Opinion: Rams’ stricken GM provides NFL draft reminder that COVID-19 is still a threat

With the Los Angeles Rams finally set to get on the clock Friday after sitting idle on Day 1 of the NFL draft, Les Snead doubled his dose of Advil and went on about his business of picking players and maneuvering on the draft board.

The Rams GM, who tested positive for COVID-19 just hours before the three-day draft began on Thursday, can knock on wood and likely thank the first vaccination shot he had recently, that it wasn’t any worse. Snead said he contracted the virus from an unnamed Rams employee.

“Right before the draft (on Thursday), I took my dosage of Advil and felt really good,” Snead said during a Zoom conference on Friday night. “Today, I woke up and knew I had the virus. Let me timeout. I took two doses instead of one. I scheduled my day. ‘Okay, I’m going to really feel bad up until …’ I think it was 11 or 12. Then at 12, took some Advil and started feeling really good. I’m fortunate in that way.”

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Snead was speaking from the garage at his home, which he has converted to a home office and weight room — and now a temporary bedroom while barred from the rest of the house.

Rams coach Sean McVay was also on the Zoom conference that followed the selections of Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell (57th overall) and South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones (103rd). McVay was hanging at “The Rams House” — a swanky pad in Malibu that the team set up as its draft headquarters.

“He looks too good to be having COVID,” joked McVay, who was in close contact with Snead early in the week but tested negative for the coronavirus. “He’s faking it. Man, he just wanted to stay at home and do his spiel that he did last year. He looks too healthy to have COVID right now.”

Rams GM Les Snead has set up shop in his garage as he fights COVID-19.

Last year, like decision-makers across the league, Snead and McVay worked remotely from their homes as the NFL held an all-virtual draft and prohibited teams from working from their headquarters and usual draft war rooms, as a safety measure as the pandemic gained steam. Clearly, when faced with Snead’s circumstance, the Rams were able to draw on the adjustments made last year for remote access.

As Snead pointed out, the most essential element involved securing reliable Wi-Fi connections, including a backup system, that allowed the GM, coach and other key personnel to operate as if they were in the same room, reviewing draft boards and videos of prospects and conferencing constantly.

“Last year probably propelled us to doing the draft house,” Snead said. “You knew you could take the show on the road from a technology standpoint. Our IT group, they may vote against the draft house. They’re the ones that carried the load. I give them credit, too, because there was an element of an audible in that when Sean and I came in close contact early in the week, we knew we were going to be testing daily and you were one strike away from all of a sudden, not only are you setting up the draft house, but also my garage.

“Just as we’re talking now, this is probably how Sean and myself chat, and a few others, during the draft. We’re talking about players, we’re watching the boards, we’ve got the same computer. About as close to being in the same room as possible.”

While the NFL made a major statement about the intent to return to normalcy by staging the draft in Cleveland (and in allowing teams to draft again from their war rooms) while eyeing a regular season played with full stadiums, Snead’s issue served as a reminder that even with widespread vaccinations and decreasing COVID-19 cases in many parts of the nation, the pandemic is still a serious threat. It is not time to let down the guard.

On Thursday, Snead acknowledged how his case, with mild symptoms, pales to the plight of so many who have suffered the worst from the coronavirus that cost the lives of more than 575,000 Americans and more than 3.1 million world-wide.

The timing of his case obviously hit home in another sense. For the hundreds of times over several months that Snead was asked how COVID-19 affected this NFL draft, the man responsible for running the Rams’ draft was stricken on Day 1 of the draft — which is like Christmas for GMs.

It didn’t take long for the Rams to get busy Thursday with the IT work in Snead’s garage, which was preceded by a thorough cleaning from a crew in hazmat suits.

“I was in the backyard,” Snead said, referring to his position while the garage was disinfected. “But embarrassed to come out because all the neighbors were stopping by and seeing these three to four people in hazmat suits coming in and out of the garage.”

Interestingly, Snead said he shifted his home office to the garage months ago after his children took over his home office — with the beefed-up Wi-Fi speed installed for last year’s draft — as their headquarters for virtual classes.

“They ended up thinking that that was the cooler place to do school,” Snead said.

And now there’s no way Snead, married to former NFL Network reporter Kara Henderson, could have that particular office if he wanted to.

“Right now, Kara will not let me in the house,” he said. “Food and water from the garage and got a nice weight room over here. So, it’s everything a guy could really need.”

Snead may demonstrate a capability to adjust, but some things seem to never change. For the fifth consecutive year, the Rams didn’t have a first-round pick in the draft. Given Snead’s propensity to deal for proven players, such as all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and new quarterback Matthew Stafford, L.A. is not scheduled to have another first-round pick until 2024.

Still, with Snead’s COVID-19 factor, he still made news as the draft kicked off. Henderson teased that it might be connected to the fact that he’s an only child, seeking attention.

Snead said she told him, “They somehow figure out a way to still become relevant, even when you don’t have a first-round pick.”

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