Drama seems to follow the Los Angeles Rams even when they win. Hovering over Los Angeles’ 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers was the deteriorating situation between the team and 2020 second-round pick Cam Akers.
A bumpy start to the 2022 campaign has led to an inevitable parting of ways. The Rams are now actively looking to trade Akers to give him a fresh start. And this news prompted some to suggest the Rams could make a move for a star running back they happened to go up against last week: Panthers tailback Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey has been the subject of trade rumors ever since the Panthers parted ways with coach Matt Rhule after Week 5. CMC is having a good season despite terrible quarterback play from Baker Mayfield and P.J. Walker. He’s rushed for 393 yards and caught 33 passes for 277 yards while scoring three touchdowns. And that’s despite being the primary – and probably only – focus for opposing defenses.
In a great situation, McCaffrey is capable of being the Offensive Player of the Year. And he would be a perfect fit on a star-laden Rams roster that’s all in right now.
The question is, should the 3-3 Rams double down on their quest for a repeat in a wide-open NFC and trade for McCaffrey?
The short answer is most likely no. And there are a handful of reasons why:
The Rams Offensive Line is in Disarray
On paper, you would think McCaffrey would be joining a much better situation in L.A. if he was dealt to the Rams. But that might not be the case. While the Rams have a much better quarterback and group of weapons than the Panthers, the L.A. offensive line is actually worse than Carolina’s. And now it’ll be without left tackle Joe Noteboom for the season.
The Rams’ offensive line ranks dead-last in line yards, 30th in stuffed rate, 27th in second-level yards and 29th in open field yards, per FootballOutsiders.com. Translation? Los Angeles is getting manhandled in the trenches, giving their backs very little space to run. To compare, Carolina ranks 10th, 13th, 21st and 18th in those respective categories. Not great, but better than the Rams.
McCaffrey would likely thrive as a pass catcher in L.A. But his rushing struggles could actually get worse.
McCaffrey is an expensive, injury-prone back
When McCaffrey is available, he is electric. But the 26-year-old back has missed 23 games the last two seasons. And while he’s played in Carolina’s six games so far, he’s had a couple of stints on the injury report.
A running back of CMC’s stature who gets 20 touches per game is simply more vulnerable. And the Rams literally couldn’t afford the risk of McCaffrey going down long-term. McCaffrey has three more years left on his contract, with cap hits of $19.55 million the next two seasons.
McCaffrey’s cap hit is only $1.035 million in 2022 thanks to a restructured deal. The problem will be finding a way to make room for him in 2023 and 2024, years in which they could already be in salary cap hell. General manager Les Snead is as creative of an executive as it gets, but even he might not be able to find a way to finagle McCaffrey into the team’s long-term plans.
Los Angeles can get by with Darrell Henderson
In fact, that’s pretty much what they did for most of last season. Henderson started 10 games last year and rushed for 688 yards and scored eight touchdowns. In 2022, Henderson has 181 yards on 46 carries, 14 receptions and two touchdowns. He’s not a star, but he’s a perfectly suitable lead back.
Injuries are a concern for Henderson, and Los Angeles’ tailback depth is definitely in question with Akers off the roster. Should Henderson get hurt, the Rams have veteran Malcolm Brown in the backfield, as well as Ronnie Rivers. Los Angeles also could get rookie Kyren Williams back from injury as soon as Week 8 as well.
Running back is a position you can patch together if you have to. A stable of Henderson, Brown and a healthy Williams could be sufficient if the offensive line can improve.
At some point, the Rams have to think about the future
Right? Maybe? I guess when your 36-year-old head coach is already flirting with the TV booth and your Hall of Fame defensive tackle is flirting with retirement, the future doesn’t really matter as much.
But years of shipping out early-round picks for stars like Matthew Stafford and Jalen Ramsey are beginning to catch up with the team. Los Angeles’ roster is thin, and eventually the team has to at least consider the future.
Plus, the Rams might not even have the draft collateral to land McCaffrey if a bidding war breaks out. The Rams have a second, third, sixth and two seventh-round picks in 2023, as well as all but their seventh-round pick in 2024. Carolina appears set on getting at least a first-round pick back for McCaffrey. But the Rams might not be best suited to mortgage the future once more.
What would a realistic offer be for McCaffrey?
So let’s pretend that the Rams ultimately ignore all of the rationale I’ve laid out against trading for McCaffrey. What could Los Angeles realistically offer?
McCaffrey is a great player. But he’s also an injury-prone player at the most injury-prone position with a hefty cap hit the next two years. Teams in contention may fork over a first-round pick, but not much else.
Perhaps Los Angeles could turn a problem into a solution. The Rams give up Akers, a talented young player the Panthers could use now, their 2024 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick for McCaffrey and a 2023 fifth-round pick.