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NFL teams copy Rams' Super Bowl blueprint with trades, signings

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NFL teams copy Rams' Super Bowl blueprint with trades, signings
The Los Angeles Rams' key move last off-season was a trade for former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (R), who led the team to a Super Bowl title. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

PALM BEACH, Fla., March 29 (UPI) -- The Los Angeles Rams' aggressive player acquisition mentality last year en route to a Super Bowl title is the latest strategy other teams are stealing, several NFL coaches said Tuesday at the league's annual meeting.

"This is a league of beg, borrow and steal," Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. "You see people having success and others saying: 'I want to do what they did.'"

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The Super Bowl champion Rams also reached the title game in 2019, but lost that one to the New England Patriots. They turned over their roster over the next three years, sending away clusters of future draft picks for proven veterans in trades. They also splurged in free agency with high-dollar signings.

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That strategy resulted in a roster full of Pro Bowl players, but also created a smaller window for a title because of aging athletes and a tight salary cap. It also put more pressure on the team's coaches and decision-makers, who might not have kept their jobs if the team's talent level didn't translate to a Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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"I think in a lot of instances, I'm copying things I see other great coaches do," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "If there is something that works, I think people are willing to go outside of their comfort zone and change the way they go about acquiring players."

This off-season, the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders made splash acquisitions at the wide receiver position. The Dolphins gave up five draft picks for former Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Tyreek Hill. The Raiders gave the Green Bay Packers first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams.

But teams are willing to give up the most assets to acquire an elite passer, as the Rams did last year when they traded for former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

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Earlier this month, the Cleveland Browns followed suit with a major trade for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The Denver Broncos also surrendered major assets this off-season to acquire former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Rivera's Commanders and the Indianapolis Colts joined the quarterback carrousel with respective acquisitions of Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan.

Those moves likely mean those teams won't use the draft to fill the position anytime soon.

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"There is a lot of different ways and avenues to do it, but when you have a quarterback that can lead the way, I think you've seen a lot of changing of the guard in terms of the aggressiveness to go get a guy you believe can help you try to win a championship, fortunately Matthew was able to do that for us this year," McVay said.

Teams who already roster an elite passer might not need to completely decimate their arsenal of future assets.

The Cincinnati Bengals, for example, found this off-season that quarterback Joe Burrow made it easier to lure prospect free agents. Burrow's skill level, young age and his role in leading the team to a Super Bowl appearance attracted those players to Cincinnati.

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"Two of the guys we targeted, [free agent offensive linemen] Alex Cappa and Ted Karras, wanted in and they've experienced a lot of success in their lives," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Monday in Palm Beach. "For them to want to come here speaks to that.

"For [ex-Dallas Cowboys tackle] La'el Collins to want to come here, when he became available [speaks to it]. You can kinda see what we have been building here. They can see that. We assumed that was going to be the case."

Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who shares a division with McVay's Rams, also paid close attention to his foe's strategy.

"I love it," Kingsbury said. "They have a quarterback in his prime and a head coach who is a genius, so they went for it.

"You are always one play away from your star being hurt and changing your season. So when you get a chance to make a run, you gotta make a run. They went for it, acquired some great players and got it done."

"It's win now. This thing can chance quickly. Pushing your chips all-in every season, I think you will see more and more teams doing that."

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While many believe in the strategy of sending away future assets to win now, some owners remain stringent on the construction of a winning culture over time.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he still plans to do that through the NFL Draft. That decision could come with lackluster results in the near future, as many of his team's foes build rosters with more proven players.

"It bothers me we haven't been able to win a playoff game in the last three years," Kraft said Tuesday. "I'm happy [because] I think we had a great draft the last year that made up or what happened in the previous four years or so.

"I look forward to hopefully having a great draft this year. The only way you can build your team long-term and consistently have a chance of winning is having a good draft."

The Patriots aren't likely to send assets out for a great quarterback, due to their recent draft selection of Mac Jones. Other franchises that don't roster a proven veteran quarterback are tasked with luring free agents in other ways and building through the draft.

"We are conscious going into free agency and try to make people understand that we have a solid offensive line, a 1,000-yard rusher, 1,000-yard wide receiver," Rivera said of the Commanders. "We try to make people understand that there is an opportunity to be successful."

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Still, no matter how rosters are built, Rivera said team owners still look at results when they decide which coaches stay employed.

"It will be always be about winning," said Rivera, whose resume includes nearly two decades of NFL coaching experience. "That part of it will never change. How long you are some place is all about winning.

"If you are successful, you can have a nice long run. If you're not, it will be time to move on. That's the crux of this business."

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