A quiet offseason by NFL standards was rocked awake by a blockbuster trade between the Rams and Titans which sent six picks including two first rounders to Tennessee in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick and some change.
The move was not particularly surprising on its face. Titans GM Jon Robinson had been crystal clear in his desire to move out of the No. 1 spot since taking the job in January, and the Rams were among a handful of teams linked with the top pick over the last several weeks. There is, however, a twinge of irony to the deal. The brain-trust which green-lit this trade is the same one which was on the other side of a similar deal involving Robert Griffin III in 2012, a trade the brain-trust appeared to claim victory for in the troll-iest way possible just two seasons ago.
The Rams “victory” in that trade – they have yet to have a winning season since making the deal despite landing three quality defensive starters with their haul – did not appear to be so clear before RG3 began his precipitous fall, however, and like the Griffin deal, the future lens this trade is viewed through will hinge much more on the quality of the quarterback Los Angeles lands at No. 1 than it will the players the Titans nab with their picks. If the top pick is able to elevate the Rams out of the 7-9 purgatory they have built a permanent residence in over the last six seasons, then the deal will be viewed as a success no matter the cost.
The question, then, is who do the Rams stake their future on? Reports in the immediate aftermath have been contradictory. Some have said North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz is the pick, others have tabbed Cal QB Jared Goff, and others still have claimed Los Angeles has yet to make a final decision. It is difficult to believe the Rams gave up as much as they did without already having a decision in place, but it is not surprising they are keeping the choice under wraps for now.
Even if they hit on the quarterback, their roster is still not ready to go. The defense lost two important pieces in the secondary in free agency, the offense needs to find playmakers outside of Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin, and the offensive line remains a work in progress. With no Day 2 selections following the trade, finding those necessary pieces now becomes more difficult. The defense should remain a strength even without reinforcements, but the offense will continue to be a concern even after the new face of the franchise is selected.
As for the other side of the trade, the deal could not have been much better for Tennessee. The Titans unquestionably have needs all over the roster, but their depth chart is not as bare as most teams who “earn” the No. 1 pick. Their quarterback is already in place, they have some young and interesting playmakers at receiver, they have two quality pass rushers, and they have severely underrated talent along the defensive line. Add in DeMarco Murray, who many are more bullish on than yours truly, and a healthy Jason McCourty, and Tennessee has the makings of a solid roster. Now armed with 11 picks in the first three rounds over the next two seasons including six in the top 76 this year, they have the opportunity to fill holes with quality picks while also stockpiling the ammunition to go up and get a franchise player if they can take a step forward this season. Bravo to Jon Robinson.
The trade will have knock-on effects for teams not involved as well. The biggest losers in the deal are the Browns, who were set to have their pick of the quarterback litter before the Titans ruined the party. Now they are faced with the decision to accept whichever scraps the Rams drop from the adult table or attempt to trade down and acquire assets. The latter decision would seem the preferred choice for an analytics-driven organization, especially considering the state of the current roster, but the football people in the building likely will want to grab a quarterback even if it is their second choice.
There is also the small matter of finding someone willing to move up to No. 2. Reportedly enamored with Wentz, the Eagles contacted the Titans about the No. 1 pick before backing out earlier in the week. If Wentz falls to No. 2, they would likely be interested. The 49ers could also get involved if the right quarterback falls, but their quarterback situation along with Colin Kaepernick’s future remains as muddled as ever. The Cowboys could also be a dark-horse option. There will likely be interest, but that does not make the Browns’ decision any less complex.
Unlike Cleveland, the team in the No. 3 spot is sitting pretty. With quarterbacks almost certain to occupy the first two slots in the draft, San Diego is in a great position to land the top player on their board. For a team which struggled to protect Philip Rivers last season and seems to constantly have injuries along the offensive line, drafting Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil seems like the best option on the surface, but tackle is not really where the Chargers struggle. King Dunlap will soon be 31 and only played seven games last season, but he is still a quality left tackle when healthy, and Joe Barksdale was just re-signed to a four-year deal to man the right side. San Diego could decide to draft Tunsil with the intention of dumping Dunlap or moving someone inside, but drafting the best defensive player available makes more sense. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey and Oregon DE DeForest Buckner are two top-rated players who would fill big needs on defense.
The Cowboys are also in a good spot to land a top defensive player if they so choose. Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline reports Ramsey is the top player on their board, and there is now a better than not chance he is still available at No. 4. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott’s name will continue to come up until the pick is officially handed in, UCLA LB Myles Jack will be a strong consideration, and Ohio State DE Joey Bosa cannot be ruled out despite reports of Dallas souring on him over the last couple weeks.
Jacksonville will likely be interested in Jack and Bosa as well, and despite badly missing on Luke Joeckel with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and signing Kelvin Beachum in free agency, they would find it very difficult to pass on Tunsil at No. 5. If Tunsil somehow did slip past Jacksonville, the Ravens would likely take three seconds to turn in the pick, and the Eagles would likely take even less time to select Elliott if he somehow fell into their lap. From there, the twists and turns would just keep coming.
What once looked like a relatively boring draft has now been shocked into life by a mammoth deal with wide-reaching implications that go well beyond the first pick. The next two weeks should be an exciting ride.