Rams GM Les Snead looks to remodel instead of rebuild

Rams general manager Les Snead said he hasn’t received confirmation from star defensive lineman Aaron Donald about playing next season, but he’s aware of Donald tweeting he has no intentions of retiring.

“I guess you can follow Aaron Donald on Twitter,” Snead jokingly said Thursday during his end-of-season news conference. “My kids did tell me he retired Saturday for a little bit.”

Donald’s Twitter bio briefly read he’s a former NFL defensive lineman for the Rams. That, of course, led to a commotion on social media last weekend, but Donald’s bio quickly returned to him being an active NFL player.

“Tell them, C Lo,” Donald tweeted in response to a video from Chris Long, Donald’s former teammate with the Rams, saying he plans to play next season. “I’m playing. Never said I wasn’t.”

Tell em C Lo yeah I’m playn never said I wasn’t

— AD_99 (@AaronDonald97) January 18, 2023

Donald will likely be back with the Rams for a 10th season and to collect his massive $41 million salary for the 2023 season. Donald signed a lucrative, reworked three-year contract extension last year after contemplating retirement weeks after winning the Super Bowl with the Rams.

Snead is waiting to hear from Donald, but all signs point to him being back, along with quarterback Matthew Stafford, who recently told reporters he’s not retiring, and Coach Sean McVay, who considered taking a break from coaching to pursue his TV analyst aspirations before committing to the 2023 season.

Many veteran core players, such as right tackle Rob Havenstein, linebacker Bobby Wagner, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, are expected back with the Rams.

Contractually, the band is returning for a redemption tour after the run-it-back 2022 season ended with a disappointing 5-12 record, the most losses in a season for a defending Super Bowl champion.

With many star players under contract, the Rams are well positioned for a rebound season, but Snead preferred to call it a remodel and not a rebuild. Snead doesn’t intend on completely tearing down what the organization has built the past few seasons, but he hinted that changes are coming and that could mean one or multiple core players might be playing elsewhere in 2023.

“Every year, there’s an element of remodel tweaks,” Snead said. “We’re very well aware at some of our core players are in their primes and getting closer to the twilight of their primes. But that does not mean when you’re a player like that in your prime, that you’re still not very, very productive and can be very successful in this league. So, we’ll have that balance of trying to navigate those waters while still being very competitive in the micro, and then also realizing, you know, from a macro standpoint, there is going to be an element where we’re probably gonna have to, let’s call it, not press the gas as much, pay a little bit of the debt that we’ve accumulated.”

Pressing the gas turned the Rams into a yearly Super Bowl contender, but they shipped most of their top draft picks to land the star players they have under contract, which has led to a tight salary cap. The Rams are currently $14 million over the salary cap, according to OvertheCap.com, and will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months to get under the red line.

Snead is considering a shift in philosophy because the Rams are no longer a few productive “Day 3” draft picks away from being a Super Bowl team. The Rams’ blueprint was to acquire proven talent by trading away first- and second-round draft picks and rely on the scouting department to find a few hidden gems in the middle to late rounds of the draft to complement the star-studded core group.

Now they’re a top-heavy roster with plenty of holes and that might make the Rams prioritize their top draft picks in the coming years. Snead said he’s expecting to have 10 draft picks this year, including compensatory draft picks.

Snead called this Phase 3 of the McVay era and it might look similar to Phase 1, when McVay quickly turned the Rams into a playoff team with quarterback Jared Goff in 2017 after years of losing from the organization.

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Phase 2 was the “all gas, no brakes” period with trades for Stafford and Ramsey, but now the Rams have to pay the debt.

“There’s moments where you go, ‘OK, wait a minute, maybe pressing the gas and going to be one of 32 is not good at this particular moment,’” Snead said about an all-in approach. “But in those moments where I often say we’re going back to 2017, when you get back to going, ‘OK, let’s just take this thing one game at a time, one day at a time.’ And, wow, you’re competitive and you get to the tournament, and you have a chance.”

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