When the Rams made the decision to trade linebacker Alec Ogletree and outside linebacker Robert Quinn, they knew they were shipping out two players who have meant a lot to the organization.
Both were first-round picks. Both have helped set the team's high standard of performance on defense. And both were important pieces in Los Angeles winning the NFC West in 2017.
And that's why general manager Les Snead began Wednesday's press conference to introduce new cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib by thanking players from last season who will be elsewhere in 2018 — including Quinn and Ogletree.
"I wanted to open by saying that everyone who was a part of our 2017 success made integral contributions," Snead said before mentioning Quinn and Ogletree — among others — by name. "[In] '17, going 11-5, winning the NFC West was definitely fulfilling, but we're definitely not content. We're going to keep working to improve upon that."
Snead and head coach Sean McVay made it clear that the decisions to trade Ogletree and Quinn were not easy. But in effect, the moves were made in order to put L.A. in an even better position to repeat as NFC West Champions in 2018. In this particular case, that meant shaving off some salary in order to have room under the cap to acquire a player like Talib and still have flexibility to add more players.
"When you're going to be able to acquire an Aqib Talib and things like that, sometimes that means some tough decision have to be made with regards to what do you do with some of the other things in terms of how you allocate the money and stuff like that. And there were a lot of layers to it," McVay said.
What makes the situation a bit more complex for Ogletree in particular is that the Rams had just signed him to a contract extension in the middle of the 2017 season. Snead said the Rams didn't feel that as the season went on that Ogletree was not a fit for coordinator Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. The general manager added that the contract extension had been in the works for a while and Ogletree remained one of Los Angeles' better players on defense.
"And you didn't know you were going to be able to get a Peters or an Aqib. So, all things equal, if you couldn't get those two players, heck, we're jacked to have Alec around," Snead said. "But that's one of the hard decisions as a GM, as a franchise, as an organization — that, OK, maybe you have to move a very good player on your team, a leader, and all of that — to add pieces that … fit the scheme better."
"In Wade's scheme … the cornerback positions weigh more than the inside linebacker positions," Snead added. "So we had discussed that in the Chiefs situation, they were talking to the other teams about players, and we had discussed that situation with Marcus, right? And as you go through that, you're talking with your defensive staff and Wade [and you say] take the human being out of it — from a position standpoint, hey, we're going to weigh corner more than ILB. Especially when all things are equal in terms of, let's call it, the level of player. So that's the reason you go, OK, wait a minute, it could be a possibility to get two corners. But you might have to sacrifice, obviously, Alec."
But even if you take the human aspect out of it when going through the trade process, it comes right back once the trade gets executed. Snead said once the Rams had reached an agreement with the Giants, he and McVay wanted to call Ogletree to deliver the news themselves. That's when they found out Ogletree was actually at the Rams' facility, running on the field.
"That's a tough day. And it's one thing when you're the GM and you're doing all this on paper," Snead said, adding that it's certainly a difficult conversation because as the general manager, "you were part of drafting Alec — you know his mom, you know his dad, you know his wife. You saw him have his first kid. So there's the moment where you feel that even though this is a business, you feel that whole family side of, 'This is a hard conversation.' Because his life just changed and you've got to deliver the news. I don't know if you — I can only explain it in that story. But it's not easy."
"What's amazing is you realize how quickly some of these things take place," McVay said. "And I think the most important thing is, we talk about clear, open, and honest communication — you can't be afraid to have some of those uncomfortable conversations.
"But, I think when you look at it with he and Robert both — I called Robert and communicated that to him. So with both of those guys, they got that information from me," McVay continued. "And it's not always fun, but I think that they respect the business element to it. And sometimes these are tough decisions that have to be made. And they couldn't have been more professional in terms of how they handled it."
Another human aspect of those two trades is that it creates a potential leadership void. Even though L.A. made these trades to get better, the club knows that leadership is an important piece for the locker room.
"We definitely talked about that and what that would do, because I'd say that 2017, we were 11-5 and NFC West Champs," Snead said. "2018 is different. All we're doing now is on paper. And you've just got to be intentional about keeping the foot on the gas and making sure we do the things — everybody in this building — to be able to repeat. And when you remove a leader, you've got to replace a leader. And that's still to be determined."
Of course, the Rams also have to replace the on-field production from Ogletree and Quinn. Ogletree was Los Angeles' signal-caller on defense for the last two seasons, which is a vital role for the unit. He also led the team with 128 total tackles, recorded 2.0 sacks, an interception, 10 pass breakups, and 11 quarterback hits.
"We've got Cory Littleton who we think — not saying he steps into the exact same role as Alec, but he can do some things. And then maybe you add another piece that can do some things Alec did," Snead said.
In Quinn's case, the outside linebacker recorded 8.5 sacks — most he's had in a season since 2014 — 12 quarterback hits, and eight tackles for loss. Snead said defensive tackle Aaron Donald's presence as an interior rusher — he tied a career high with 11.0 sacks last year — in some ways diminishes the need for an overwhelmingly dominant edge rusher.
"But you still want that," Snead added. "But with [Donald], you're looking for certain types of players and we've got to go figure that out."