The NFL is quickly moving toward the league’s trade deadline on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and one team that could be a potential buyer next week took a much more aggressive tact a year ago.

Even though they were in the middle of a Super Bowl funk at this time last season, barely staying in the playoff conversation at 3-3, the Los Angeles Rams were major players at the trade deadline. 

The Rams finished runner-up to the San Francisco 49ers for the services of running back Christian McCaffrey and went strong for Carolina Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns.

According to reports, the Rams offered their 2024 and 2025 first-round picks, along with a second-round pick in a package to the Panthers for Burns. However, the Panthers reportedly turned down that offer because they believed Burns was a foundational piece of their roster. 

The Panthers had already traded McCaffrey and receiver Robbie Chosen to the Arizona Cardinals, receiving a handful of picks in return for those two players.

Burns remains on Carolina’s roster on the fifth-year, final option of his rookie deal. The Panthers and Burns appear no closer to an agreement on a contract extension than this time a year ago. But Burns reportedly is off the trade market again for a second straight year.

For the Rams, trading for Burns last season would have been a continuation of the team’s “‘F’ those draft picks” roster building philosophy — trading premium picks for premium players. 

However, the Rams ended up placing foundational players in Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald on the injured reserve in the second half of last season, losing nine of their last 11 games in becoming the worst defending Super Bowl champion in league history at 5-12. So, perhaps not consummating the trade for Burns last season was a blessing in disguise.

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Instead, the Rams are amid a roster reset in 2023 that included drafting a league-high 14 players earlier this year and fielding one of the youngest rosters in the league.

It allowed the Rams to make the decision to cut the team’s bloated salary cap in the offseason, moving on from high-dollar acquisitions like Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Bobby Wagner and Allen Robinson in what the organization labeled a roster remodel but more resembled a rebuild.

Los Angeles has nearly $78 million in dead cap money this season, but less than $1 million in 2024. The Rams are slated to have 11 picks in next year’s draft, including four projected compensatory selections. 

Just as the Seattle Seahawks executed a year ago under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, the Rams turned things around quickly. 

And at 3-4, Los Angeles is tied for the final wild card spot in the NFC, surprising many NFL observers with their competitive play. They found diamonds in the rough on offense in rookie receiver Puka Nacua and on defensive with edge rusher Byron Young.

“You kind of have to have some resources and different things like that for those to be options,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said, when asked by reporters about the looming trade deadline. “So, I don’t know that those conversations will be as prevalent as maybe in years past.”

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The Rams still have first-round picks in 2024 and 2025, and Burns remains a possible target heading into next week’s deadline for a franchise that is No. 29 in the NFL in sacks with 12 heading into this weekend’s slate. 

The Rams have not selected in the first round since taking Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2016 draft. And they have proven over the years to be good evaluators of experienced, veteran players that fit their culture, including deals for Von Miller, Stafford and Ramsey for premium picks that helped them eventually earn a Super Bowl victory two years ago.

The Rams already made two trades earlier this season, moving on from disgruntled running back Cam Akers and receiver Van Jefferson for late-round picks. A player like Burns would make Donald even more effective in getting after the passer and vault the Rams into a potential contender in a competitive NFC West that includes the 49ers and the Seahawks. 

After a roster reset that included getting younger, perhaps the Rams are ready to reclaim their roster-rebuilding identity by adding a talented, experienced player to infuse their roster midseason? 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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