LOS ANGELES -- The new league year won't start for another 12 days, but the Los Angeles Rams have already made it clear they will not rest on their laurels.
They shed close to $25 million in salary-cap commitments over the next two years by agreeing to trade All-Pro edge rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins on Friday, seven days after agreeing to acquire All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. And they could shed another $53 million or so in future commitments if they eventually cut ties, via trade or release, with wide receiver Tavon Austin and inside linebacker Mark Barron.
The Rams, reigning NFC West champs after an 11-win season under Sean McVay, sent a 2018 fourth-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick to the Chiefs for Peters, then got a 2018 mid-round pick from the Dolphins -- either in the third or fourth round -- in exchange for Quinn, two trades that will not be processed until March 14.
Peters will cost only $1.74 million toward the 2018 cap, $15 million less than what Trumaine Johnson -- a lesser corner -- cost toward the 2017 cap. In Quinn, the Rams shed roughly $11.5 million in 2018, providing them with even more flexibility. Flexibility they can use to bring back wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Flexibility that can help with future extensions for Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, who are each one year apart. Flexibility they can use on better scheme fits for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
Quinn was a crucial part of the Rams' fabric over the past seven years. He was the 14th overall pick out of North Carolina in 2011, then made two Pro Bowls and racked up 40 sacks from 2012 to 2014. But injuries got in the way. Quinn played in only 17 games from 2015 to 2016, undergoing back surgery in the middle of that stretch. He stayed healthy throughout 2017 and played his best football late, with six sacks in his last five regular-season games. But Quinn, not necessarily adept at dropping back into coverage, wasn't an ideal fit as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.
Now the 6-foot-4, 250-pound edge rusher can go back to operating out of a three-point stance as a 4-3 defensive end, and the Rams can move on with what could be a complete makeover of their linebacking corps. They might need two new outside linebackers, with Connor Barwin set to be an unrestricted free agent. And they might need an inside linebacker if they part ways with Barron, a move that would be prompted by the need for a bigger run-stopping presence inside.
Early in his offseason, Rams general manager Les Snead talked about how this past season allowed the organization to gain a better feel for the best scheme fits under Phillips. They might have had an inkling last offseason, but they were too focused on the offense to get much done. Now the defense has their attention, and they'll have holes to fill.
The Rams are projected to have more than $50 million in salary-cap space this year, and that number could jump to more than $60 million if Austin and Barron are let go. For 2019, they're already nearing $100 million. But they want to bring back Joyner and Watkins, and they're conscious of retaining Donald, Gurley and Goff. At the moment, they also have needs at nose tackle, center, slot corner, both outside linebacker spots and, potentially, inside linebacker and outside corner, with only one selection among the first 86 picks.
The Rams have moves to make, but they have the flexibility to make them.