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Titans-Rams Trade: Assessing the Super-Sized Swap

Posted Dec 22, 2017

In April of 2016, the Titans and Rams pulled off a monster trade, one that would bring a boatload of talent to Tennessee and land a franchise quarterback in Los Angeles. Here's what led to the big deal and what's happened since, as the two teams prepare to face one another Sunday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the months leading up to the NFL's 2016 Draft, the Titans and the Los Angeles Rams found themselves in very different positions.

The Titans, who'd made Mike Mularkey the team's full-time head coach and hired general manager Jon Robinson, were ready for a roster overhaul after winning just five games over the previous two seasons.

The Rams, coming off a 7-9 season, were further along in their efforts to create a winner. But the team was desperate for a top-rate quarterback as it moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

With that background in place, the two teams pulled off a whopper of a deal in April of 2016.

The Titans sent the first overall pick of the 2016 draft, as well a fourth- and sixth-round 2016 selection, to the Rams. In exchange, the Titans received the famed “King's Ransom” that Robinson had been seeking, acquiring the 15th overall pick of the draft, a pair of 2016 second-round picks, a 2016 third-round pick, and first- and third-round picks in 2017.

Tennessee's use of all those draft picks would eventually result in the following haul: tackle Jack Conklin, defensive lineman Austin Johnson, running back Derrick Henry, cornerback LeShaun Sims, cornerback Kalan Reed, wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith.

The Rams would wind up with quarterback Jared Goff, wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, tight end Temarrick Hemingway and wide receiver Mike Thomas.

Sunday's game at Nissan Stadium will be the first meeting between the Titans and the Rams since the super-sized deal took place, and both teams have clearly benefited. The Titans (8-6) are in the thick of the AFC playoff chase and one win away from clinching a second straight winning season. The Rams (10-4) are on the verge of claiming an NFC West title.

“The perception of the trade may be different for different people, but I will stand by this: It was a total win-win for both teams,” Fox NFL analyst Charles Davis said. “Every time you look at these things in retrospect, I keep reminding people to remember where both these teams were at the time of the trade and where they are now. Keep in mind what they were looking for at the time of the trade because, to me, both of them got what they wanted.”

An absolute perfect fit

The Titans were the envy of quarterback-hungry teams going into the 2016 draft, as the number one selection could be used to take either of the top quarterbacks – Goff or Carson Wentz.

Tennessee could afford to deal the pick for two reasons:

One, the Titans already had their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, who'd just finished a very good rookie season. Two, the Titans weren't just one great player away from being a contender, so it made sense to pick up a boatload of young talent instead.

“We needed (multiple players),” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “We're still working on it, still building that process. (But) that's how you build teams. You look at teams like the Jaguars and the Rams. They kept acquiring picks and over time, they built up their rosters to get to this point because of it.”

Just what kind of dividends have the Titans reaped through the wheelings and dealings, which included a trade with Cleveland that allowed Tennessee to move from the 15th to the eighth overall spot in 2016?

Consider first that the players the Titans acquired with the draft picks now make up almost eight percent of the team's 53-man roster.

The Titans added a right tackle that started from day one in Conklin; a starting wide receiver in Davis; three players who are part-time starters in Henry, Johnson and Smith; a third cornerback in Sims; and another cornerback with upside in Reed.

The plum of the picks so far has been Conklin, who earned All-Pro honors as a rookie and is in the midst of a strong second year as well. He was tailor-made for the Titans' style, a mauler of a player who excels in run-blocking.

“There's no doubt (Conklin) fits absolutely perfectly with what they're looking for,” Davis said. “He may not be the prettiest mover and he might not be super agile. But when that ball is snapped and that defender tries to get to the quarterback, he isn't likely to get there. And if it's a running play, Jack's going to move him, and make it to his second guy.”

The other first-round selection obtained in the deal, Corey Davis, has flashed his potential at times in his rookie year, catching 28 passes in nine games for 284 yards. Ankle and hamstring injuries have slowed his progress this season, but haven't diminished expectations surrounding him.

“When you come in and pull the hammy right away, then pull it again, you just never get it in gear,” Charles Davis said. “But think about the other top picks at wide receiver. (The L.A. Chargers') Mike Williams got hurt out of the gate and struggled, and (Cincinnati's) Jon Ross has zero catches.

“So, to me, it remains to be seen with Corey Davis. But I like him. I thought he was the best wide receiver in last year's draft.”

Among the other players the Titans selected with the acquired picks, Henry's already contributed 1,158 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in two years; Smith has 11 catches and two touchdowns as a rookie; and both Johnson and Sims have 28 tackles this season – nearly double their rookie output.

“The Derrick Henry pick was vital for them with the way they wanted to run their offense and to make sure you've got a back-up to DeMarco Murray,” Davis said. “And at times, he becomes the primary guy. Austin Johnson, there was some worry his rookie year because he seemed to be struggling to find his way. But I think that's gone away and he's gotten a lot better.”

“A phenomenal second season”

On the flip side of the trade, the Rams appear now to have the franchise quarterback they so desperately wanted, after going through the likes of Sam Bradford, Nick Foles and Case Keenum among others over the years.

Under former Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams chose to sit Goff for the first nine games of his rookie season.

“Jeff did the professional thing,” said former Rams assistant coach Dave McGinnis, now a Titans radio broadcaster. “He didn't want to play Jared right away because Jared wasn't ready. He didn't want Jared to end up the way (former Texans quarterback) David Carr did. That was his biggest concern.”

Goff struggled as a starter in the tail end of 2016 season, but his transformation in 2017 is the single biggest reason the Rams look like a playoff lock. After throwing five touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2016, Goff has tossed 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017. Under new coach Sean McVay, Goff is guiding an offense that's tied for first in the NFL in scoring, averaging over 31 points per game.

“It's been delayed gratification for the Rams because the first year was an absolute disaster,” Davis said. “But Goff continues to blossom and ascend. He's had a phenomenal second season, especially considering how the first season could really have damaged him and it did not.”

Added McGinnis: “They've done a great job getting some more pieces around him and helping him out this year, and Sean McVay has done really good work. We were just disappointed we didn't get to finish the job.”

The other impact player the Rams added in the deal was Cooper, a fifth-round selection who's headed to the Pro Bowl this season after establishing himself as one of the NFL's top kick-off and punt returners.

As for the final two Rams picks from the big trade, Thomas has five catches over two seasons and Hemingway zero.

The trade bounty of both teams will be on display in one stadium Sunday, with fans on both sides thankful for the really big deal of April, 2016.

“For a trade of that magnitude to work, it really has to be beneficial to both sides,” McGinnis said. “I think it was a win-win for both sides. Both sides clearly benefited from that trade.”

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.