ankle sprain in late November, the first notable injury of his nine-year career.
The season, in short, was a shitshow. The Rams finished 5-12, including losses to opponents quarterbacked by Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton. It was the worst Super Bowl hangover in 40 years.
Maybe last season’s disaster was the football gods trying to tell Rams GM Les Snead that he shouldn’t have worn a Fuck Draft Picks shirt to the championship parade. Earlier this year, Snead admitted he now regrets his sartorial choice: “I will admit that anytime you probably say something like that … you’re going to eat those words at some point in time,” he told the LA Times.
That time appears to have arrived. It’s been seven years since the Rams last picked in the first round of the draft. They traded their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks for Ramsey who now plays for the Dolphins, and their 2022 and 2023 picks for Stafford who is a walking list of injuries, is likely on the decline, and may or may not be having issues connecting with his younger teammates.
As disastrous as last season was, this one may be worse. The roster turnover since the Super Bowl has been staggering. There are now 14 rookies on the final roster, none, of course, first rounders, and the team failed to sign any significant free agents. Their three stars – Kupp, Stafford, and Donald – are not the players who dominated in 2021. Kupp, dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, has already been ruled out for Week 1 against Seattle and may end up on injured reserve.
Entering this season, the Rams are feeling the seismic impact of the draft capital they gave away to win a Super Bowl. The positives are few and far between.
“What I do feel good about is you bring in [offensive lineman] Kevin Dotson who’s got starting experience,” McVay recently told reporters.
Dotson may turn out to be a find, but for a team that won the Super Bowl 19 months ago to be promoting their newest add as ‘a guy who’s played before’ is remarkable.
The Rams got creative with the salary cap, tossed away their draft capital and now they’re paying the price. To his credit, Snead isn’t sugarcoating the situation although he is trying to soften the blow by calling the plan a remodel rather than a rebuild. But the thing about remodels is they are typically pricier and lengthier than anticipated. Have the Rams built enough goodwill for their fanbase to wait around?