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Coach Sean McVay talks about Rams' prospects as NFL combine gets underway

The reunion included hugs, handshakes and, perhaps most notably, those similar and familiar mischievous grins.

Rams coach Sean McVay was awaiting his turn at the podium at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday. Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden had just completed his appearance.

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Across the room, away from crowds of reporters, they shared a moment, chuckling and wishing each other good luck.

Much has changed since Gruden hired McVay as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant a decade ago.

McVay, 32, is the reigning NFL coach of the year after leading the Rams to the NFC West title and their first playoff appearance since 2004.

"Everything he did, everything he touched, worked," said the 54-year-old Gruden, back in the NFL after a 10-year hiatus as a television personality and analyst.

McVay arrived here fresh off a whirlwind postseason awards tour that included stops at NFL Honors in Minneapolis before the Super Bowl and at the black-tie ceremony in Kansas City last weekend.

He also showed up with a substantial roster upgrade already complete.

The Rams' trade for cornerback Marcus Peters, which will not become official until the NFL's new league year begins March 14, affects the franchise's entire offseason approach to the draft, free agency and other trade possibilities.

Fearing tampering charges, McVay tiptoed around questions about Peters — "You're trying to get me in trouble right now," he joked — but said after his podium appearance, "when you're able to acquire a player of the level he's played at over the last few years, that was something we felt good about."

Peters, 25, is a two-time Pro Bowl player who has intercepted 19 passes in three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He also comes with baggage: He was kicked off the team at the University of Washington and was suspended for a game by Chiefs coach Andy Reid after one of several incidents.

The Rams are confident that Peters will meld into their locker room culture.

"We've got a very serious vetting process, where you find people that you really respect their opinions, that have been exposed to him, that are going to be honest with the feedback," McVay said when asked about the process for evaluating a player such as Peters. "And we felt very comfortable with some of those opinions that we did get back on that.

"And you want to do your diligence, and then you also want to evaluate the player and the person. And I think it's a combination of both. And that was something that we're excited about working with him."

The acquisition of Peters, who will earn $1.7 million this season, "really doesn't change" the Rams' desire to retain cornerback Trumaine Johnson, McVay said. Johnson earned nearly $31 million the last two seasons playing under the franchise tag. He is a pending free agent.

"We want Trumaine back," McVay said. "We want to try to see if that can work .… We do have a lot of respect and appreciation for probably the market that he'll have. And I think that's where as you get a little closer to free agency, you see what does that market look like? That will then determine if we're able to get him back and see him continue to play for us."

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Retaining pending free-agent safety Lamarcus Joyner is a "huge priority," McVay said, and the Rams also would like to re-sign pending free-agent cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.

All of the aforementioned players — Peters, Johnson, Joyner and Robey-Coleman — would be key players for a Rams defense trying to progress from good to elite.

But none are as important as tackle Aaron Donald.

The NFL's defensive player of the year is seeking a huge extension as he enters the fifth season of a contract that will pay him $6.9 million in 2018.

Rams representatives will meet with Donald's agents this week, McVay said.

"Aaron is somebody that we all know how important he is, and want to be able to come to an agreement on that," McVay said. "And that's something that's a work in progress .… Obviously, Aaron's resume speaks for itself."

The Rams have not made a decision about whether to retain receiver Tavon Austin, who carries a salary-cap number of $8 million — "That's something we're evaluating right now," McVay said — but they are trying to work out a deal with pending free-agent receiver Sammy Watkins, who, like Joyner, could be a candidate for the franchise tag.

"If we can make it work, that's definitely something we want to do," McVay said of retaining Watkins. "And I think, especially offensively, the continuity that you want to try to keep."

The Rams, who hold the 23rd pick in the draft, will spend time this week focused on evaluating and interviewing potential edge rushers, linebackers, defensive backs and offensive and defensive linemen.

The Rams want to re-sign center John Sullivan but they are in the market for long-term successor.

At last year's combine, McVay was barely a month into the job. He was getting to know staff members and still hiring new ones. He was evaluating a roster of players he had yet to coach, and making decisions about the offseason schedule.

Now, with a year of experience, he is more settled and looking forward to evaluating prospects and conferring with other coaches at what is essentially an NFL convention.

McVay and Gruden will no doubt cross paths again this week. And they will meet on the field this season when the Rams play at Oakland. The NFL schedule comes out in April.

Gruden is awaiting the matchup.

"I'm looking forward to competing with him, for sure," he said.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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