The Rams did not wait until the start of free agency or the NFL draft to address a pressing need at cornerback.
On Friday, the Rams agreed to trade unspecified draft picks for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs, two people with knowledge of the situation said.
The people requested anonymity because the transaction cannot be officially executed until the NFL’s new league year begins on March 14.
The Rams are coming off their first playoff appearance since 2004, but the secondary moving forward was cause for concern.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson played under the franchise tag the last two seasons and is a pending free agent. Kayvon Webster, who started opposite Johnson last season, is recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury.
The acquisition of Peters, who grew up in Oakland and attended college at Washington, probably ensures that the Rams will let Johnson hit the market rather than come to terms on a long-term deal. Johnson earned nearly $31 million the last two seasons.
Peters, 25, was the 18th player chosen in the 2015 draft. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two NFL seasons.
As a rookie, the 6-foot, 197-pound Peters intercepted eight passes — returning two for touchdowns. He intercepted six passes in 2016 and five last season.
Peters is scheduled to earn slightly more than $1.7 million in salary during the upcoming season, according to overthecap.com. The Rams have until May 3 to exercise a fifth-year option on Peters, which would keep him under control through the 2019 season.
Gaining a cornerback of Peters’ caliber — at a relative bargain rate — provides the Rams flexibility as they decide whether to franchise tag or extend receiver Sammy Watkins and safety Lamarcus Joyner, and possibly come to terms on a new deal for tackle Aaron Donald, the NFL’s defensive player of the year.
Under first-year coach Sean McVay, the Rams went 11-5 last season.
Veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips directed a unit that ranked 19th in the league in total defense (339 yards per game) and 12th in scoring defense (20.6 points per game). The Rams were fifth with 28 takeaways — 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
Despite the addition of Peters, the Rams still have issues with cornerback depth.
Nickell Robey-Coleman signed a one-year contract before last season, and played well as a slot corner. He started four games and intercepted two passes. Robey-Coleman, who played at USC, said after the season that he wanted to remain with the Rams.
“I want to stay here — I want to be around,” Robey-Coleman said the day after the Rams’ playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons. “I definitely want to be a part of the train. I want to be a part of this good energy that’s going around here.
“If they can keep me, I really hope they do.”
Troy Hill, who started three games, and Kevin Peterson are among other cornerbacks on the roster.
The addition of Peters could affect the way the Rams approach next week’s NFL scouting combine and the draft.
The Rams, who did not have a first-round pick last year, have the 23rd pick in the April 26-28 draft. Before the trade for Peters, they were expected to focus on possibly selecting a cornerback in the first round. But the acquisition of Peters might steer their attention to other positional needs, such as edge rushers.
One of the keys for the Rams’ success last season was a locker room culture change that was heavily influenced by the addition of veteran free agents such as offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth and receiver Robert Woods.
Peters comes to the Rams with a history of incidents.
He was kicked off the team at Washington in 2014, reportedly for several altercations with coaches and other disciplinary issues.
During his three seasons with the Chiefs, he was suspended for a game after tossing a penalty flag into the stands and then leaving the field to go to the locker room. He also reportedly shouted at assistants and directed an expletive at a fan.
But the Rams apparently are confident that their locker room culture will enable Peters to flourish.