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Examining Rams' biggest offseason moves: How they landed Ndamukong Suh

Examining Rams' biggest offseason moves: How they landed Ndamukong Suh
Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh practices with the Rams on May 29 in Thousand Oaks. (Michael Owen Baker / Associated Press)

Third in a series

After a flurry of offseason moves, the Rams begin the season with a remade roster that features newcomers in cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and receiver Brandin Cooks. Here is the behind-the-scenes story of how each was acquired, in the voices of the people involved. Part 3: Suh.

March 14, Miami Dolphins release Ndamukong Suh after the third year of six-year, $114-million contract. March 26, Rams agree to terms with Suh on a one-year, $14-million contract.

Rams
Rams VP of football operations Kevin Demoff Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Kevin Demoff, VP of football operations: That’s one where you just didn’t see it coming to fruition.

Tony Pastoors, VP of football and business administration: When his [Miami] contract was done, it was such a landmark contract and deal for any player, let alone a defensive tackle. We’d done plenty of research on it [because Rams star Aaron Donald was seeking a new contract]. We kind of knew after the first three years it was kind of year to year. … But when an elite player like Ndamukong gets released it’s hard to project what the market actually looks like.

Coach Sean McVay: Ted Rath [Rams director of strength training and performance] had a relationship with Ndamukong from being with him in Detroit and Miami.

Ndamukong Suh: I watched [the Rams] from afar primarily because of Ted. I follow people I’m close with no matter where they’re at.

Ted Rath of the Los Angeles Rams headshot, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, CA. (Jeff Lew
Ted Rath Rams director of strength training and performance Jeff Lewis / Los Angeles Rams

Ted Rath: When he did get released from Miami, I made a quick phone call and sent a quick text and just, “Hey, man, thinking about ya.” I know it’s never easy to go through something like that. We kind of went back and forth text-wise and then I jumped on a phone call with him: “Hey, what’s your next move? What are you thinking?” My concern was for him as an individual first and foremost, make sure he’s in a good mental state of mind, which I knew he would be. I ended up going, “Hey, we got some good things going here by the way.” Just told him a little bit about what we’ve got going on and talking to him about his steps. He said, “Yeah, I’ve had a couple teams reach out.” He mentioned Oakland and New Orleans and things like that. I just said, “We have a phenomenal structure here.” He said, “Well, if there’s interest there I would absolutely like to be considered to be a part of that.”

Ndamukong Suh
Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh Jeff Lewis / Los Angeles Rams

Suh: Being able to come join something of that nature was intriguing.

Rath: That morning or the next morning I just hit Sean with it. We’re in the middle of a workout, I say, “Hey, I was talking to Suh and there’s some interest there because I told him how great it is here.” Sean said, “Are you kidding me? Yeah, let’s talk about it.”

Suh: Who knows if that was even going to be a possibility? Everybody has [salary] caps, they have tremendous players they have to pay.

General manager Les Snead: We make contact with Jimmy [Sexton], his agent: “Hey Jimmy we’d love to explore this.” But we were very up front with Jimmy: “Just so you know we don’t want to waste anyone’s time, here’s the financial parameters we’re looking at, and if they don’t match what you’re looking for let’s discontinue so we don’t waste each other’s time.”

Joe Barry of the Los Angeles Rams headshot, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, CA. (Jeff Le
Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry Jeff Lewis / Los Angeles Rams

Linebackers coach Joe Barry: When Sean came in and told us I was like, “Well, God dang. There’s no way humanly possible we could afford Ndamukong Suh.” I was like, “Sean, don’t get our hopes up with telling us this B.S. There’s no way we can sign Ndamukong Suh.” He was like, “No, dude. We’re in on this.”

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips: Sean says, “We think we can get Ndamukong Suh.” You kidding me? We took a look at him and he was the same as he’s always been: a dominant player. So I was all for it.

Pastoors: The first question you have to ask yourself internally goes back to how does he fit? What’s Aaron [Donald] say about this?

McVay: Obviously, Aaron was a guy that you want to make sure: How does he feel about it? He says, “Hey, he’s a great player. If he’s going to help us win, we’re all about that.”

Pastoors: Sean had the conversation with Aaron. OK, hey, maybe this can work.

Suh: I called [Donald]. I’ll keep that between us. It was a good conversation, though, to say the least.

McVay: So we reached out, felt like it would be a good fit and got a scheduled visit.

Bill Johnson
Rams defensive line coach Bill Johnson Jeff Lewis / Los Angeles Rams

Defensive line coach Bill Johnson: I went into the D-line room with him and we just talked about how this thing could work out, a good football conversation. We left the door open and next thing you know we got me and him and Wade, just talking in there. And then Joe Barry comes in there. So we ended up sitting in there probably 2 1/2 or 3 hours just talking. Told him how the scheme worked and why we thought he would fit right. The reason it would work good with him and Aaron and [defensive lineman Michael Brockers]. It wasn’t anything but just a good conversation. We spent all day with him and then he went and had dinner with the upper echelon.

McVay: We went to dinner that night at Nobu in Malibu.

Snead: Sushi is always good at Nobu, right?

Suh: It’s a great place. I’ve been there before and great views to say the least.

Snead: Stan and Josh [Kroenke], Sean and Kevin, Ndamukong and his girlfriend and Ted Rath and me and my wife Kara were there.

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - AUG. 20, 2016. Rams owner Stan Kroenke watches his team warm up before the gam
Rams owner Stan Kroenke Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Owner Stan Kroenke: They even have me involved in the recruiting process from time to time.

Kara Snead (Snead’s wife): We walk in the front door and literally run into James Corden. He had done a great skit as a Rams cheerleader. We introduced ourselves and kind of explained why we were there. I could see the bubble over Les’ head and my head: “Should we bring him back?” David Spade and Chris Rock also were there. If I was ever going to recruit somebody to come to Los Angeles, I can’t imagine a more desirable scene if they cared about those types of things. You walk through there and you’re saying, “This is amazing.”

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - JANUARY 13, 2017 - Rams General Manager Les Snead talks about Sean McVay the ne
Rams General Manager Les Snead Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Les Snead: The best thing about the dinner, as a group and as an organization you get to know the, let’s call it, outside the nuts and bolts of football and who the human is and just who they are as people.

McVay: What I was really impressed with Ndamukong is his ability to talk on a variety of topics. You know, I’m a pretty simple-minded guy. I can talk about football but that’s about it. He knew about Screaming Eagle [winery and vineyards owned by Kroenke]. He knew about some of the real estate ventures he had gone in on, he knew about Arsenal [Premier League soccer club] and the [Denver] Nuggets and the [Colorado] Avalanche and some of the things I think were important to Mr. Kroenke.

Demoff: Stan was the closer.

Kroenke: I wasn’t a closer, but Ndamukong is a really intelligent young man.

Pro Bowl - AFC Practice - February 6 , 2007
NFL Network reporter Kara Snead Kirby Lee / NFL

Suh: I had a ton of fun.

McVay: We all left that dinner feeling like this is someone we would like to have in our organization.

Kara Snead: We walked out that night and I think all of us were: Who knows what he’s thinking? I would never play poker with Ndamukong Suh. He is as good at hiding and not showing his hand as anyone.

Pastoors: His agent was pretty transparent on, “Hey, I don’t think this happens like that [snaps his fingers]. He is a thoughtful-process person. This is going to take a couple days. I’ll keep you guys in the loop. Nothing will get done without you guys kind of knowing, but based on your offer you are not going to be the high bid.”

McVay: A few days passed after the dinner and then we came to the owners’ meetings [in Florida].

Pastoors: There’s no firm deadline because it’s the offseason, but at the same time there’s other opportunities we have to explore. You want to know.

Rath: During the owners’ meetings, we take that week and we go as a family back to Michigan. We’re at LAX, getting on the flight and I’m getting texts from Sean. I’m getting texts from Suh. Midflight I’m like, “OK, what’s going on?” We finally land and then, boom, boom, boom, I’m getting more texts. I talked to Sean at that point and I’m like, “OK, I’ll call him.” I said to Suh, “Hey, this is going to be mutually beneficial and I would never steer you wrong. I would never tell you anything dishonest. I’m going to be clear and transparent. I think this is a really good situation for you. ... This is a no-brainer for you from my side.”

Oakland Raiders v Los Angeles Rams
Rams coach Sean McVay Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

McVay: It gets to the point where you respect his patience but you also want to have some finality to it. Where, “Hey, we would love to have you but if not we’ve got to explore avenues of addressing a need that we do have on our team.”

Pastoors: Jimmy [Sexton] kind of let us know, “Hey, I think this is coming to a head,” and so that’s where Sean wanted to get out in front of it and say, “OK, what’s going on? Does he want to be a Ram?”

McVay: We wanted to talk to Ndamukong one more time [on the phone].

Les Snead: I did a segment for NFL Films in the hotel on a Johnny Hekker story. And then me, Sean and Tony actually went to a room that said Nike on the door but nobody was in there. We closed the door.

Tony Pastoors
VP of football and business administration Tony Pastoors Scott Rovak / Los Angeles Rams

Pastoors: Sean wanted to get from Ndamukong, “OK what’s going on? What’s your process? Explain to me. I’m not saying it should be a snap decision but at the same time why are we here now? We met a week ago, so where are we at? Talk me through it.

McVay: We all wanted some closure to it. Good or bad. I said, “Hey, we want you on board. We want ya bad. I think the actions and the way that we’ve gone about this the last week demonstrate that. We would be a good fit. So hey, what are we waiting for? Let’s go ahead and do this.”

Les Snead: Sean asked him if he wanted to be a Ram.

McVay: He said, yeah, he wants to be a Ram. And I said, “Let’s do it!”

Pastoors: He was looking right at me [I was thinking], “Appreciate that. Sean.”

McVay: Pretty much right there we hung up the phone knowing that, hey, he was going to be a Ram. It was just a matter of getting the terms agreed on as far as the way it was written.

Pastoors: Probably within the hour Jimmy [Sexton] and I were, “All right, we’re good, let’s get this locked up and we’re good to go.”

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2017, file phtoo, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips watch
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press

Phillips: Sean called me and said, “Hey, we got him.” I said, “Great. Suh-per.” Get it? Suh-per.

Barry: Sean called me and was like, “Dude, we got it done.” And I was like, “Are you frickin’ kidding me?”

McVay: I sent all the defensive guys a mass text. I said, “Hey, we got our guy Suh.”

Johnson: I was down in Louisiana visiting my in-laws and was in Baton Rouge to see some buddies I have on the LSU staff. We were at a sports bar having lunch. I was drinking a Miller Lite and eating a bowl of gumbo, and it kept coming up on ESPN. Then I’m getting a text from Sean. It’s all happening simultaneously. I was, “Wooo! This is going after it!” I had Suh’s number so I texted him and he just said, “Man, I’m coming.”

Aaron Donald
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald Tim Ireland / Associated Press

Aaron Donald: [After Suh signed] we just had a little conversation. It went good, just talked about what we can do and our mind-set.

Kroenke: Ndamukong’s a heck of a guy. Really smart. And he will be a great addition to our team and a great addition to the L.A. community. I think L.A. is in for a real treat.

IRVINE, CALIF. — THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2018: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) at the Los Angeles Ra
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) at the Los Angeles Rams training camp on the Campus of the University of California Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on July 26, 2018. Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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