Sean McVay [608x342] - Copy
Sean McVay [608x342] - Copy (Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)

Clippers Leonard knee questionable for Game 2

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When team president Kevin Demoff sat down for an interview at the league meetings in Phoenix a year ago, he noted that the 2023 season reminded him of where the Los Angeles Rams had been in the past: entering Sean McVay's first season as head coach.

Demoff admitted at the time that he knew he was being optimistic, but that the offseason reminded him of McVay's hire, when the Rams overhauled the coaching staff and were focused on "the day-to-day improvement." After McVay pondered his future and decided he wanted to return to coach the Rams in 2023, Demoff said it "was like a new chapter for Sean."

Like that 2017 team, the Rams were coming off a season in which they struggled (5-12 in 2022 and 4-12 in 2016) and entered the season with low expectations outside of the building. And like the 2017 season, the 2023 Rams made the playoffs, before their seasons ended in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

"No one thought we would be competitive [in 2023]," Demoff said last week at the league meetings. "It allowed us to really be -- to use a Sean phrase -- 'inside out' to focus on getting better. I think we knew what we had, if we could have Sean in the right mindset and a healthy quarterback and a better team, that we could really go be competitive."

That ended up being the case for Los Angeles, which won seven of its last eight games on its way to the NFC's No. 6 seed.

"You bet on Sean McVay," Demoff said. "You bet on [general manager] Les [Snead], you bet on our group. And you could just tell being around our building that the group was out to prove what an anomaly 2022 was. And I've always said, if you give Sean and Les the full offseason [without a Super Bowl run], they're going to come up with a plan that's going to do something different that people don't expect from us. And last year, to me, was no different.

"I may have been a lone believer in March of '23, but it was just the confidence I had in our group and their decision-making and where we were at."

The offseason has looked different in terms of player acquisition. After the 2017 season, the Rams made several offseason moves, trading for cornerback Marcus Peters and wide receiver Brandin Cooks and signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The Suh signing got done during the 2018 league meetings -- at the same hotel in Orlando -- and was the "piece of the offseason," Demoff said.

And for all the similarities between the 2017 season and 2023, the Rams are hoping the parallel continues next season, as well.

During the 2018 season, the Rams went 13-3 in the regular season and made it to Super Bowl LIII, losing that game 13-3 to the New England Patriots.

"I think you learned when you have a good year with a young team, similar to last year, it's like, how do you give those players room to grow? That you take the resources you can to go add and build around what you have," Demoff said. "... Every year we've lost in the playoffs without going to the Super Bowl, the next year under Sean we've gone to the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean this year we're just magically walking in the Super Bowl. But I think it always gives this group confidence that once you climb and you fail, how you take that next step I think is something Sean and Les have always been really good about."

But although Snead acknowledged the similarities, he said, "What we probably never do is say we did this, let's do these one to two to three things and we're going to go to the Super Bowl." Still, he pointed out the importance of "coming off a season where you won and you have a lot of your core coming back."

Even with the retirement of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams still have the pieces in place to make another playoff run, including the "weight-bearing walls" of quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. And along with several young players -- running back Kyren Williams, wide receiver Puka Nacua and nose tackle Kobie Turner -- the Rams appear to have a roster that should be able to grow in 2024.

While McVay said he's excited to be back with this Rams roster next season, he also said he knows, "You've got to do it."

"There's one thing that I've learned in these seven years, it's every single year is a new year," McVay said in January. "As you continue to accumulate experiences, you learn how to try to best navigate it, whether it be your decision-making or your onboarding. And I do feel like we have a much better idea of the types of people and players and coaches that we want with all the turnover, and some of the different things that we've experienced I think will serve us well because of the approach that we'll be able to take.

"But this league is tough and we all know that, but I'm sure as hell excited to get back and compete and attack it."