How the Rams’ blockbuster trade for Jalen Ramsey signals a new NFL


For a guy who’d been on the team for four days, Ramsey didn’t seem like much of a newcomer in the 37-10 rout of the pathetic Falcons. He didn’t give the full Jalen, but it was close. He didn’t start. He came in early in dime packages only, where he could match up against Julio Jones, mostly in bump coverage in the left slot or wide left or right. He did play in the regular scheme later, and it appeared he played six or seven snaps in the Rams’ zone coverage. In all, after two practices, he played 36 of the Rams’ 53 defensive snaps.

Ramsey was not a shutdown corner Sunday. In coverage snaps against Jones, he allowed four catches for 69 yards. He used a jarring hit on Devonta Freeman to force a fumble that the Rams should have recovered but lost in a scrum. Ramsey also demonstrated why he’s a cornerback so many receivers love to hate. On six different occasions, he yapped full-throated at Jones; it’s a wonder with the blizzard of flags in the league now why Ramsey didn’t get one for taunting/berating. Ramsey’s the classic case of a guy you hate when your team plays him, but you like his results when he’s on your team.

“I talk sh– every game,” said Ramsey, matter-of-factly and unapologetically, in a short madhouse locker-room scrum after the game.

In the upset of the week, his back seemed just fine.

When this was still a game in the second quarter, in an eight-play sequence, Jones beat Ramsey twice for significant plays. First, a quick slant from right to left for 17 yards, when Jones got inside Ramsey and sprinted toward the middle with a full stride on him. Then, a simple go route down the right sideline. Gain of 39. Jones simply out-raced Ramsey. So Jones didn’t torch Ramsey; overall, he got the better of him, but it was a good contest.

“If I was really in my groove, like on my sh–, it would really be scary out there,” he said.

Good for Ramsey in not bragging about his game, because it was a decent performance. That’s it. But maybe that’s to be expected after three weeks off with an injury no one in Jacksonville believed was an injury.

“I feel like I played okay,” he said. “I’ve got to get in my groove a little bit more. There’s maybe one, maybe two plays I wanted to have back or play a little bit different.”

For a game at least, all was right with the Rams. After losing three straight, this was a good week for a star-jolt, and for a soft underbelly of the schedule. The Rams stay in Atlanta to practice this week before over-nighting to London on Thursday evening, then playing the Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Combined Falcons/Bengals record: 1-13.

There’s enough in what the Rams are doing for a book about how modern football is changing. I don’t have time for a book, so let’s do Cliff’s Notes. The Rams are not alone in bulking up on trades. Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (!) are dipping their toes in the pool more than they used to, or more than their predecessors. This could be an outlier season regarding trades, but I doubt it. With eight days to go before the trading deadline, see how times have changed in 10 years:

2009: 39 trades in the calendar year, involving 50 players. Seven traded players were Pro Bowlers at least once.

2019: 54 trades (with eight days left in the period), involving 69 players. Thirteen have been to at least one Pro Bowl.

That’s a snapshot, not a long-term study. But it just feels like trading has picked up, and though the Rams may be at the head of the pack, they’re not alone. One GM told me over the weekend when I relayed those trading stats: “I bet that numbers ends up at 65.”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian, “and I want to withhold final judgment, but there are a few factors. Miami’s getting rid of players. The Rams are aggressive. And I think for players with leverage, they see this as being the NBA. I’ll go where I want to go. Ramsey, Antonio Brown—trade me, and the hell with the consequences. But there’s also a little bit of the old [Dodgers GM] Branch Rickey in some of the newer GMs. Rickey said, ‘The only title you can win is the title you can win this year.’ “

Polian then made a fascinating point: He said he didn’t want to be a “curbstone psychologist.” But he said, “I think this generation of GMs might be a little more transactional. It used to be not many GMs thought about taking risks. They were from a generation where their parents might have grown up in the Depression, or remembered the Depression. Life was hard enough without taking risks. Today, the idea that you can make these decisions and change your team quickly is inculcated in this generation. I’m not sure of that, but it seems to be true.”

I love that theory. I think it is dead-on. Why wait to fix a problem when you might get fired after two years? When I told Demoff and Snead, they were fascinated. “Bill makes a great point about our league now, and your trade data backs up the fact it’s not just us. Bill Belichick is great at it too. When they have a hole, he doesn’t wait. He attacks. He trades. He takes chances too.”

Demoff pounced next: “The NBA is coming to the NFL. This [the Ramsey trade] is a similar case to those NBA deals.

“Prior team-building formulas, where you basically had guys for their careers, is pretty much over,” he said. “Think of the guys who’ve moved in the past year. Khalil Mack. Marcus Peters. Jalen Ramsey. Jarvis LandryLaremy Tunsil—”

“Odell!” Snead interjected.

“Beckham too—forgot him,” Demoff said. “But I think there’s one other important factor here. Today, it’s easier to find ways to measure performance. There’s a rise of analytics, there’s better technology, better and more accurate data. What we’ve found is you can find undervalued players easier than before. So I think football people are getting better at synthesizing data to find players.”

I had one more question: “All indications are that Ramsey pulled a power play to force his way out of Jacksonville. They weren’t going to trade him until he basically just stopped playing. Do you have any fear that’ll happen here?”

“No,” Snead said. “I can honestly say I do not fear that. He’s coming to L.A., which is where players love to play. He’s got Sean, who is great at creating a culture players thrive in.”

The Rams are a destination place now. But in trading two first-rounders for Ramsey, they’ve basically gone all-in on paying him for the long term. And already they are paying four players top-of-market deals: quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, wideout Brandin Cooks and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Peters was jettisoned to Baltimore in part because L.A. knew it didn’t want to pay him in the $15-million-a-year range long-term after this season; Baltimore may not either, but they needed a playmaking cornerback for this season. And though Ramsey could make more than Peters, that’s coming in 2021, not 2020. Getting Ramsey now gives the Rams two seasons—and, as importantly, two postseasons—to maximize their window.

One thing worries me, even with the cap rising $10/12 million a year. When players get quite good, will the Rams, as the Ravens have done regularly, be willing to let them go to get the compensatory third/fourth-round pick? I present the case of wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He has become Jared Goff’s favorite target. (Targets in 2019: Kupp 78, Robert Woods 58, Brandin Cooks 44.) At $1.05 million and $1.2 million through the end of 2020, Kupp is incredible value. You can’t pay ‘em all, and Kupp could be a casualty of Ramsey’s arrival—if the Rams pay to keep him. That’s an issue for 2021, but the Rams must have angst about it now.

“The Rams way is just not sustainable,” one veteran front-office man (not a GM) told me Friday. “You cannot pay all those guys in a cap era.” Maybe. But I’d have two rejoinders, neither of which is, It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. One: The Rams have found some pretty good low-cost players in the process. Two: It probably depends on the development of Jared Goff more than anything else, because no one wins everything without very good play out of the quarterback.

The Ramsey deal went over big in the locker room, as you’d figure it would. Don’t discount the importance of that. “Players loved it,” Goff said. “Going out and seeing him at practice the other day—wow. That’s something players really like.”

“When your team is built for the now,” safety Eric Weddle told me in the locker room Sunday, “and you have a chance in the future to have two of the best players in this league to build around, Jalen and Aaron Donald, you can get role players to build around them. In all honesty, a draft pick around 25 or 30 you’re probably going to trade anyway. When you have a chance to get one of the best players in the league for two ones, I mean, why not do it?”

The only reason is Ramsey might not be around forever. But the Rams are comfortable with what I call The Newbie Risk/Reward Factor. Which means: When in doubt, go get the stud, and worry about everything else later.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.