What Mink Thinks: 'F Them Picks!' Won't Be Ravens' Strategy

Left: Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead walks on the field before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong); Right: Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta in his office at the Under Armor Performance Center (Baltimore Ravens Photo/Shawn Hubbard)

For seven straight years, the Los Angeles Rams will not make a first-round pick. They won't make one in the second round this year either.

Think Rams General Manager Les Snead cares?

"F them picks!" he yelled into the microphone at the Rams' Super Bowl parade Wednesday. "We'll use them to go win more Super Bowls."

Snead's unorthodox "all in" gamble worked out and he's basking in it. Fans ate it up. Even LeBron James loved it.

But don't expect the Ravens to follow the Rams' blueprint. The only way General Manager Eric DeCosta would say "F them picks" is if "F" stood for "fortify."

In 2018, the Rams traded a first-round pick for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. In 2019, they traded their next two first-round picks for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Last offseason, they traded their 2022 and 2023 first rounders for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Snead then traded second- and third-round picks for outside linebacker Von Miller at this year's trade deadline and signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

As a result, the Rams had one of the most top-heavy Super Bowl teams in recent history. Seven players carried a contract with an annual average value of at least $15 million. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's the most of any Super Bowl team since 2010.

The Rams were driven by superstars. In the end, those superstars ended up making the plays needed to win the Super Bowl. Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp drove them down the field for the game-winning score. Aaron Donald sealed the win by barging into the backfield to sling down Joe Burrow.

Two of those players (Kupp and Donald) were drafted. There's no doubt that the Rams were in the Super Bowl at all because of Stafford and Ramsey, however. Beckham and Miller closed out the Rams' comeback win over the Ravens in Week 17 and were key pieces down the stretch.

But part of the reason why the Rams' strategy worked out is because they also stayed incredibly healthy. The risk of having so much of the team's resources tied into just a few players is that if they get hurt, you might be sunk. Just ask the Ravens how much it has hurt to be without Ronnie Stanley ever since he inked his mega deal.

The Rams were one of the NFL's healthiest teams this season, with only nine players on injured reserve accounting for less than $12 million of their salary-cap space. The Ravens had 20 players and $48 million of salary-cap space on IR, per Spotrac.

It should say something about Baltimore's quality of depth, accrued by stocking up on draft picks instead of trading them away, that the Ravens had the Rams on the ropes in Week 17 despite being major underdogs.

The Rams' depth was fleeting. They were fortunate to pluck Eric Weddle out of retirement and plug him into an immediate leading role on their defense, but that's not common. When Beckham went down with a knee injury early in the Super Bowl, their offense was floundering until Stafford and Kupp put it on their backs on the final drive. Had it not been for a questionable holding penalty on that final drive, the Rams would have been looking for a fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line with the game on the line. They were that close to having "all in" go belly up.

It illustrates just how narrow the margin is for winning and losing in the NFL. Sometimes you just have to get the right break, such as good health or a timely penalty call in your favor. Then, in the end, typically you need a playmaker to make a play.

The Ravens know they aren't going to win it all by assembling a team of Average Joes. You must have stars. You have to hit with those draft picks that you protect. Had Baltimore had its biggest star, Lamar Jackson, down the stretch, it probably would have beaten the Rams and maybe gotten into the playoffs.

But the Ravens will continue to collect those stars primarily through the draft. That has always been Baltimore's lifeblood, and that's been a model that has led to sustained success. Put yourself in position, year after year, to challenge for a Super Bowl and let the chips fall where they may. Their 2012 squad wasn't their best, but it won it all after knocking on the door with a better squad the previous year.

This doesn't mean DeCosta is conservative. He traded for Marcus Peters midway through 2019 and for Yannick Ngakoue at the deadline in 2020. After last year's trade deadline passed, it was revealed that DeCosta was "among the most active" general managers in the league, looking to upgrade at several positions. DeCosta reportedly took aim at Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, but Miami likely wanted a "first-rounder and more".

So what if the Ravens, who at the time sat in first place, had gotten Howard? Would that have put them in the playoffs? In the Super Bowl? Probably not considering the other injuries.

Trading for superstars is exciting. Being bold is fun. But it doesn't always work out. DeCosta will continue to be aggressive in building a championship contender, but not to the "F it" extreme.

"One of the decisions you have to make as a GM is do you mortgage the future to make a short-term trade," DeCosta said earlier this month. "Could we have done that? Probably, we could have. Other teams have done it with some success.

"But our philosophy and my philosophy is that the idea of taking on dead money each year is probably not a great philosophy. If you look at other teams' situations, you'll see teams this year that are in very, very tough financial straits. I don't want that to be us. Steve [Bisciotti] doesn't want that to be us. John [Harbaugh] doesn't want that to be us. Dick Cass doesn't want that to be us."

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