Rams’ Sean McVay not talking as if he’s holding winning hand

Las Vegas sportsbooks set the over/under for Rams wins this season at 6½, coach Sean McVay laughing uncomfortably when this information was relayed to him Tuesday.

“Whatever I say, I’m going to get in trouble right now,” McVay said. “They don’t believe in us.”

No one does.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams’ roster the second weakest in the NFL, ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals’.

The Rams won’t publicly use the R-word, but just two years after their Super Bowl triumph on their home field, they’re rebuilding.

In the wake of a 5-12 season, they released Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner.

They traded Jalen Ramsey.

They traded Allen Robinson.

Nearly half of their training camp roster is composed of rookies, with their outside linebacker and defensive back groups especially heavy on first-year players.

McVay knows what he’s up against, even if he wouldn’t say so explicitly.

When chief operating officer Kevin Demoff wrote a letter to season-ticket holders in March to explain the shift in team-building strategy, he said the Rams’ goals were to win the NFC West and make a deep playoff run.

McVay refrained from regurgitating any such nonsense when speaking at the team hotel on the eve of training camp. Unlike this time last year, there was no mention of competing for another Super Bowl.

He was less McVay-ey than he’s ever been, his once-youthful energy replaced by a hardened stoicism. His smiles looked forced. His laughs sounded that way too.

His goals for these Rams were modest, as he defined success for them as “continuous improvement.”

“Being able to see that growth, see how we handle a 17-game season,” McVay said. “The reality in this sport is you’re going to have to be able to navigate through a storm and being able to do that, I think, is going to be one of the separators. How that is reflected isn’t exclusive to wins and losses.”

Rams coach Sean McVay gestures as quarterback Matthew Stafford stands in the background.

With quarterback Matthew Stafford in his background, Rams coach Sean McVay appeared animated during camp practices.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Doesn’t sound as if he expects to win much, does he?

McVay has job security, which gives him the luxury of thinking beyond this year, and growth this season could lead to results next season, when the Rams will have virtually no dead money on their books.

With a salary cap of $224.8 million this year, the Rams have more than $74 million in dead money, according to overthecap.com.

Although winning the Super Bowl in their home stadium entirely justified general manager Les Snead’s “F them picks” approach, visions of past glory might not be enough to satisfy fans who are spending thousands on season tickets.

Asked what he could promise them, McVay replied, “What they can expect is that we still have a bunch of great leaders on this team that have modeled the way that they play, the way that they prepared. I think you’re gonna see guys that play disciplined, smart. I think they’ll play with an energy and a passion. And I think you’ll see a team that’s connected.”

Notice he didn’t mention wins.

The question is how the anticipated defeats could affect McVay, who hinted he could retire after the Rams won the Super Bowl and again last year.

As coach of an NFL team, he has to enter the season with expectations that his team can compete. But how can he maintain his standards without once again subjecting himself to burnout-inducing torture if the season unfolds as the oddsmakers expect?

McVay repeated the themes he shared in March when explaining why he decided to remain the coach.

“I truly believe it’s one thing to say ‘be in the moment, be where your feet are planted,’ [and another to be] living it,” McVay said.

By focusing on immediate tasks instead of the big picture, by thinking about what he can control instead of worrying about what he can’t, he thinks he can better enjoy his work. He is taking a positive view of the roster overhaul.

“There’s never been more competition, more uncertainty in a positive way with any team since we’ve been here, I would say, other than 2017 when we were all getting to know each other,” he said. “That’s exciting. That’s what’s fun about football.”

Certainly, this is the first time since 2017 that McVay’s team won’t enter camp as a Super Bowl contender.

The change in his job description won’t be the only transition in McVay’s life. His wife, Veronika, is due in late October with their first child, a boy.

“You talk about really having a purpose,” McVay said.

Will he change diapers?

“Damn right, man,” he said. “I get dirty. I’m not just gonna to go hands off. I’ll get right in there until he poops in my face or something.”

At least he has something to look forward to this year.