If the Rams’ defense is as relentless in the upcoming season as the team’s front office has been in reassembling it, the future could be bright.
On Thursday, the Rams continued their frenetic offseason deal-making, agreeing to a trade with the Denver Broncos for five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib, people with knowledge of the situation said.
The deal came to light only a few hours after the Rams announced they had signed veteran cornerback Sam Shields.
The trade for Talib, like three others the Rams have made since the end of the 2017 season, will not become official until Wednesday when the new NFL year begins. The Rams will send the Broncos a fifth-round pick.
The cornerback moves Thursday were the latest in a flurry of deals general manager Les Snead has engineered to find players regarded as ideal fits for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
The Rams won the NFC West and led the NFL in scoring in coach Sean McVay’s first season, but they ranked 28th in rushing defense, 13th in passing defense, 19th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. The unit made up for some of its deficiencies by ranking fifth in takeaways.
“You’d love to spend some time this offseason and focus on that defense,” Snead said a few days after the Rams had lost to the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card playoff game at home. “Because I do think with the offense where it’s at — and I think it will continue evolving — where special teams and [coordinator John Fassel] has it, if we really, really get that defense to where it definitely, ideally fits Wade’s scheme ...
“I don’t know what you want to call us this year. Good? But we get that thing to dominant, it would be kind of fun.”
Talib, 32, played for Phillips on the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning team in the 2015 season. He also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots during his 10-year career, and has 34 interceptions.
Talib will line up opposite two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, acquired by the Rams a few weeks ago in trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. That transaction marked the start of Snead’s headline-grabbing deal making.
The Rams last week traded linebacker Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins. On Wednesday, they sent linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants.
The Rams now have nine draft picks in the April 26-28 draft, five in the sixth round. They could have just under $40 million in salary-cap space when free agency begins next week.
Talib is due to make $11 million in salary this season and $8 million in 2019, according to overthecap.com. Peters, who has 19 interceptions in three NFL seasons, will earn $1.7 million in 2018, and the Rams are expected to exercise a fifth-year option on the 2015 first-round pick.
Immediately after the season, with veteran cornerback Trumaine Johnson bound for free agency and fellow starter Kayvon Webster coming back from a season-ending Achilles injury, the Rams were thought to be targeting cornerbacks with their first-round pick in the draft, the 23rd selection. But the focus probably changes with the arrivals of Talib, Peters and Shields.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, who played well as a slot cornerback last season, is a pending free agent. The former USC standout has expressed a desire to remain with the Rams.
Johnson will test the market after earning nearly $31 million while playing under the franchise tag the last two seasons. Before the deal for Talib, the Rams had not ruled out approaching Johnson with a long-term deal once they gauged his price on the open market.
But with Talib and Peters and their combined seven Pro Bowl appearances in the fold, Johnson is expected to cash in elsewhere.
Shields, 30, was an integral part of the Green Bay Packers’ defense from 2010 to 2015 but was sidelined for nearly all of the 2016 season after suffering the fourth known concussion of his pro career. He did not play last season. The 5-foot-11, 184-pound Shields has 18 career interceptions.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein