- Les Snead is at it again, this time acquiring Aqib Talib in a second statement move in as many weeks for the Rams, creating one of the NFL's most dominant secondaries. In Denver, this clearing of cap space signals only one thing: A likely run for Kirk Cousins.
With Thursday night’s trade of Aqib Talib to the Rams, both Los Angeles and Denver showed the NFL world at large that it’s entirely possible to remake your franchise overnight if you’re aggressive enough.
Consider what is in the works:
In the trade, the Broncos received a fifth-round pick and managed to get the Rams to digest Talib’s contract as is: $11 million for the 2018 season, and $8 million for the ’19 season. This puts them over $35 million in projected space, according to Overthecap.com, and in better condition to make a run at QB Kirk Cousins.
The Rams, since last Monday, have amassed arguably the league’s second-best cornerback tandem out of thin air—and without mortgaging the near future. Their 2018 draft coffer is still robust, having lost just one significant pick for the right to take Marcus Peters from the Chiefs.
For general managers who spend their media opportunities telling reporters and fans that this is a process, treating the navigation of their roster like a mathematician taking a crack at the Millennium Prize Problems, both Les Snead and John Elway represent the antithesis. When the climate is right, there is a chance to reshape your approach significantly while not drastically altering the economic health of your club.
Assuming the Broncos also part ways with running back C.J. Anderson, they’ll have a formidable amount of first-year cap space (nearly $40 million) to offer Cousins, plus a lineup that still includes Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on offense, and Chris Harris, Bradley Roby and Brandon Marshall on defense. As attractive as the Vikings’ offer could be, Elway has put himself in striking distance both financially and competitively.
Assuming the Rams are done wheeling and dealing this offseason (which isn’t a safe bet given the roll Snead has been on) the team still has the following picks in the 2018 draft coming up: 1 (23), 3 (87), 4 (111), 4 (135), 5 (160), 6 (176), 6 (183), 6 (194), 6 (195) and 6 (198).
There is a downside to all of this. Obviously, the Rams would not have gotten a pair of All-Pro cornerbacks at Dollar General prices if there weren’t concerns. Peters was suspended by the Chiefs and was also thrown off his college football team. Though Kansas City notoriously placed a premium on talent over character, and maybe didn’t do enough to foster Peters during his time with the Chiefs, the Rams have been forewarned. Talib is 32 years old, and throughout his career has not been unfamiliar with the league office’s disciplinary program despite his reputation as a studious, lock-down defender.
Obviously, the Broncos could whiff on Cousins and hamstring their defense—by far their strongest asset—heading into a 2018 season where the division could be more wide open than ever.
But it’s the distaste for mediocrity, whether on a micro level in Los Angeles (their cornerback situation) or the macro level in Denver (their entire offense) that makes this a beautiful moment in the NFL offseason.
We are coming off a year where the most situationally aggressive NFL teams—the Eagles, Jaguars and Patriots—all wound up among the league’s final four. Their roster not only churns at the bottom third, but at the top, where premium, in-prime talent gets combined with flexible coaching to create a dominant force.
There are plenty of general managers in Elway’s position who would dig into the Paxton Lynch pick and watch the franchise slowly sink into deeper water while a base of season ticket holders waits for him to develop. There are plenty of general managers in Snead’s position who would still be taking a victory lap, clapping back at everyone who scoffed at the hiring of a 31-year-old head coach and the drafting of Jared Goff the year before.
Neither of these executives will rest. It could very well be their undoing in the end, but at least it will be one hell of a ride.