The Rams' title defense fell apart rather quickly in 2022, but it may have been a blessing in disguise for Los Angeles' front office.
Instead of going all-in on the pursuit of another championship, a harsh reality confronted the Rams: It was time for a retool.
As such, Los Angeles didn't make a big splash at the trade deadline, faded into the background late in the season, and shipped out Jalen Ramsey this offseason.
Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff explained the team's approach and focus on the future -- both short- and long-term -- in a letter sent to season ticket holders Friday.
"We always knew that there would be a time when we would have to pull back on our typical approach to help continue our sustained run of success," Demoff wrote. "In the past, when we traded for younger Pro Bowl players who would command new contracts -- Sammy Watkins, Marcus Peters, Brandin Cooks, Jalen Ramsey -- we had the long-term salary cap flexibility to take on those new contracts. If we wanted to acquire short-term players such as Dante Fowler or Von Miller, we had the extra draft capital to do so to help us make a Super Bowl push, which happened in both cases.
"During the trade deadline this past year, it was clear that in a new era where teams were willing to be as aggressive as we were that we had neither the draft capital nor the salary cap space to win trade conversations and be able to take on top players at the salaries they would command."
In recent years, the Rams have leveraged their draft capital to improve immediately, making moves that sent shockwaves through the NFL.
The collective effort produced a title via a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, but also left the Rams with noticeable weaknesses that rose to the surface in 2022 and contributed to their third-place finish in the NFC West at 5-12.
This result forced the Rams to confront their new reality and make a decision on how they would proceed. As Demoff wrote, instead of making one last run at a ring, they acknowledged the climb would be too steep and would leave their talent stock barren for years to come. It was time to accept their fate in order to preserve their long-term viability.
"As a result, we faced a choice this offseason," Demoff said. "We could once again restructure contracts to give ourselves one last shot with our core roster but that would mean a total rebuild would be necessary over the next few seasons. Or we could focus on replenishing our draft capital and improving our long-term salary cap situation, clearing the way for us to compete both now and in the future.
"Collectively as an organization, we chose the latter path, believing in the talent on our current roster and the skills of our coaching staff to return us to the playoffs."
Expectations aren't nearly as high as they were a year ago. But because they didn't sell their last remaining assets for a chance of short-term success, the Rams also have reason to believe they won't be a bottom-feeding franchise in 2023.
"As we sit today, we have 11 draft picks in this year's draft, including three in the top 77," Demoff explained. "We have nearly all of our picks in 2024 to both build next year and have as capital to make trades at this year's trade deadline. From a salary cap perspective, while we have had to move on from players who helped us lift a Lombardi Trophy at SoFi Stadium, we have taken all of our salary cap pain in 2023 and project to have more than $60 million in space in 2024, the most salary cap space we have had since our move to Los Angeles.
"Let me be clear -- our goal for 2023 is to win the NFC West and make a deep playoff run. Change doesn't mean that we expect to take a step back. Our Super Bowl LVI starting lineup featured 19 starters (out of 22) that didn't start in Super Bowl LIII just three years prior. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald all enter this offseason as fresh as they have been in a few seasons and hungry to return to their Super Bowl form. We are excited to have young players such as Cam Akers, Cobie Durant, Van Jefferson and Ernest Jones take on more prominent roles. Sean has assembled a new coaching staff with a focus on great teachers, communicators, and different backgrounds to collaborate and figure out the best way to go win the NFC."
Demoff's explanation brings some sense to why coach Sean McVay spent the first weeks of the offseason mulling his head coaching future.
If Los Angeles' title window was indeed closing and another didn't exist in the foreseeable future, it would be tough to convince him to stick around. Instead, though, the Rams decided to keep the young talent that remained on the roster, rehab their salary cap situation, and attempt to return to prominence sooner rather than later.
At this point in the offseason, it's easy to speak glowingly about a team's prospects. Truly, though, the Rams will only chart their course toward success in April with an effective draft, and the results likely won't come instantly.
The alternative -- a full teardown and acceptance of mediocrity -- is much worse. With this letter, Demoff is asking for patience from Rams fans. They'll all hope it will pay off in the end, whether it's 2023 or beyond.