Derius Swinton II is a football coach who has worked with eight different NFL teams, most recently serving as the Special Teams Coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021.
There are 32 teams each year that are vying to be crowned the best team in the world at football, and most people look at the final game as the true measure of if a team is successful or not. What most people don’t see is that success is different for teams each year based on their individual circumstances.
Have they just hired a new coach? Was there a major injury to a star player? Did the number one pick not pan out the way they thought? Is their roster too young or old to compete with the true powers in the NFL? No matter what the case, each team has to find a formula following the Super Bowl to put themselves in the best position for the following season.
Much attention has been brought to the success of the Los Angeles Rams and their “F*** them picks” model that has helped them remain competitive over the last five years. Already this offseason we have seen teams giving up picks, not only in this draft, but in future drafts to acquire talented players that they believe will change the trajectory of their teams. Are teams “copying” the Rams model for success thinking that it will be duplicated by them? Or is this the way that the league is going?
The NFL for years has been a league of trends, whether it be the West Coast offense, the Broncos Zone scheme running, the 3-4 defense, the Seahawks Cover 3 defense or the Manning-Brady No Huddle uptempo offense. There is always the hottest and latest thing that people will try and duplicate until the rest of the league catches up and finds ways to neutralize that trend.
That raises the question of which method is the best to use in order to get SUSTAINED success in the NFL? Rams GM Les Snead has done an amazing job in recent history of moving future picks in order to get known talented players to help bolster the current roster. This was once seen as taboo in the NFL because you are “mortgaging your future” in order to win right now and some thought that model was not sustainable. However, when you really look at what the Rams have done they are not necessarily mortgaging their future because they do acquire back some picks — they just do it DURING the draft.
Obviously they have given up several first-rounders, but if we really take a second and think about a winning team like the Rams and where their first round pick will be should they have a successful season that pick will be in the late 20s to early 30s. The value you get from giving that pick up for a KNOWN Pro Bowler or legitimate NFL starter seems to be a great return on investment.
They then will go out and take a third round or fourth round pick and look to trade back during the draft to acquire one or two more mid-to-late round picks. Those in the NFL know that those picks are really where the depth of your roster is built, and over time those players develop to help you win games. Do I think that this method can work for every team? Absolutely not, because you have to be completely bought into this and know that you are going to be aggressive in trade/free agent acquisitions but not as aggressive when it comes to early draft building. You have to commit to being this way and even though it is not seen as “conventional” in the eyes of the NFL personnel circles, it has become successful and effective in Los Angeles.
But what is the other side of the coin when it comes to roster building that has proven to be successful? Good ole’ roster building within the draft and in your own building. There are a few teams that come to mind immediately and they are (in no particular order) Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New England and San Francisco.
That is not to say that other teams don’t do this, but these teams have been known to stand the test of time when it comes to drafting and developing their rosters. When you look at these teams they rarely are trading away picks in order to acquire veteran players in top tier positions and they are known for drafting players that fit their “culture.” There is something to be said about this because there becomes a continuity within the organization where everyone knows the direction they are going from year to year.
This is not to say that these organizations don’t make moves with draft picks each year. On the contrary, they make movement but it is usually in exchange for more picks or positioning higher in the draft. If you take a look at the Patriots, they have made over 80 moves in the draft in the Bill Belichick era and this has helped them to build a competitive roster year-in and year-out. That is because they value the picks that they have and the ones they acquire and use them to draft the players that fit their mold to help them remain competitive year in and year out.
There is no “sweet science” when it comes to building a winning football team but there has to be commitment to whatever the personnel department and coaching staff decide is their formula. I have first-hand experience with an organization that did that and came up with a Super Bowl title in 2013. Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider and Head Coach Pete Carroll joined together in 2010 and came up with their formula. That formula included over 200 transactions in 2010, committing to a third round quarterback in 2012. and building an aggressive defense that had one of the most dominating performances in Super Bowl 48, which I was on the receiving end of with the Denver Broncos. I wish I had a true answer of whether teams should value their picks or say “f*** them picks,” but no matter what they choose to do with them they should commit to their beliefs and process and may the best team win in February.