THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- When the offseason arrived and it started to become clear that the Denver Broncos needed to move on, Aqib Talib reportedly wanted to be traded to only one of two teams: The New England Patriots, perpetual champions of this millennium, and the Los Angeles Rams, for another reason that should be just as obvious.
"Wherever I went, I wanted to be comfortable," Talib said last week, while introduced with the Rams alongside fellow All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters. "And in no time in the NFL was I more comfortable playing football than with Wade Phillips."
Talib, a Pro Bowler each of the past five seasons, played under Phillips on a couple of dominant Broncos defenses from 2015 to 2016, totaling six interceptions, three touchdowns, 14 pass breakups and one Super Bowl title. He's 32 now, entering what he calls "the later half of my career," and he wanted another run with Phillips as his defensive coordinator.
"He’s like the guru of putting guys in position to succeed," Talib said. "If I was going to go somewhere, I wanted to be comfortable, and I’m definitely comfortable in L.A."
Talib's pairing with Peters gives the Rams what looks like the most lethal cornerback duo in the NFL, and quite possibly the game's best secondary when you consider Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Talib, fiery yet refined, can also serve as something of a mentor to the younger, perceivably volatile Peters.
But his addition prompted the Rams to part with another established leader: linebacker Alec Ogletree.
The Rams signed Ogletree to a four-year, $42 million extension in the middle of October. They didn't see him as a natural fit in a 3-4 scheme, but they wanted to keep one of their core players away from the free-agent market and figured he could fit in eventually. Then Kayvon Webster ruptured his Achilles tendon, prompting the need to replace two cornerbacks instead of one (Trumaine Johnson, coming off back-to-back franchise tags, was already headed for free agency).
Talib was set to cost $11 million toward the 2018 salary cap, and the Rams needed to free up some money in order to add him and maintain some semblance of flexibility. They sent Ogletree to the New York Giants on March 7, then acquired Talib from the Broncos the next day. Phillips weighs corners more heavily than linebackers in his scheme, so the Rams basically chose Talib over Ogletree -- who is still costing $6.4 million toward their salary cap because of the extension he signed only five months earlier.
"Alec fit in the system in that he was one of our better players, so, that’s the reason why," Snead said when asked to rationalize the Ogletree extension. "We had been in talks with him throughout the previous year into the summer, into the season. And you didn’t know you were going to be able to get Peters or Aqib. All things equal, if we couldn’t get those two players, we’re thrilled to have Alec around. But that’s one of those 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 that, to add pieces that fit the scheme better."
Ogletree was getting some cardio in at the Rams' facility when the trade went down. Snead grabbed coach Sean McVay to deliver the unexpected, life-changing news before it hit social media. Ogletree jogged to one side of the field, then began to jog back toward the facility. Snead stepped out of the weight room and onto the grass at that point, with Ogletree quickly approaching. In that moment, Snead thought about everything he had been through with Ogletree -- drafting him 30th overall, making him the signal-caller of his defense, watching him develop into a husband, a father, a leader.
"That's the moment where, even though this is a business," Snead said, "you feel this whole family side of it."
But the Rams were confident in their decision because of what they would parlay the savings into. In Talib, they're getting someone who is familiar with Phillips' system and is still playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level. Over the past two years, according to Pro Football Focus, Talib has allowed only 0.7 yards per coverage snap (tied for second best among qualified cornerbacks) to go along with a 63.2 passer rating (sixth) and a 53.6 completion percentage (15th) when targeted.
From afar, Talib was captivated by what the Rams felt like under McVay, the NFL's Coach of the Year at 31 years old.
"I’ve seen a bunch of guys having fun, man, who was playing for someone they believed in," said Talib, who ranks second with 34 interceptions since 2008. "You watch half the teams in the league, they just go through the motions and kind of collect a check. But it’s another half of them teams, playoff teams -- they have a coach that they respect, and whatever he’s preaching, he’s got guys believing that they really can go do it. That’s what I saw in the Rams."
But the real draw was the 70-year-old defensive coordinator.
Phillips, Talib said, "taught me a lot about being a pro, how to prepare for the game, and using my strengths on the field. In those years, he definitely made me a better football player, and he’s going to continue to make me a better football player. That’s a huge part of the reason for why I wanted to come play for him."