The Los Angeles Rams are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it's unlikely to get any more comfortable any time soon.
Forget the fact that they've been passed up by the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West. Ignore the fact that they're spending nearly $30 million in dead money this coming season to have running back Todd Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks play for other teams. Gloss over the fact that quarterback Jared Goff might have the most burdensome contract in the NFL. Overlook the fact that they rank dead last in available cap space, and pay no mind to the fact that the Rams don't have a first-round pick in next year's draft.
Instead, let's focus on the move that arguably put them in such a terrible position, and likely will keep them there for several seasons to come.
Make no mistake, Jalen Ramsey is an amazing player. He might be the best cornerback in all of football, which is why it cost Los Angeles such a pretty penny to acquire him last season. To get him, the Rams sent their 2020 and 2021 first-round draft picks and a 2021 fourth-round selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags never intended to sign Ramsey to the lucrative contract extension he surely would command, which was the main impetus in trading him. The Rams appeared ready to do what Jacksonville would not, particularly considering all the value they gave up in trading for Ramsey.
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Well, the time to pay the piper is fast approaching, and it doesn't sound like the Rams should be expecting any sort of a discount.
"The Rams know where I stand," Ramsey said Tuesday on a video conference call with reporters (H/T ESPN's Lindsey Thiry). "I think that's all that matters at the end of the day. It will be handled. They know where I stand. They've been in contact with my agent. They're on the same page as my agent."
"I feel like everybody knew what type of situation it was gonna be once they traded for me," Ramsey added, "so I think it doesn't really need to be talked about that much. It'll get handled."
Ramsey's next contract is expected to reset the cornerback market, and deservedly so. He has all of the leverage, as Los Angeles cannot afford to let him go. They don't want to, but the hefty annual salary they'll be forced to pay Ramsey inevitably will make it much tougher to fill out the rest of their roster.
"The anticipation was to acquire him with the hope that he's a Ram for a long time," Los Angeles coach Sean McVay told reporters. "You want to figure out, 'How do we get him taken care of the way that he deserves and still make sure we're mindful of the entire team?"
McVay is considered one of the brightest minds in all of football, but even he is going to be extremely challenged to solve that quandary. The Rams can't afford to let Ramsey go, but they can't really afford to pay him, either. The most likely outcome is that they ultimately sign Ramsey to a record-breaking extension, but upon doing so, they'll be squeezed even tighter than they already are.
Los Angeles had its window. The Rams took their shot, and they missed. Trading what they did for a player of Ramsey's quality is far more defensible than giving an unproven Goff $110 million guaranteed, but combined -- along with some other moves that backfired -- they appear likely to put the Rams in the NFC West cellar, and to keep them there for the foreseeable future.
The 49ers' division currently is considered perhaps the toughest in the NFL. But thanks to the Rams shooting themselves in the foot, that could change relatively soon.