The Rams don’t play a game Sunday, but they notched a big turnover on defense.
In a cost-cutting move, the team parted ways with Aqib Talib on Tuesday, sending the injured cornerback and a 2020 fifth-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2022.
The swap saves the Rams about $4.25 million in cash and salary-cap space, which helps them in crafting a long-term deal for newly acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Talib, 33, due to become a free agent after this season, was on injured reserve after suffering fractured ribs in a Week 5 loss at Seattle and will not be eligible to return until after Week 15.
The Rams acquired Talib from Denver in early 2018. He sat out eight games last season because of an ankle injury that required surgery, and finished the season with an interception and a forced fumble. When healthy, he provided more reliable coverage than counterpart Marcus Peters, who was traded to Baltimore two weeks ago.
That fifth-round pick the Dolphins will receive was acquired from the Ravens in the deal for Peters. So in the big picture, the Rams dealt two pending free agents and received linebacker Kenny Young (also part of the Baltimore deal), a seventh-round pick, and most importantly, about $10 million in cap space.
Talib, who is on his fifth team, is a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback with 35 interceptions in 12 years. He was a first-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2008, and won a Super Bowl with Denver in 2016.
“He meant a whole lot to our team,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Tuesday of Talib. “I think just the confidence, the swagger, the veteran leadership that he’s brought — he’s been, really, a big part of what’s gone on since he got here, and he’s been nothing but positive since he got here.”
So the Rams are heading into the second half of the season with a retooled secondary that features starting cornerbacks Ramsey, an All-Pro acquired in a trade with Jacksonville, and Troy Hill. That combination, with Nickell Robey-Coleman coming off the bench as the third corner, has worked well the last two weeks, with opponents Atlanta and Cincinnati each scoring 10 points in losses.
Granted, the Falcons and Bengals are a combined 1-15, although Atlanta’s Matt Ryan had thrown for at least 300 yards in each of his team’s first six games. The Rams limited him to 159 yards before sending the quarterback to the sideline in the fourth quarter with a foot injury.
Asked if the way the Rams have played the last two weeks gave the club the confidence to trade Talib, McVay said: “That’s been part of it. At the end of the day, it’s being able to make decisions we feel are in the best interest of the team.”
Also at issue for the Rams: What’s in the best interest of receiver Brandin Cooks, who suffered a concussion on the first offensive series against Cincinnati? That was far from Cooks’ first concussion, as he suffered one against Seattle in Week 5, against Seattle last season, and in the Super Bowl in 2017 when he played for New England.
McVay said Cooks was on his way to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to meet with a concussion specialist, noting that Cooks is “feeling good. … He’s very aware of what’s going on, and he can talk about what occurred preconcussion.”
But the coach added: “The most important thing is Brandin Cooks as a human being right now, not necessarily the football player. Let’s get a better idea of what exactly is going on, so we can at least make the best decision for him moving forward.”
Linebacker Clay Matthews, who suffered a broken jaw in the Seattle game, has been optimistic about returning to play after the week off, when the Rams play at Pittsburgh. He had a sack in each of his five games this season — two against Cleveland — and forced two fumbles.
“I really just think it’s going to be a matter of how quickly and how comfortable does he feel as far as, ‘All right, I’m ready to go’ and play full contact,” McVay said of Matthews, whose jaw was wired shut, a treatment that is now over. “In the absence of some of that restrictive protection he’s had, he’s on track for that.”
Safety John Johnson underwent shoulder surgery. He posted video Tuesday on Instagram from his hospital bed, saying the operation was successful and, “I’m going to shake back; J.J. always does.”