This off-season, the Los Angeles Rams have garnered more headlines and attention than any other team in the NFL.
They added defensive tackle Ndamukung Suh and cornerbacks Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters to an already talented defense in blockbuster moves. On the other side of the football, the Rams bolstered the league’s highest scoring offense with yet another weapon for burgeoning quarterback Jared Goff. They traded for explosive wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who is coming off a 1,000 yard season with the Patriots.
The Rams will undoubtedly make some noise in 2018. Each of their competitors in the NFC West — consisting of Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona — is going through upheaval of some sort (the 49ers, led by prodigy quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, are still likely one or two years away from the playoffs). In theory, this is the perfect year for the Rams to join the league’s elite and improve upon their surprising 11-5 season in 2017.
But the Rams are not necessarily built for the long haul. Cooks is in the final year of his rookie deal (hints why New England had no problem flipping him for a first-rounder). Similarly, Peters will become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, while Suh signed on for just one year.
On top of that, the Rams have yet to come to terms with a new deal for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the team’s most dominant player. Once his rookie deal ends after this season, Donald could become the league’s highest paid defensive player, whether that contract comes in Los Angeles or elsewhere.
With myriad young stars at the end of their cheap rookie contracts, the Rams won’t be able to pay everyone for the long haul. Tough decisions over Cooks, Peters, Suh and Donald are on the horizon, and the situation wasn’t improved by the team’s lack of a first or second round pick in this year’s draft. Head coach Sean McVay and Co. likely have a one or two year window to win big, or risk crashing and burning. By the time their new $4 billion, 300 acre stadium opens up in 2020, the Rams may not have the star power to match the impressive venue.
In contrast, the Rams’ future roommates and cross town rivals, the Chargers, have not created much buzz this offseason. Coming off an ill-advised and overly combative “Fight for LA” campaign during the 2017 season, the Chargers embarrassingly struggled to sell out the 27,000 seat StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. in 2017.
It was never going to be an easy debut season in Los Angeles for the Chargers. They alienated their only real fan base when they left San Diego in 2017, and the team lacks the Rams’ historical ties to the area (even though the Chargers’ first season in franchise history was played at the Coliseum). The Chargers’ move to L.A. was hard to see as anything more than a money grab for the Spanos family, which has owned (and barely operated) the franchise since 1984.
Bad PR aside, the Chargers have at least built their roster for the long haul. The team’s core of running back Melvin Gordon and defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are still in the hearts of their current deals.
Unlike the Rams, who weren’t able to add meaningful young talent in the draft, the Chargers took safety Derwin James at 17th overall, which was widely considered the steal of the first round (James was projected to go in the top ten by numerous outlets). They also added former USC outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu in the second round, who ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. called “the best player on the board” at that point.
“This Super Bowl we’re going to win,” Ingram told reporters on Monday, according to ESPN. “We haven’t been to the playoffs in a while. I think it’s going to be crazy, this Super Bowl we’re going to win is going to be crazy.”
It’s difficult to see the Chargers reaching those heights in 2018, given their young roster and murderer’s row of a division (the AFC West includes the Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, who all look like playoff contenders).
But the next five years look bright for Ingram and his team. The defense has quietly reached elite status with its stiff secondary (they gave up just 197 passing yards per game) and menacing pass rush, which created the fifth-most sacks in the NFL last year. Meanwhile, 36-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers appears to be only getting more prolific with age, throwing for 4,515 yards in 2017 with just 10 interceptions.
The Rams have taken over the spotlight for now, but there could be a new leading team in Los Angeles sooner rather than later. One is built to win; the other is built to last.
Trevor Denton is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other week.