Sean McVay was not kidding about putting the Rams’ dramatic turnaround season behind.
The roster that helped the first-year coach and the franchise win an NFC West title in 2017 turned over again Wednesday when the Rams agreed to send linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants in exchange for two draft picks, people with knowledge of the situation said.
The people requested anonymity because the deal, the Rams’ third involving their defense in the last few weeks, will not become official until the new league year begins March 14. The Rams will acquire fourth- and sixth-round picks in the April 26-28 draft in exchange for Ogletree and a seventh-round pick in 2019, one of the people said.
The Rams now have 10 picks in this year’s draft, including five in the sixth round.
Two months after their first playoff game since 2004, the Rams are making no secret of their intent to find players who better fit defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. They also are clearing salary-cap space for the huge extension defensive tackle Aaron Donald could receive before next season, and for the new deals that star running back Todd Gurley and ascending quarterback Jared Goff will probably command in the next two years.
Ogletree, the 30th player chosen in the 2013 draft, began his career as an outside linebacker but was shifted to starting middle linebacker in 2016, when the Rams played a 4-3 scheme under former coach Jeff Fisher. Ogletree was a captain and starting inside linebacker last season under Phillips, who installed a 3-4 with the players he inherited and free-agent additions such as cornerback Kayvon Webster, who played for Phillips with the Denver Broncos, and linebacker Connor Barwin, who played for Phillips with the Houston Texans.
“Everything happens for a reason and GOD makes no mistake!! Can’t wait to get to the Big [Apple] and continue my career as NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANT!!” #Blessed #GoGiants,” tweeted Ogletree, 26, who signed a four-year, $42-million extension in October and carries a salary-cap number of $11.6 million this season, according to overthecap.com.
The Rams spent much of last offseason adding pieces to an offense that went from the worst in the NFL in 2015 and 2016 to one of the league’s most dynamic units under McVay. The Rams led the league in scoring, Gurley was voted the NFL’s offensive player of the year and Goff developed into a top-10 passer.
The defense, though good at times, lagged in comparison.
The Rams ranked 28th in rushing defense, 19th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. The unit made up for some of its deficiencies by ranking fifth in takeaways.
Since the end of the season, McVay has said the Rams could not rest on their laurels after finishing 11-5 and losing to the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card playoff game.
“Just because we won the division last year doesn’t mean anything going into next year,” McVay said last month after he was presented the award for NFL coach of the year. “I think you feel really good about the players we have in place, but you have to earn it every day.”
“To know what our own roster looks like, having had a year of seeing how these guys fit in our system, but also how we adjust our system to them, gives us a good opportunity to try and continue to build on what last year was,” he said.
The Ogletree trade is the latest in a flurry of moves by general manager Les Snead.
The Rams agreed last month to a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs for cornerback Marcus Peters, a star player who will be paid only $1.7 million next season. Last week, the Rams traded veteran linebacker/edge rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins. Quinn carries a salary-cap number of $12.3 million.
The day before the Rams traded Quinn, Snead said at the combine that he was motivated to make predraft deals by “an urgency to get better.”
With Ogletree and Quinn gone, Mark Barron is the only remaining starting linebacker under contract. Barwin is a pending free agent.
The salary cap for 2018 is $177.2 million.
The Rams have about $39 million in salary-cap space, but that figure could grow to the mid- to high-40s when the new league year begins and trades become official.
The Rams are expected to gain even more space if receiver Tavon Austin is released or traded after the start of the league year. Austin carries a salary-cap number of $8 million in 2018.
On Tuesday, the Rams locked up safety Lamarcus Joyner for at least a year by putting the franchise tag on him. That would cost the Rams $11.2 million next season.
Receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Trumaine Johnson are pending free agents. The Rams could let both test the market before making a final determination on whether to try to re-sign them. Eliminating Ogletree’s contract helps in that regard.