LOS ANGELES (AP) — Les Snead really doesn’t mind if the public and the media think he’s a wild risk-taker whose decade as the Rams’ general manager is defined by his eagerness to mortgage Los Angeles’ future so he can grab superstars of the present.
Snead’s kids even gave him a mug that sits on his desk at the Rams’ training complex. It’s emblazoned with his own face from a well-known Twitter meme that profanely, precisely imagines how he must feel about draft picks.
But that’s not the whole story — and it’s simply not correct, according to the man doing the deals.
“There’s definitely risks, and we like to refer to it sometimes as being bold,” Snead said. “But being bold is a little bit more than just gambling.”
Although it’s clearly more amusing than annoying to him, Snead feels the Rams’ reputation is a lazy mischaracterization of the work and planning that go into his moves — and he feels that should be obvious from his success.
Yes, the Rams make bold moves with their draft capital. Yes, he values veteran stars and draft picks in different ways than the average GM.
That doesn’t mean the Rams are built to burn brightly before fading into mediocrity.
“The shallow story would be the free agents, the stars,” Snead said. “And I get it. We’re in the entertainment business. I understand why that’s interesting content.”
With ample help from coach Sean McVay, Snead has turned a longtime losing franchise into a consistent winner with a chance to claim its first Super Bowl victory of his tenure Sunday.
Their combined approach to their jobs is summed up in one of Snead’s favorite mantras: “Wake up sprinting. Don’t be scared.”
And though he approached the season with the intensity inherent in a daily sprint, Snead flatly rejects the central thesis of most arguments about how the Rams ran to the Super Bowl twice in four years.
He doesn’t feel the Rams have pushed all their chips into the middle of the table this season. He patiently details the Rams’ solid homegrown talent base and player development successes that continue despite his dispersal of most of his high draft picks.
Yet even his organization has embraced the narrative: After the Rams got Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. at midseason, their social media team put out a tweet declaring: “We’re all in” — and then the Rams lost three straight games.
Snead can only chuckle.
“I was joking with a couple of people who were asking what we’re doing leading up to the Super Bowl … and it’s preparing for the draft,” Snead said. “We couldn’t do what we do, we couldn’t have the team that we have, without the draft and those young players.”
Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford, Miller and Beckham are all with the Rams because of audacious moves made by Snead. The first three acquisitions required parting with a combined four first-round picks, one second-rounder, two thirds and a fourth-round selection. LA also gave up a fifth- and a sixth-round pick to get Sony Michel.
But the Rams can do it because of their cost-effective contributors at other positions. The Rams even lost four defensive starters in free agency last season and only replaced them with internal candidates — and though they don’t have the NFL’s No. 1 defense this year, they’re in the Super Bowl.
“We will always utilize whatever manner that’s available to acquire players to help us continue to be contenders,” Snead said. “We’ll try to use our picks in an innovative way, maybe a creative way.”
The Rams’ upcoming draft is a striking example of the consequences of Snead’s attitudes. They are likely to have eight picks in April, but five will be compensatory selections for people who left the team.
The highest pick they currently hold is at the back of the third round. Los Angeles traded its first-round pick to Detroit for Stafford, its second- and third-round picks to Denver for Miller, its fourth-rounder to Houston as incentive to take Brandin Cooks’ contract, and its sixth-round pick to New England for Michel.
But Snead conducts business with a different view of the value of draft capital. With his group’s scouting combined with McVay’s innovative coaching, the Rams believe they can remain winners indefinitely.
After five years together, McVay and Snead have formed a steadfast partnership anchored in mutual respect. According to McVay, it’s a huge help that he has no interest in being a personnel guy, and Snead doesn’t want to coach.
“Both he and I are not afraid to take risks, even if it means putting yourself out there for expectations,” McVay said. “I’m very appreciative to be with people who aren’t afraid to take their swings and shoot their shots.”
Snead took over the front office of a 2-14 squad in St. Louis in 2012, and his approach to team-building has changed along with the Rams’ growth. He built a foundation with solid draft picks — none bigger than Aaron Donald in 2014 — and after their return to Los Angeles, he added higher-profile names in his now-signature style, starting with the bold trade up to get Jared Goff in 2016.
“I’ve got the gene that I really, really appreciate trying to learn and apply and evolve,” Snead said.
One consequence of Snead’s style is a unique draft weekend experience: The Rams haven’t made a first-round pick since Goff in 2016, and they aren’t scheduled to have another until 2024.
“It really makes Thursday nights not stressful at all,” he said with a smile.
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