Les Snead is no stranger to big moves. As general manager of the Los Angeles Rams, Snead and head coach Sean McVay “won the 2018 offseason” despite not having a draft pick until the third round. Through trades, free agency, and extensions, Snead had the Rams in the conversation for most talented team in the league and one that could have staying power.
But while big moves make news, Sunday’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots will be the first for Snead after 24 seasons as an NFL executive. Trades for Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, and Aqib Talib are notable, although they hardly compare to some of the huge draft deals that Snead has been involved with before, including the most fruitless trade down of his career and then going the other way in hopes to find a franchise quarterback four years later.
Snead had traded down for plenty of picks during his career as an executive, but 2018 saw him trade unknown commodities for known ones, even if they had red flags or huge price tags. “When you’re in this position you’re never irrational enough to think you’re one or two players away,” Snead recently said to the Boston Herald. That wasn’t always the case … or maybe Snead had never seen himself in the position he found himself in heading into this season: manning the helm of a contender.
Given his upbringing through the NFL ranks beginning in 1995 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, though, it’s no surprise that Snead isn’t one to just stockpile draft picks. In his first year with the team, Snead watched as the expansion Jags made five trades during the draft, including a move up in the first round from 31 to 19 so they could select running back James Stewart, a move down in the second round, and trading a third and a fifth for quarterback Mark Brunell. Jacksonville also made a major foundational move that year by taking tackle Tony Boselli with the second overall pick. Snead spent three years as a scout with the team, seeing them go from 4-12 during their expansion season, to making the AFC Championship game in year two, to going 11-5 in year three.
He was then hired by Atlanta Falcons general manager Ron Hill as a scout starting in 1997. Four years later, Snead saw his GM pull a move that had rarely been done and had almost never proven to be effective: The Falcons went all-in for a quarterback, trading pick five (LaDainian Tomlinson), plus a second, a third, and Tim Dwight to the San Diego Chargers for the first overall pick, using it on quarterback Michael Vick.
As Chris Berman mentions in that clip, it was just six years earlier that the Cincinnati Bengals moved up from five to one, securing “franchise running back Ki-Jana Carter.” For some time, Vick changed Atlanta’s fortunes, making the Pro Bowl three times in his first five seasons, leading the Falcons to the playoffs in 2002 and 2004, and revolutionizing the position. It all came crashing down when Vick spent 21 months in prison for his involvement in a dog fighting ring. Snead spoke of what he learned from that move, at a time when he was the Falcons director of pro personnel:
“I think what probably all teams and especially us and myself have carried on is that, number one, you realize these are not just young — you’re not just developing football players. You’re developing young men to men. Not just for their time that they’re with you and your franchise.”
Snead spent 10 more years in the Falcons organization and saw general managers Hill, Rich McKay (2003-2007), and Thomas Dimitroff (2008-present) give lessons on how important it is to find a franchise quarterback, as well as the value of trading draft picks, for better or worse — players like Aeneas Williams, Peerless Price, and Matt Schaub were involved in transactions. Most notably, in 2008, Dimitroff lucked out in drafting Matt Ryan third overall before flipping cornerback DeAngelo Hall to the Raiders for a second rounder, which he used in a trade to acquire tackle Sam Baker, receiver Harry Douglas, and defensive end Kroy Biermann.