On Tuesday afternoon, the Rams’ trade sending Marcus Peters to the Ravens was complete, and GM Les Snead gave the cornerback time to get up to the team’s facilities in Thousand Oaks, Calif. to say his goodbyes before the team moved forward with shaking up the NFL landscape.
But before Snead could push the groundwork he’d laid with the Jaguars to the next level, there were still a few things he wanted to do. First, Snead pulled director of pro scouting Ray Agnew in to his office to go over Agnew’s assessments of LB Kenny Young, coming from Baltimore in the Peters trade, and OL Austin Corbett, arriving from Cleveland in a separate trade.
“And at that point in time, [I said], ‘Hey, I’m gonna go on a run here. When I get back, should I talk to the Jags about Jalen?’” Snead said. “You could tell by his body language and demeanor, it was a hell yes.”
The run cleared his mind. And Agnew’s assessment gave him peace—and if shipping off two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder didn’t say hell yes to how Los Angeles’ aggressive brass felt about the two-time Pro Bowler, nothing would.
Ramsey was about to be a Ram.
This kind of blockbuster trade is nothing new for this Rams regime, of course. Peters and Aqib Talib arrived less than two years ago via trade, as did receiver Brandin Cooks, and quarterback Jared Goff came with a pick, first overall in 2016, acquired as part of another big-ticket package going out of town.
And while there has been an assumption out there that, particularly with Goff now off his rookie deal, the Rams would eventually normalize, that’s just not how they operate. As one Rams official put it late Wednesday, “This is normal for us.”
Still, there’s risk. Goff, Cooks, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald are on top-of-the-market deals, and Ramsey will likely get one soon. And barring a trade back into the first round, they’re about to go five years (2017-21) without making a single first-round pick, which robs the team of avenues to surround their superstars with high-end cost-controlled talent.
Can that be sustainable? We’re about to find out.
“You do want to assess the bet you’re making,” Snead said from his office on Wednesday afternoon. “You’re always assessing whether to take an unknown commodity, and just pick a player in the first round. You’re obviously making a bet there that a projection will come to fruition, but that’s still uncertain. … So what we’ve done recently—do we take a player where he’s a more certain commodity, still young, still in their prime?”
The answer for the Rams recently has often been yes.
With that established, here’s more on why each team pushed Tuesday’s blockbuster trade over the goal line and into the end zone.
The Rams had a hidden need at corner. The team already started working on this before the Ramsey deal was even on their radar, because Peters and Talib are in contract years. A slew of trades down (which started with a move out of Round 1) in April’s draft came in part because they liked the group of defensive backs that’d be available after the top front-seven players came off the board in the first two rounds. They drafted Michigan cornerback David Long in the third round.
In the summer, they resisted overtures from other teams on their back-end corners, and kept six on their roster because they wanted to be cognizant of 2020 and beyond.
In other words, Ramsey was no luxury item—he filled a need the Rams would need to address sooner or later. As for the cost, it is worth pointing out that the player they would have drafted at No. 31, Washington safety Taylor Rapp, they picked at 61. That underscores how the draft class typically flattens out around the end of the first round.
The deal for Peters went off smoothly. The Rams weren’t going to extend Peters, so it made sense for Los Angeles to offload him to create more financial flexibility. The Rams had about $2 million cap space entering the week. Trading Peters to Baltimore created another $5.9 million in breathing room, which simply opened the possibility of trading for Ramsey. It assured nothing.
“We took the approach that we had to approach Marcus separately,” Snead said. “Based on the proposal, it was the best thing for the Rams and Marcus to go down this path, so we could both start exploring our next chapter. And you couldn’t do it, with the certainty that you were gonna get Jalen Ramsey. You had to do it, knowing, ‘OK, we like the young players on our roster.’”
The Jaguars had to see what they had. Jacksonville set the price for Ramsey at two first-rounders soon after their star corner first asked for a trade on Sept. 16. But owner Shad Khan slowed the process down to see what the team had without Ramsey—and the corner’s three-game absence gave Jacksonville a good look at that.
“You want to balance what might be good for individual with what my job is, to consider what’s best for the Jaguars,” Khan said in a quiet moment at Wednesday’s league meeting. “Moving forward, we played the last three games without the player. We felt like we were competitive, we were good. And then we established a value, and if a team is able to meet it, you pull trigger and go.”
In particular, Khan and the Jags liked what they saw from A.J. Bouye, the team’s new No. 1 corner, and Tre Herndon, an undrafted second-year player who will see the biggest uptick in role as a result of the trade.
The teams’ relationship mattered. Snead and Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell were together for four years in Atlanta (2008-11) as Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff’s top lieutenants, which made the communication easy. Caldwell reached out to Snead first, just after Ramsey had his sideline blowout with Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone during the team’s Week 2 loss to Houston. From there, both sides knew where the other stood.
That mutual understanding stood up as the Jaguars slow-played the process to ensure the team would be OK without him, and right into the final hours of negotiation, when both sides had good confidence there weren’t going to be stumbling blocks at the finish line.
“That is where the relationship comes in—we weren’t gonna go back and forth on small derivatives,” Snead said. “At that point, it was, ‘Hey, do you wanna do this? OK, let’s do it.’ The haggling is over, we’re either gonna do it or not do it.”
The Rams were flexible and creative. Jacksonville wanted a “clean” deal, according to Khan. They didn’t want to eat any of Ramsey’s salary like Houston had to in trading Jadeveon Clowney. And there wouldn’t be a complex pick-swap in play here, with the Jaguars giving back picks as part of the deal, which is something that the Raiders had to do as part of the 2018 deal that sent Khalil Mack to Chicago.
While the Rams weren’t certain they had Ramsey when the Peters deal went through (one source said the Ramsey deal was about half-done when Peters was traded), the Peters deal had to go through for the Ramsey deal to be possible. “Dave was well aware,” Snead said, “either we’d have to move someone and transfer salary and cap to another team, or to Dave, or we couldn’t do it.”
Since the Jaguars were unwilling to pay any of Ramsey’s salary on the way out, they were patient and allowed that part to work itself out. In return, the Rams, champions of pick-swap deals in the past, went ahead without that element to this one. And they threw in the fourth-rounder as protection for the Jaguars against the possibility that the two first-rounders they were getting might wind up being pretty low in the round.
The Rams loved Ramsey. Snead recalled pro scout Matt Waugh doing the advance scouting on the Jaguars two years ago. Ramsey was coming off a game against Pittsburgh, in which he had an interception and generated a pick-six for Barry Church with another pass breakup, while covering Antonio Brown.
“He said, ‘That might be one of the best performances of all-time,’” Snead said, before laughing and adding, “Or at least that he’d seen in his young career. What you do, when you study him, you see the reputation is he’s a lockdown corner, he covers the teams’ best receiver, and you did notice that a good bit, and you got to see him go against quality receivers and definitely limit those particular guys’ production, depending on the game.
“That was probably the epiphany. Like, ‘Wow, that’s a very stressful deal to do that week-in and week-out.’ And obviously he was doing it with poise, and less anxiety than most.”
It’s tough to find guys capable of taking that on, and it was illustrated vividly when Snead entered the defensive meeting room on Tuesday to break the news to Phillips and his position coaches that they’d landed Ramsey. Phillips simply cracked, “Well, I guess we can change the game plan now.”
When the trade was close to happening, Caldwell and Snead recalled the Julio Jones trade they were both a part of in Atlanta, and Caldwell joked that he was about to up his asking price, to which Snead said, “Hey, we can move, and figure this out from within.” From there, each GM retreated to his camp to get final sign-offs on the move, and one last call had to be made.
“The good news is we’re still friends,” Caldwell said to Snead.
“It’s debatable whether that’s good news,” Snead joked.
“Either way, you’ve got yourself a corner,” Caldwell responded.
And in a fitting twist, that corner is headed for Atlanta this weekend to help cover Jones, whose acquisition by Dimitroff and a couple young execs in 2011 left a lasting impression on everyone involved.
One that, evidently, is being felt to this day.
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