The Rams better win Sunday. A chance like this might not come again.
This Super Bowl run was the result of the Rams recognizing the special opportunity in front of them and seizing it.
That’s not to say they can’t return to this stage again. However, they might never again have as many chips to push into the middle of the proverbial poker table as they did this season.
“I guess you can look at it like that,” running back Todd Gurley said.
Whatever happens against the New England Patriots at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Jared Goff will make history when he takes his first steps on the field.
Goff will be the first quarterback to play in a Super Bowl within three years of being selected No. 1 in the draft.
From the Rams’ perspective, the factoid is more than an interesting piece of trivia. Goff’s quick ascension, aided by the guidance of coach Sean McVay, is the reason they are here.
The overly simplified version of the story is that because they didn’t have to pay him much — since Goff is still on his rookie contract — they were able to pay others. With Goff playing well enough to earn Pro Bowl recognition, the Rams didn’t have to compromise quality at the most important position.
“They built this team the way we wanted to build it,” defensive end Michael Brockers said.
Goff counted $7.6 million against the salary cap, according to spotrac.com. The figure is considerably below the $25 million or more the Rams could have to pay him annually if or when they sign him to an extension, presumably after the 2019 season.
The team’s best players, Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, also played this season under the terms of their rookie deals. Both signed extensions during training camp that will take effect starting in the 2019 season.
The relatively low salaries of their star players granted general manager Les Snead the freedom to shop. And shop he did.
The Rams started by trading for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The Rams landed free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a one-year contract worth $14.5 million.
Finally, they traded for receiver Brandin Cooks, whom they later signed to a five-year extension.
The frenzy shocked Brockers.
His first thought: “What are they doing?”
His next: “Man, we’re getting some good players.”
The Rams also placed a franchise tag on safety LaMarcus Joyner, which all but ensured he would remain with them for this season. Joyner counted $11.3 million against the salary cap.
The strategy of taking advantage of an affordable-but-advanced quarterback was nothing new. Russell Wilson’s $500,000 salary in 2013 enabled the Seattle Seahawks to make acquisitions to help them win a Super Bowl that season. Carson Wentz, the quarterback selected directly after Goff in the 2016 draft, counted only $6.1 million against the salary cap, giving the Philadelphia Eagles enough flexibility to reinforce a team that also went on to win a championship, albeit with Nick Foles at quarterback after Wentz went down.
However, Brockers wondered if adding so many big personalities could backfire.
“You’re like, ‘How are we going to jell? Are we going to like each other? Do we like how each other plays?’ ” Brockers said. “But it worked out perfectly.”
“God’s plan, everything working out, to sign a bunch of guys on one-year deals and be here in the Super Bowl,” Gurley said.
Their window to make such moves could soon close.
The raise Gurley will receive next season will be rather modest, as his salary cap number will increase from $7.2 million to $9.2 million. Donald, who earned $8.9 million this season, will count $17.1 million against the salary cap next season.
The 2020 season is when Gurley and Donald will earn paychecks that reflect their statures as the best players at their positions. Gurley’s cap number will be $17.3 million, and Donald’s $25 million.
Then they will have to pay Goff.
That doesn’t mean the Rams can’t win again. What it does mean is Goff could have less around him.