It will take years to determine the winners and losers in the Rams-Titans blockbuster this morning.
But the verdict is already in on who the biggest short-term beneficiary of this deal will be. The people at the league office.
The S.S. Goodell has been taking on water for years now. BountyGate, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, DeflateGate, wrangling with player safety issues, getting a team delivered to LA and myriad other smaller issues have seemingly splintered ownership into factions and put Goodell’s approval rating at a low ebb.
A perfect way to turn the tide? Make sure LA works. The best way to put a lid on the bitterness and second-guessing is for the league to start vacuuming billions out of that market and divvying it up between the 31 other franchises.
Forget about whether Carson Wentz or Jared Goff – the top quarterback prospects in this draft – can actually perform on the field. The Rams bold move gives the NFL Network and its broadcast partners – which we at CSN are tangentially a part of since Comcast owns NBC and NBC Sports oversees Comcast’s regional sports networks – so much more content fodder than there was on Wednesday when the first pick was held by the Tennessee Titans and they were considering a left tackle.
Our good buddy (and corporate cousin) Mike Florio pointed this out on Pro Football Talk with a post entitled “Rams appear to be poised to do NFL a solid”.
When the deal went down, it was initially reported the Rams wanted Carson Wentz. That was quickly chased by a story from Peter King of MMQB saying the Rams didn’t know who they’d be taking.
Taking stock of the scene, Florio writes:
“Officially, the Rams have leaked to King that they don’t know “with certainty” who they’ll pick. And they’ll apparently adhere to that approach until they are on the clock two weeks from tonight, in order to ensure that the top of the draft will preserve some amount of intrigue. …
“The greater value flows to the NFL, which wants to ensure that the draft will draw maximum interest and ratings and revenue. Which is precisely why the Rams have leaked to King the notion that it’s not a done deal that they’ll take Wentz.”
Could there be any better way to prime the pump in the LA market than to have that team in possession of the first overall pick and in need of a quarterback? With a deep-pocketed owner like Stan Kroenke. With a head coach like Jeff Fisher whose career of mediocrity is so often excused because of his accessibility to the national media? With the NFL Network studios just down the street?
Sorry if it all just seems too convenient to me. I’m not saying that this deal has no conceivable football upside for the Rams. But you have to squint really hard to see it.
The Titans get the Rams’ top four picks this year (a first, two seconds and a third), plus Los Angeles’s first- and third-round picks in 2017. That 2017 first-rounder could be a top-five pick. The Rams get back a dice-roll prospect with the first overall pick, a fourth and a sixth.
It’s bold as hell. More bold than the other franchises that wanted to get to LA – the Chargers and Raiders – would have been.
Which may help explain why league executives overseeing the fight for LA reportedly turned the process into a bag job for Kroenke and the Rams. This must-read story by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. illustrates the lengths the NFL went to in advocating for the Rams proposal, specifically NFL executive Eric Grubman, who was the league’s point man on getting a team to LA.
Last month, the NFL announced that the “home” team for the league’s first-ever game in China to be played in 2018 will be the Rams. That’s a massive ask and undertaking for a franchise. Especially one which just relocated two years earlier. But it’s also a great chance for a franchise to make inroads with an untapped foreign market. The first “national” game this preseason (aside from the Hall of Fame Game) will be the Cowboys at the Rams. Oh, and the Rams will be the featured team on this year’s Hard Knocks.
I’ve always been amazed/naïve about the amount of backscratching that gets done in the upper reaches of the NFL. How willing a franchise’s “football people” are when it comes time to do the league’s bidding can have long-lasting effect. No “football” person has been more willing to appease the league than Fisher.
Which is why I found totally believable the report last month that the Rams drafted the league’s first openly gay player, Michael Sam, at the league’s prodding and with the guarantee that Hard Knocks would not feature the Rams that season.
Sam being drafted was a great photo-op for the NFL.
And NFL Media’s Michael Silver happened to be embedded with the Rams during that draft to report on all of it.
This out-of-nowhere call by St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher was a real-life plot twist more charged than anything "Draft Day" could have produced on the silver screen, and brought new meaning to the term "The Blind Side."
In the immediate aftermath, there was confusion, followed by a surreal, What the hell just happened? sinking in of the act's significance -- and, eventually, sincere celebration.
There was also something else buzzing through that room: A sort of awed appreciation for Fisher, the magnificently mustached face of the organization, and the man who made the seemingly spontaneous decision to alter both its national perception and its workplace environment without a shred of hesitation or fear.
As Fisher felt the love from virtually everyone in his midst, exchanging fist bumps and accepting congratulations, one of his younger employees put it thusly: "Such a pimp move. It was, Guess what I'm gonna do? Whatever the (expletive) I want. In the world today, it's truly impressive. That's what makes him the best guy to work for, and why so many of us would kill for the guy. It's very simple: Trust The 'Stache. It's big and powerful for a reason."
Fisher labeled the report that the Rams drafted Sam to satisfy the NFL’s agenda as “absurd”.
The point of all this? Some teams and some people play the game with Goodell. Things go OK for them. Other teams that don’t? Things might not go so well.