The Rams just won the Super Bowl in their second big-game appearance in four seasons, confirming Los Angeles as one of the top contenders in today's NFL. Fresh off their championship win over the Bengals, the team is suddenly facing a handful of big questions, namely regarding the immediate futures of coach Sean McVay and star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, both of whom have been noncommittal about returning in 2022. So it may seem premature to consider what the Rams must do to repeat as champions -- something that hasn't been done since the Patriots went back-to-back in 2003-2004. But we're doing it anyway!
What, exactly, will it take for the Rams to run it back as Super Bowl champions in 2022? Consider this an outline:
1. Convince Sean McVay to stay
More power to McVay, 36, if he decides stepping away is the right course of action for his family. The coach is clearly feeling the weight of an off-kilter work-life balance if he's publicly hinting at an early retirement fresh off a title as the youngest Super Bowl-winning coach in league history. But if we're looking at this from the Rams' perspective, keeping McVay in charge is priority No. 1.
General manager Les Snead has worked wonders by prioritizing proven veterans over draft picks in recent years, so his roster management, coupled with a potential fill-in like Raheem Morris or Jim Caldwell -- an old Matthew Stafford favorite -- would probably keep L.A. afloat. But there's a difference between staying afloat and repeating as world champs. McVay's personality alone is like the glue of the program, so losing his touch would be a big adjustment.
2. Convince Aaron Donald to stay
Yes, he and McVay are that important. The fact that Donald could retire at 30, after eight seasons, and be a lock for the Hall of Fame should tell you why this is such a priority. He makes their defensive line, which -- in case you didn't notice -- was the biggest reason McVay and Co. just beat the Bengals to win it all. Donald, for his part, doesn't need to accomplish anything else, but if the Rams can talk him into making one final go at it, to go out as a back-to-back champ, their defense's baseline will stay high.
Donald's presence is especially important in light of the Rams' salary cap situation. Projected to be at least $17 million over the 2022 cap, L.A. probably can't afford to retain all of its free agents, including starting pass rusher Von Miller. Yes, A'Shawn Robinson is still in tow on the interior, but losing Donald would require Snead to wade into the mid- and lower-tier market for cheaper quick-fix replacements like Malik Jackson or Sheldon Richardson. They can win with those guys, but the drop-off is massive.
3. Extend Matthew Stafford
This is partly about the QB, who just turned 34 and posted MVP-like numbers for much of his Rams debut. He's only under contract for one more season, and after his journey to the Super Bowl, he's probably earned the right to stick around until he calls it a career. His big arm certainly hasn't diminished. Even more so, however, an extension is about the cap situation; a new deal would likely allow the Rams to lower his 2022 cap hit ($23 million) and better invest around him for the next year or two.
4. Take a bunch of flyers
Speaking of investing around Stafford, Snead has no reason to back down from his win-now approach now. Obviously hitting on draft picks will be key, but he's apparently working with a suddenly elusive window for guys like McVay, Donald and maybe even Stafford. He built this championship team by getting bold. It's time to keep up the approach and follow the Buccaneers' Tom Brady model, both hoping veteran free agents are drawn to their market and pursuing one-year deals for luxury depth.
That would include guys like Odell Beckham Jr., whose Super Bowl injury will almost assuredly reduce his market to prove-it offers. But it might also be at left tackle, where Andrew Whitworth could retire; or edge rusher, where a guy like Melvin Ingram could be a cheaper alternative to Von Miller; or corner, where a trial on a plug-and-play starter like Steven Nelson may be more cost-effective than Darious Williams, who figures to elicit a bigger payday on the open market.
5. Be more aggressive on the field
McVay is rightly heralded for his leadership and offensive strategy, but he has a tendency to skew conservative and/or overthink his options in key moments. Yes, the cap may dictate some personnel changes this year, but if you still have one of the NFL's best lineups, use it! That means more fourth-down attempts near midfield. Or more two-point tries in the right situations. Or just better clock management to capitalize on end-of-half scoring possibilities. Those are simple, little things, but they add up. With the return of key pieces like Cooper Kupp and a healthier Cam Akers and Robert Woods, McVay must trust his own talent moving forward.
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