Support this writer and shop Amazon

Two franchises that share a storied rivalry dating back decades have both shown a resurgence this past season, giving their fans new hope. Undoubtedly, the Rams had the better season, going from 4-12 the year before to 11-5 and winning the NFC West last year; an incredible turnaround for rookie head coach Sean McVay. The 49ers had a respectable turnaround as well, ending the season on a 5-game win streak after the debut of Jimmy Garoppolo. And while all football teams and their respective fans have reason for hope with the start of the new league year, it's safe to say that both the 49ers and the Rams expect to be highly competitive teams this year. Both are riding the momentum created last year, and both have made dramatic improvements to their rosters (even before the draft) this year. But who has really won the offseason? Yes, I know such a thing as an offseason championship doesn't exist, and there is no real way of obviously gauging a team's offseason success this early in the year. But hey, it's fun to speculate and, well, what else are we supposed to talk about during the post-free agency/pre-draft lull? With that said, here are my thoughts on who won the offseason:

It's easy to say--on paper at least--that the Rams have made the most aggressive offseason moves so far, not just in the NFC West, but in the NFL. The additions of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Sam Shields joining the franchise-tagged Lamarcus Joyner make this arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Throw in the pairing of the All-Pro Ndamukong Suh with perhaps the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald, and you have an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the center of Wade Phillips' defense.

On the other side of the ball, you have Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and the newly acquire Brandin Cooks that make up a three-headed monster on offense. And while the chatter of a possible Odell Beckham Jr. to the Rams deal seems to be dying down after bringing in Cooks, it's still a possibility...especially as it becomes more and more clear OBJ isn't going to participate in any part of new Giants head coach Pat Shurmer's offseason program. And Rams General Manager Les Snead seems to have never met a trade he doesn't like. All of which is to say that the Rams are going all-in this offseason in what seems like a now-or-never push for a championship. Why not? The Eagles had a similar turnaround that ended with them hoisting the Lombardi trophy last season.

This now-or-never approach by the Rams makes sense. The window of opportunity is incredibly small for a franchise not named the Patriots to win a championship in the NFL. Maintaining roster continuity in the post-salary cap era is next to impossible to do year-in and year-out. Give Les Snead and Sean McVay credit where credit is due for recognizing they may be coming up on that window.

Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, and Jared Goff are all going to command huge salaries after their rookie contracts are up. Donald's will probably be a blockbuster deal that will make him the highest paid defensive player in the league. Should they decide to find a way to keep all three, do you think they would be able to afford the salaries of Suh, Talib, or Cooks, let alone entertain the possibility of signing someone like OBJ to a multi-year deal? Not even close. Which is why for them, the time is now. So in that sense, they almost had to win this offseason.

But winning now comes at what cost? How often do "dream teams" really work out? McVay is clearly taking a risk on bringing in mercurial players with big personalities like Peters, Talib, and Suh, all of whom have had disciplinary issues with their former teams and/or the league. It only takes one "me-first" player on the team to effectively make a young franchise implode. They potentially have three, and that's not including the possible addition of OBJ. Gee, what could possibly go wrong? All it takes is a few unexpected early losses, and the in-fighting and finger-pointing begins.

Furthermore, this now-or-never approach can also lead a team to mortgage it's future to win now. I'm not saying that the Rams have necessarily done that, but if they want to win games beyond just this season, they will want to invest what is left of their cap surplus in their own young up-and-coming players, not in 30-somethings on their third contract and the tail end of their career. It's not rocket science. It's just good business sense to avoid dead money taken up by players no longer on the team if you want to avoid being in "salary cap hell."

For the 49ers to win the offseason would mean they would have had to keep up with the Rams in an all-out arms race. Something fun for maybe the casual fan and surely us blow-hard opinion-piece writers, but not something logical or prudent for the team. John Lynch said as much when he discussed the mindset going into this offseason.

"We're going to be aggressively prudent and always make wise decisions and look out some years and do things that [...] give us an opportunity to be a better organization", Lynch said back in February.

True to his word, Lynch and Shanahan were uber aggressive in doling out lucrative contracts to QB Jimmy Garoppolo, C Weston Richburg, and RB Jerick McKinnon. All players are in the mid-twenties and entering into the prime of their careers. They are expected to be cornerstones of Shanahan's offense for years to come, not merely rented All-Pros for a season. And at what has been an average 10% increase in the salary cap each year, those huge contracts that are front-loaded today won't be outlandish or a burden to the team in the next 3-5 years.

It's not like Lynch and Shanahan stopped there; they added Richard Sherman in a very low-risk, high-reward situation, and few other players expected to come in and compete and add depth like G Jonathan Cooper, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, and LB Korey Toomer. Nothing too flashy. Now, undoubtedly, the idea will be to round out the roster through the draft. And if Lynch and Shanahan get close to the same production out of this year's draft class as they did from last year's, they will be doing exceptionally well. That's called being prudent with an eye towards the coming years, not just tomorrow.

Maybe the biggest example of the difference between the 49ers' "aggressively prudent" approach and the Rams' now-or-never approach: The 49ers traded one of their two second-round picks to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo...you know, the guy who is now the face of the franchise for possibly the next decade. The Rams traded their first-round pick to the Patriots for Brandin Cooks, a wide receiver who pretty much had identical stats last year to 49ers WR Marquise Goodwin. I'm a big Brandin Cooks fan, and this is certainly not meant as a slight to him in any way. My point is simply that the Rams paid a healthy price for him, whereas the last time there was a deal as good as what the 49ers got for Garoppolo might have been when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.

The Rams won the offseason battle but not the war, if that makes sense. They will be major contenders next year. The 49ers look like they will be contenders for years to come. It's kind of similar to Aesop's race between the tortoise and the hare. Spoiler alert: the tortoise wins.

Poll

  • Who won the offseason?
  • 49ers
    54%
  • Rams
    46%
  • 544 votes