Last offseason, the Los Angeles Rams sent shockwaves around the NFL when they traded for former All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters. The Rams traded for Peters with 2018 fourth-round pick Armani Watts and sixth-round pick Kahlil McKenzie, as well as 2019 second-round selection Juan Thornhill.
Before arriving in Los Angeles, Peters registered 19 interceptions in his three-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs, the most of any player during that span.
With the eventual departure of Trumaine Johnson in free agency to the New York Jets, Peters not only seemed to be his replacement, but also a better fit in Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme alongside cornerback Aqib Talib.
The Rams exercised the fifth-year option of Peters’ rookie contract. But heading into 2019, the 26-year-old will be heading into the final year of said deal. Peters had undoubtedly earned a considerable deal given his first three years in the league. After an up-and-down first year with the Rams, however, head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead will need to decide if Peters is worth that sort of investment. After all, the team will eventually need to pay quarterback Jared Goff, which won’t be cheap, especially after the Carson Wentz deal, as well as young emerging stars like John Johnson III and Cooper Kupp.
Snead’s track record doesn’t bode well for Peters
It is uncertain what the Rams will do with Peters. But under Snead, they have been reluctant when it comes to paying big money for defensive backs. Johnson was not the first that the team allowed to walk in free agency. After the 2015 season, they allowed Janoris Jenkins to sign a deal with the New York Giants. Safety Rodney McLeod also left after the 2015 season as the former undrafted free agent signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Lastly, just this past offseason, the Rams let LaMarcus Joyner walk and sign with the Oakland Raiders.
Letting Jenkins and Johnson leave as free agents have turned out to be right decisions to this point. Despite being the third-highest paid cornerback in the NFL, Johnson graded as just the 33rd best cornerback in coverage per Pro Football Focus. He still led the Jets with four interceptions, but his coverage skills were underwhelming.
After an All-Pro season in 2016 in his first year with the Giants, Jenkins has produced coverage grades of just 69.6 and 66.3 according to Pro Football Focus, both of which are his lowest since 2013. He allowed the fifth-most receptions for a cornerback last season.
Instead of signing players like Jenkins and Johnson to large contracts, Snead has gone out and signed cheap players like Kavyon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman, or traded for Peters and Talib.
Peters has inconsistent first season in Los Angeles
When the Rams traded for Peters, many expected that he would be the lockdown cornerback in Phillips’ scheme for years to come. However, 2018 didn’t unfold as expected. He graded as the 137th cornerback in coverage last season (PFF), and his 740 yards allowed were the 12th-most in the league. Similarly, his six touchdowns allowed tied for the third-most in all of football.
Peters came out with a bang in his debut with the Rams. A pick-six to secure the victory against the Raiders seemed to prove why the team had traded for him. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there for Peters. He struggled as a man-cover corner while he dealt with a calf injury, suffered against the Los Angeles Chargers in week three. During the first half of the season, he was a liability in coverage.
In weeks 1-9 Peters recorded a 39.9 grade in coverage according to Pro Football Focus, with one interception and two pass breakups; compared to a 78.6 coverage grade, the 16th highest, with two interceptions and six pass breakups in the second half of the season and playoffs.
Peters had his ups-and-downs in his first year with the Rams, but nothing topped his game-sealing interception against his former team on Monday Night Football.
Peters’ future with the Rams
Snead hasn’t been afraid of admitting a wrong and moving on after a bad deal, and he has also shown he isn’t afraid to let players walk and test out the free agent market. The Rams traded linebacker Alec Ogletree to get rid of his bad contract last offseason, and they let Sammy Watkins walk after just one year, despite trading away a second-round pick.
Similar to the 2018 NFL Draft when the Rams selected offensive linemen Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen to prepare for the potential losses of Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan, they selected cornerback David Long out of Michigan this past year. Long is a player that brings physicality to the line of scrimmage, possesses impressive ball skills, and is serviceable in both man and zone.
Like Noteboom and Allen, Long will use his rookie year to develop behind talented veterans and be ready to take over next year if Talib or Peters leave during free agency.
At the very least, the Los Angeles Rams have covered their bases.
Peters still has time to prove he can be a better scheme fit and play as he did in the second half of the season on a more consistent basis. If he does, it will be difficult for the Rams not to give him a long-term deal. However, that will be something that they take the full year to figure out.
Peters’ reputation and performance will have a significant say in both the status and significance of his next contract, no matter who is offering it.
Blaine Grisak is a writer for PFN covering the Los Angeles Rams. You can follow him @bxgrisak_SID on Twitter.