The only thing missing from ‘Debacle in Detroit'? Ken Norton Jr. wailing on a goalpost pad and reminding us that the St. Louis Rams are who we thought they were. Other than that, I think the media hyperbole has been tone-appropriate. Dysfunctional, embarrassing, dreadful... all these histrionics are warranted: The Rams came back from Detroit a beaten team.
I resisted every urge I had to just start flame-throwing the players and coaches immediately after the loss. After all, getting beaten by nearly 40 points by an 0-4 Lions team is a reason enough for a fan to turn off the rest of 2010. And while the coaches vowed to prepare better and the players promised to play better—I don't know if either group is to blame for what will inevitably become another lost season of St. Louis professional football.
On Tuesday of this week, this nugget came out from NFL.com:
"Despite losing wide receiver Mark Clayton for the season with a knee injury, the St. Louis Rams aren't currently pursuing a trade for San Diego Chargers holdout Vincent Jackson, a league source told NFL.com's Steve Wyche on Tuesday."
Not a surprise to Rams fans that have watched the VJ drama unfold since training camp. Early reports had the team and VJ agreeing to the terms of a deal, but the Chargers not budging on their asking price and ultimately killing the apparent handshake agreement. Let's take a step back for a moment.
Mark Clayton, for all intents and purposes, was a huge bust for the Baltimore Ravens. The former first round pick became expendable when the Ravens acquired Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth in the off-season. Rams GM Billy Devaney made a shrewd move and picked up Clayton for essentially a swap of fourth round draft picks.
And through 4.25 games, Mark Clayton was the Rams' best wide receiver option. By a mile. But regardless of his season-ending injury, I think the bigger problem lies in the fact that Mark Clayton is on the St. Louis Rams in the first place. He's the symbol of what this Rams franchise has become in the past decade...
I don't say this to be mean. But Mark Clayton is the classic example of the low-risk, high-reward management of a team. If he was the Mark Clayton of Baltimore, then who cares? It didn't cost much. If he turns into a 100 yard/game guy and Bradford's go-to threat down the field? Then everyone looks like a genius. But when every move is predicated on being as low-risk as possible? That's when a franchise falls behind and can't catch up.
I've been pretty clear on where I stand with Vincent Jackson. He's a proven NFL commodity, eager to prove his worth again, and the ideal prototype for today's NFL. His combination of size and speed makes him valuable. WR is one of the hardest positions to draft successfully in the NFL (ask Matt Millen) and if you're going to use a second round pick to get a receiver anyway, why not Jackson?
Because he might cause some controversy? Because he might get suspended again?
Right. It's a higher risk. And the Rams aren't comfortable taking any sort of risk with their team. So how exactly do you overcome the hole already dug and leap ahead of the teams entrenched in success?
I don't know. That's the honest answer. I just don't know. And I don't want to use a poker analogy here, but even if Jackson signs a huge deal and then gets popped for a third DUI, is that even going all in? I happen to think no. But it does represent a risk—a sign that this team is willing to make a move to get ahead.
The Rams have a lot of talk about the ‘future' and laying 'the groundwork for success.' This is the NFL. We're five weeks into the season and EVERYTHING is different than what we thought. Everything.
Including the NFC West, which is winnable—THIS YEAR. Even for the Rams. And some teams would look at the opportunity that they have, call an audible and say, let's go for it. Maybe this doesn't fit our 3-4 year strategy we had mapped out in March, but we've got a shot.
Vincent Jackson is an example.
This philosophy has been the most frustrating thing about the Rams for years now. They're just never in the mix for anything big and franchise-altering. Hell, they were on the fence abut Bradford for a while. But they took a ‘chance' with him, if you can call it that, and now the dude is playing way better than anyone ever expected. You'd think this would be the impetus for the Rams to go out and take a risk or two to win in 2010.
Alas, this plan they have is taking precedent. You may not like Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder or Zygi Wilf. You may not agree with all their moves, many of which have failed spectacularly. But you can't call them wimps. They've gone out and made the moves they thought were going to bring them glory. They could sleep at night knowing they gave it their best shot.
But the Rams?
The Rams take the easy way out. Go for it never. Live in a cocoon of lunacy that tells them any sort of plan they have for next year won't be chanced five million times in the next five weeks.
Maybe they're more comfortable losing? Maybe the weight of expectations is too heavy? Maybe... just maybe... we shouldn't be blaming the players and coaches for a terrible beatdown.
It's time to start looking upstairs and seeing who's committed to winning and who's committed to saving their jobs by playing it safe.