Another premium defensive talent is on the move in the NFL’s offseason.
The Los Angeles Rams are trading pass-rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins for this year’s fourth and sixth-round picks, while shipping their own sixth-rounder back.
The move for the reigning NFC West champions comes a little more than a week after they acquired cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, which signaled their aggressive intent to get younger and gain salary cap flexibility.
And that’s exactly what the trade of Quinn achieves as well.
The 27-year-old will count for more than $25 million against the cap over the next two seasons and isn’t the same force he was when the Rams inked him to a four-year extension worth $57m in 2014.
The signing of the extension was sandwiched between Quinn’s two Pro Bowl campaigns, when he racked up 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013, followed by 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2014.
His production, however, tailed off the next two years with his sacks dropping to 5 in 2015 and 4 in 2016 as he played just 17 games over that span due to injuries.
This past season, Quinn remained relatively healthy to appear in 15 games and bounced back with 8.5 sacks while switching to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
After being one of the Rams’ best players since being drafted 14th overall by the franchise in 2011, Quinn simply became too costly, especially in the context of defensive tackle Aaron Donald set to break the bank.
#Rams have very quietly moved into the top 8 or 9 in cap space. Have to think they are targeting someone.— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) March 2, 2018
So instead of losing Quinn for nothing by cutting him loose, Los Angeles pick up a mid-round pick they can potentially use to replenish their linebacking unit.
While the Rams gain cap relief, Miami have put themselves in a position in which they’ll need to shed salary to make space for Quinn.
The Dolphins just franchise-tagged wide receiver Jarvis Landry for $16m and already had Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh accounting for $9.6m and $26.1m, respectively, on the defensive line for the coming season.
In all likelihood, Quinn’s arrival could spell the end for Suh in Miami, with the Dolphins able to save $17m in cap savings if they cut the defensive tackle by March 19.
Landry’s future could also be affected if Miami decide to trade him by March 14 or rescind his franchise tag and let him hit free agency.
Quinn figures to pair with fellow edge-rusher Wake to bolster what was an area of weakness for the Dolphins this past season. Miami ranked 26th in the league with 30 sacks, 10.5 of which were Wake’s.
Though Quinn isn’t much of a factor against the running game, the Dolphins have some room for error after being middle-of-the-road in that area in 2017, ranking 14th with 110.5 rush yards allowed per game and 17th with 4.1 yards allowed per rush.
The price of a fourth-rounder – with the swap of sixth-rounders being a wash – is minimal to add a talent like Quinn.
Because of past decisions and contracts handed out, however, the move also brings with it some cap gymnastics.
It’s that time of the year again in the NFL, when we froth at the mouth over the NFL combine and pick apart prospects based on measurements and bench press reps.
The week-long combine in Indianapolis allows all 32 teams in the league to evaluate and scout the pool of players that will be available in the draft, which takes place from April 26-28.
Everything in the NFL calendar seems to be its own ‘event’, but that’s especially true of the combine, which has, over the years, become a spectacle separate from the draft.
And there are so many elements to the combine that it’s easy to shoot down or raise a prospect’s stock based off a limited showing.
Here’s what you need to know about the combine and how useful it is for evaluating players.
Don’t be fooled by all the workouts and individual drills the prospects have to go through. At the end of the day, teams use the combine to gauge the mental strength of players as much as they use it to see how fast they can run or how high they can jump, if not more.
So while an outstanding 40-yard dash time could put a prospect on a team’s radar, so could an impressive interview.
Something like the Wonderlic – a 12-minute, 15-question test designed to measure how quickly someone can process information more than intelligence – doesn’t hold much that much value, but an interview could potentially make or break a player’s standing with a team.
It may sound like a cliché, but teams want to see how well players can deal with adversity. That’s why they throw them all these off-the-wall, non-football related questions, which are supposed to put prospects under pressure and reveal a little bit of their character.
When a scout asked me at the combine if I had to murder someone: Would I use a gun or a knife? pic.twitter.com/R5BHMxiDM7— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
There are also plenty of football-specific questions tossed at players, related to drawing up plays or what to do in certain situations, but again, the mental aspect of the combine isn’t a way to shine a light on who’s smart and who’s not – it’s meant to show how prospects’ minds work.
And while character and mental fortitude may not seem as crucial as how accurate you can throw a football, they matter to some extent to the people ultimately making the decisions in the draft.
When it comes to the hands-on activities at the combine, not every drill or workout is created the same.
While each drill measures some physical aspect, some are more valuable than others when it comes to practical application on the field on Sundays.
Take, for example, the bench press, which is mesmerising to watch with some of the best athletes in the country pumping 225 pounds as many times as they can. But there’s little value in that from a functionality standpoint, considering the NFL is so much about having a low centre of gravity. Plus the longer your arms are – and some of these prospects have incredible limbs – the more energy you have to exert on a single rep.
Two drills that are as eye-catching as the bench press, while being sizably more useful, are the vertical jump and 40-yard dash.
This isn’t the NBA, but if you’ve been watching how football is played these days, you’ve noticed it features elements of basketball. One of those areas is having a wide receiver or tight end who can simply out-jump a defensive back.
Some of the biggest plays over the course of an NFL season involve players fighting in the air for a ball that’s thrown up for grabs. So if you can jump higher than the next guy, that’s definitely an advantage.
The 40-yard dash, meanwhile, has become the main attraction at the combine. There’s just something cool about being the fastest guy on the field, even more so than being the strongest.
And as the saying goes, speed kills, which is why evaluators are so often hypnotised by 40 times and that alone can push players up the draft board.
As sexy as it is, however, the 40-yard dash – and pretty much all other drills at the combine – pale in comparison to the three-cone drill.
For those in the know, the three-cone drill is in many ways the holy grail of evaluating the athleticism of skill players like running backs, edge rushers and defensive backs.
The reason for that is it measures the ability to change direction, cut and quickly accelerate – all vital in practically any situation on Sunday. If a prospect performs well in this, it’s a strong indication that they’ll be coveted in the draft and have some sort of success in the league.
With all that said, there’s nothing at the combine – mental or physical – that offers a clear cut indication that a player can’t make it at the next level.
That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that no one knows anything (for certain) and for all the evaluation tools teams use, it’s impossible to predict a prospect’s future in the league.
It’s not often a 25-year-old ball-hawk of a cornerback gets traded.
But for the Kansas City Chiefs, Marcus Peters was apparently more trouble than he was worth as they shipped him to the Los Angeles Rams, who sprung on the opportunity to add one of the best players at his position to their roster.
In return, Kansas City will receive a package of draft picks – no other players involved – which have yet to be revealed as the trade has to wait until March 14 to be processed in the new league year.
It’s possible the Chiefs will receive the Rams’ first-round pick (23rd overall), but even without knowing all the details, the reasons for both teams making the move seem clear.
For Kansas City, the decision likely has little to do with Peters’ play on the field.
The two-time Pro Bowler and 2016 first-team All-Pro member has been a takeaway machine since joining the league three years ago, snagging an NFL-best 21 interceptions over that span (including playoffs). For comparison, the next-closest player, Reggie Nelson, is seven interceptions behind with 14.
Peters has managed to be a rare blend as both a cornerback who opposing quarterbacks try to avoid and one that forces turnovers.
And having turned 25 in January, there’s no reason to believe Peters’ skills or athleticism are on the decline.
All of that makes the Chiefs’ willingness to part with him head-scratching, at least on paper. But when you factor in his character concerns, along with the hefty payday he’s set to receive sooner than later, the trade makes more sense.
It’s no secret that Peters has had moments of hot-headedness, dating all the way back to the University of Washington where he was thrown off the team for an argument with an assistant coach.
This past season In Kansas City, he was involved in a heated altercation with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on the sidelines, along with being suspended by the Chiefs for a game after throwing an official’s penalty flag into the stands and then leaving for the locker room without being ejected.
As talented as Peters is, there are red flags to suggest his personality may pose enough of a problem.
While something like that can be managed, it’s conceivable Kansas City were more concerned with losing Peters for nothing in free agency in two years, regardless of whether he wasn’t interested in re-signing or they weren’t into the idea of handing him a lucrative contract.
Peters will count for only $1.74 million against the cap this coming season and has a cheap team option for 2019, so it’s not as if the Chiefs didn’t have time to explore their options. However, if the reports are true that San Francisco and Cleveland were the only other teams to express interest in acquiring Peters – and that too tentative interest – then it’s likely his trade value may have been at its highest right now.
.@MikeGarafolo says the #49ers interest in #Chiefs CB Marcus Peters was lukewarm. I’d add the #Browns are described as the same. This wasn’t a showdown between the #49ers and #Rams. It was all LA and KC when it came down to it.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 23, 2018
It takes some manoeuvring to understand Kansas City’s thinking behind the move, but that’s not the case for the Rams who appear to have hit a home run.
Aside from adding an elite playmaker to their ranks and giving defensive coordinator Wade Phillips more talent to work with, Los Angeles will benefit with cap flexibility.
Peters’ team-friendly cap number is expected to replace the mammoth figure of Trumaine Johnson, who had received the franchise tag in consecutive years and is set to sign a rich deal in free agency this offseason.
The ripple effect means more savings for the Rams to throw at their best player, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, down the road, while allowing them to have more avenues in the draft and free agency.
And as far as Peters’ character issues, it seems like Los Angeles coach Sean McVay is confident in the culture he has cultivated in his short time at the helm of the team.
Adding Peters may not put the Rams over the top, but it fits their timeline of contending in both the present and future.