For the past two years, the Rams and Bucs have been operating like they’re LeBron James and they just got to L.A. While the Bucs signed their big-name QB, the Rams took out another mortgage on their future, trading quite a bit for Matthew Stafford.
Whether it’s an old quarterback who has to fall off eventually, or a future without draft capital, these franchises are nearing the end of their runs as currently constructed. Tom Brady has been in win-now mode for a decade, and now the Bucs are, too. The Rams have adopted a similar approach as owner Stan Kroenke miraculously found his checkbook during the team’s relocation from St. Louis.
They’ve taken swings on talented yet problematic wide receivers — Odell Beckham Jr. seems to be working out while Antonio Brown walked out. They’ve signed defensive players to large, probably irresponsible deals — Aaron Donald and Shaq Barrett got bags of dough. And both are trying to fill in the roster deficiencies with big, broken down names — Eric Weddle came out of retirement to play 19 snaps for L.A. against Arizona, and the Bucs’ Richard Sherman is now relegated to a glorified coach after injuries ended his on-field season.
You can tell how heavily teams are trying to win now by how many ring chasers they sign. (*Cough* Lakers *cough* Nets *cough*) Ndamukong Suh even went from ring chaser with L.A. to ring winner in Tampa. The Rams front office and coach Sean McVay traded for ring chaser Stafford solely to win a Super Bowl, something they couldn’t do with Jared Goff when they met Brady while he was still in New England. Von Miller has a ring, so he’s technically not a ring chaser, but I’m at the point that if you’re scurrying from buffet to buffet like an insatiable kid, you’re a ring chaser.
Brady’s lone goal in life is to play as long as possible, and he’ll sign any player and employ any trainer to help him achieve football immortality no matter the blood oath. If he was forced to pick between Brown and Alex Guerrero, his head would implode. When was the last time he ate normal people food? 2011?
Speaking of decades, whenever this hedonistic approach catches up to these franchises, how long before they’re good again? The Rams and Bucs met in the NFC Championship Game in 1980 and 2000, so if history tells us anything, we won’t see another Bucs-Rams playoff game until about 2040.
This postseason has felt like a bit of a throwback to the 1990s/early 2000s with crucial games between the 49ers and Cowboys, the 49ers and Packers, the Chiefs and Bills, and now this game. Though there was only the one matchup in 2000, anything the Greatest Show on Turf did during their Super Bowl run stands out because it was so spontaneous and entertaining.
That Bucs’ core — Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, etc. — who lost to St. Louis eventually went on to win a ring of their own, but like the Rams, the franchise had a difficult time replicating the success once those championship players moved on. Who knows what the expiration date is on the current set of stars for each team, but you’d say most are at least halfway through their NFL careers if not further along.
The win at all costs method worked for the Broncos and Peyton Manning, it worked for the Bucs and Brady, the Rams are trying to make it work with Stafford, and it looks like we may see more teams try it as they line up to try to sway Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, plying them with talented wide receivers, offers of carte blanche, and playoff-ready defenses.
Latching onto the last vestiges of a great quarterback’s career makes sense, but I’m not sure if Stafford counts as great. However, if the Rams do manage to win a title with him, it only gives teams more incentive to take similar chances on talented guys mired in a bad situation who may not be great. Brady and Manning are the best-case scenarios for this type of move, but Brett Favre and Phillip Rivers are what it looks like when it goes wrong.
Those teams didn’t do what L.A. did to attain Rivers and Favre, so one of these gambles hasn’t blown up a franchise yet, but it might in the future. There’s a part of me — the NFL fandom lobe of my brain that’s permanently empty since the Rams left St. Louis — that wants to see one of these franchises go boom a la the Hindenberg.
Could Stafford rifle a couple of early interceptions and lay waste to McVay and the Rams’ recklessly plotted plans? Abso-fucking-lutely. Nothing would make me happier than to see Kroenke’s spending spree be all for naught. I mean, I’d be equally elated to see Brady end a postseason with a few broken iPads and a pouty face, too, but they already got a ring out of it.
Regardless, I don’t know who I want to lose more, but I do know that one of these win-now teams is going to lose now and will be ripe for the post-LeBron tailspin Cleveland and Miami know all too well, and that gives me joy.