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Clayton: Seahawks rival Rams playing a dangerous game with their trades

Sean McVay's Rams are set to go seven straight years without a first-round pick. (Getty)

Without question, the Los Angeles Rams improved their quarterback position with the Matthew Stafford trade going into another season where they will battle the Seahawks and the rest of a tough NFC West.

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Stafford is a strong-armed gunslinger who can carry an offense better than Jared Goff. Critics bring up the fact that he’s taken the Detroit Lions to the playoffs three times and is 0-3 in postseason games, but the reason for those failures is more on the Lions than Stafford.

Detroit’s rosters haven’t been good enough to advance in the playoffs. Since Stafford was drafted by the Lions in 2009, they have ranked 31st in rushing the football. The defense hasn’t been that great during his time there, either.

Rams head coach Sean McVay will give Stafford a good running attack and better offensive schemes, but there could be downsides to this trade. The Rams might be a better playoff team next season, but sustaining a quality roster could be tough, and the cap implications of this trade are brutal.

Sure, the Rams save cap money by dumping Goff’s contract to Detroit, but they now have $42.2 million of salary cap room with Stafford’s $20 million salary, and the cap is expected to drop. The floor for the 2021 cap is $175 million, with most people around the league thinking it will be set around $180 million, $19.2 million less than the 2020 season.

Anything over 15 percent of cap room tied up in a quarterback makes it hard to keep players or sign free agents. Stafford’s salary and the dead money the Rams take on by sending Goff to Detroit will eat up 23.4 percent of a $180 million cap.

The Rams are currently $35 million over a $180 million cap, third most in the league. It will be hard for the Rams to re-sign players, and they have 13 unrestricted free agents this offseason. They will have a hard time keeping Leonard Floyd, who was a star when rushing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in their three meetings this season. They won’t be able to keep their second best wide receiver, Josh Reynolds. Safety Josh Johnson has been a star in the secondary, and he’s up. Tight end Gerald Everett is also a free agent.

There could be an impact along the offensive line, too. They might struggle to re-sign center Austin Blythe and might have to cut right tackle Rob Havenstein, among others, to get under the cap.

What is clear is that McVay gets what he wants when it comes to players. The Rams have been an aggressive team. In their Super Bowl year, they acquired cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. They then got rid of them and then traded for another star cornerback, Jalen Ramsey.

But there is a dangerous game going on. It’s pretty clear McVay can turn on a player. He did that with Goff. He did it with wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The Rams went to the Super Bowl two years ago, but they finished the 2020 season with only 24 players left from that Super Bowl appearance on the team’s final 53-man roster, including eight starters gone on defense.

There has also been a big turnover on the coaching staff. Only five coaches remain from McVay’s original staff when he was hired in 2017 after the Seahawks took passing game coordinator Shane Waldron and assistant offensive line coach Andy Dickerson, making them offensive coordinator and run game coordinator, respectively.

McVay has had good coaches. Matt LeFleur, Zac Taylor and Brandon Staley all got head coaching gigs. But at some point the bold moves and change might catch up to the Rams. Goff was a first-round pick in 2016, but after the trade for Stafford, the Rams are set to go without a first-rounder from the year after they selected Goff all the way to 2023. That’s seven years.

Like the Seahawks, the Rams have benefited from compensatory picks for starters lost in free agency. They have four this year plus another third-round compensatory pick they will get in 2022 for their director of college scouting, Brad Holmes, leaving to become Detroit’s general manager.

That puts a lot of pressure on Rams GM Les Snead to hit on starter replacements without top draft choices. Seahawks GM John Schneider did his best to keep Seattle at a playoff level after a two-year Super Bowl run in 2013 and 2014, but the loss of starters in free agency dropped them to more of a wild-card team for several years.

Stafford is under contract for two years. He will do well for Los Angeles, but the struggle for the Rams will be keeping talent around him.

Follow John Clayton on Twitter.

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