Les Snead is in his twelfth year as General Manager of the Los Angeles Rams. Snead is the fifth-longest tenured GM in the NFL today. Snead and the Rams won Super Bowl LVI in 2022.
In this episode of EconTalk, host Russ Roberts welcomes Les Snead to explore the role of the NFL GM. The two discuss how Snead operates in this risk-filled role—his take on the NFL draft, the adrenaline-filled experience of watching his Rams play, and the application of Sisyphus to the results-driven league are just a few highlights from the episode.
I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did! Now, we’d like to hear your thoughts.
1- Snead describes how a key feature of his role is the installation of a successful, cohesive team unit. In addition to him, the team ownership, its executive leadership, and coaches are each key players in developing a team mission.
How do you think various levels of power within an NFL organization react to each other’s different ideologies? What are examples you can think of where ownership became too involved in the on-field product?
2- In addressing Roberts’ question about his in-season duties, Snead points to his focus on the draft- the “April thesis” he calls it. Snead has two incredible draft picks on his resume that have dominated the NFL for a long time in Aaron Donald and more recently, Cooper Kupp, but he has also traded first-round picks for players in the prime of their careers like Jalen Ramsey, Brandin Cooks, and most recently, Matthew Stafford.
Roberts presses on Snead’s decision to trade for Stafford, and whether the trade was worth it if Stafford’s health and play continue to decline. Snead says yes. Do you agree? Are there examples you can think of where your favorite team failed at balancing the win-now or draft for the future strategies?
3- Throughout the episode, Roberts and Snead discuss the draft: projectability of players, value of picks, and the ignorance of those outside of the NFL (commentators and fans) who try to forecast picks and grade a team’s collective drafts. Snead alludes to both the strength of quantitative measurements available along with the need for GMs to make the best picks based on a combination of natural talent and the intangibles which make up the players’ football skill.
What do you think is (or should be) the dominant strategy today for drafting players? How do teams balance drafting a player to fill a need in their team versus drafting the best players available? Who in this year’s draft do you think brought a GM the elation that Les Snead felt when he drafted future hall of famer Aaron Donald?
4- Roberts and Snead discuss Giannis Antetokounmpo’s quote dismissing the ‘failure’ of the Milwaukee Bucks season in the NBA after they fell to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Snead appreciated Giannis’ quote, but he and Roberts also speak to the agony of defeat when the standard you reach for is always a championship. Snead comments on the Rams’ loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII as one that brought pain. But the pain did not wear off; he still feels relentless regret that the Rams could not come out on top in 2018.
Do you agree with Giannis’ quote about failure? Are there events in your professional life that you think could compare to the agony of a Super Bowl defeat, or is that feeling unique to sports?
5- Snead applies the Myth of Sisyphus who must face the task of rolling a monstrous boulder up a mountain—restarting each day—for the rest of eternity. NFL games are extremely consequential compared to other sports, given how short the season is. The sport is also incredibly violent, and Roberts and Snead allude to the camaraderie and respect felt between the fraternity of NFL players.
What is so compelling and rewarding for fans and players who have such intense passion for football? How does Snead relate to the Sisyphus myth? What could society at large learn from football about humanity, humility, and respect?
Brennan Beausir is a student at Wabash College studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and is a 2023 Summer Scholar at Liberty Fund.