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After trade for cornerback, Rams weigh options entering scouting combine

After trade for cornerback, Rams weigh options entering scouting combine
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward watches from the sideline during the Cotton Bowl against USC on Dec. 29. (LM Otero / Associated Press)

The exact details of the trade that is bringing cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams might not be known for a few weeks.

But the impact of last week's agreement with the Kansas City Chiefs, which cannot become official until the NFL's new league year begins March 14, will influence how the Rams approach this week's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

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Before the deal for Peters — a 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl player — the Rams were in the trade, draft and free-agent markets for cornerbacks.

They still might be active on all of those fronts.

The Rams, however, are no longer under pressure to use their first-round pick to increase depth at that critical position.

The Rams hold the 23rd pick in the April 26-28 draft. And though the deal for Peters will include draft picks, the Rams' first-round pick in this year's draft is not expected to be among them.

A day before news broke about the Peters trade, Rams coach Sean McVay said during an interview that the franchise was preparing for the combine as it did last year before his first season.

But now, after leading the Rams to the playoffs and being voted NFL coach of the year, McVay knows what to expect.

"This time last year, you're kind of just keeping your head above water, trying to at least get familiar with the players at the combine as you go through the week," he said. "Whereas [this year] we've been able to be a little bit more diligent with — first and foremost — the evaluation of our own players, then the free agents and how that kind of affects the focus and concentration that we have specific to certain spots at the combine with how we want to add players through the draft."

Another major difference between 2017 and this year: The Rams have a first-round pick.

A 2016 trade with the Tennessee Titans enabled the Rams to move to the top of that year's draft and select quarterback Jared Goff. But the Rams gave up multiple draft picks, including their No. 1 pick last year. The Rams selected tight end Gerald Everett in the second round with the 44th pick.

Presumably, they will not have to wait as long this year. So McVay, general manager Les Snead and assistant coaches and scouts this week can focus part of the energies on the types of higher-profile players that were out of reach a year ago.

"It does make a difference," McVay said of having a first-round pick, "because some of those players that you project as those top-tier guys, you're realistically — without having to package anything or move — you're realistically going to have a chance to maybe pick those guys."

Goff, 23, is one of multiple key young players on offense, a unit that got a major upgrade last season through the free-agent signings of receiver Robert Woods and linemen Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, the drafting of Everett and receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds, and the training-camp trade for receiver Sammy Watkins.

Watkins and Sullivan are among 14 pending unrestricted free agents, including safety Lamarcus Joyner and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

Watkins and Joyner are thought to be in play as candidates for extensions or the franchise tag. The Rams would like to re-sign Sullivan, and Robey-Coleman has said he wants to return. The addition of Peters — at a relative bargain $1.7-million salary — probably means the Rams will let Johnson hit the market.

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After the Rams' playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Snead noted that 2017 offseason moves had tilted toward improving an offense that went from the NFL's worst in 2015 and 2016 to one of the league's best in McVay's first season.

The defense under coordinator Wade Phillips was 19th in total defense, 12th in scoring defense and fifth in creating turnovers.

"We get that thing to dominant," Snead said of the defense, "it would be kind of fun."

So the Rams will no doubt evaluate and interview edge rushers, linebackers and defensive backs this week.

They also will be looking for long-term successors for Sullivan, 32, and 36-year-old Whitworth.

McVay, speaking generally, said the Rams would continue to develop depth for the offensive and defensive fronts. And in the secondary.

Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ohio State's Denzel Ward, Iowa's Josh Jackson and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver are among the defensive backs who will be in Indianapolis.

"I don't think you can have enough guys that can rush, and really, on the back end, enough that can cover," McVay said. "So that will be kind of a consistent theme, regardless of the depth."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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