LOS ANGELES — Ndamukong Suh chose the Los Angeles Rams, even with more money available elsewhere. Aqib Talib wanted to play here, seemingly more than any other place. And as the rumors intensified coming out of last month’s owners meetings, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. reportedly told friends that this was where he wanted to be traded.
The Rams, burdened by 10 consecutive losing seasons before Sean McVay took over last year, have seemingly become the destination team in the NFL — and it happened swiftly.
“It’s interesting,” Rams general manager Les Snead said last week. “When we relocated out here — take everything out other than Southern California, and you did know that was very appetizing for young, professional athletes. I think that speaks for itself, if you go out and there’s the weather and no humidity and all of that.”
L.A. itself — a sunny, coastal, vibrant metropolis with endless off-the-field opportunities for young millionaires — was a crucial foundation. The Rams became the first NFL team in two decades to make the nation’s second-largest media market its home, an instant advantage over most of the NFL landscape. Now they just had to make their team appealing, and that process began with the hiring of their new head coach.
“Sean was Sean before he even won a game,” Snead said. “I think a player could have vetted our team, heck, after the first team meeting — especially in the OTAs, before we even won a game in ’17 — and I think our players would have said, ‘If you get a chance, you want to come play for this guy and his staff.'”
Talib, an All-Pro cornerback acquired in a trade with the Denver Broncos, touched on that during his introductory news conference, while talking about his perception of the 2017 Rams from afar.
“I’ve seen a bunch of guys having fun, man, who was playing for someone they believed in,” Talib said. “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. I’ve seen there was a guy preaching something, and there was a bunch of guys believing in what he was preaching and they was going to get it. I’m definitely proud I’m part of that.”
McVay, still only 32, is an offensive mastermind who made the Rams the first team in the Super Bowl era to go from last to first in scoring from one season to the next. His scheme would appeal to anyone, but it’s his unique ability to connect with players and create an alluring culture that already has guys lining up to play for him.
Seventy-year-old Wade Phillips, the biggest reason Talib wanted to be traded to the Rams, is one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the game, his gravitas so powerful that Suh chose to play for him even though he will spend most of his time out of position at nose tackle.
“I don’t think any decision of this magnitude is easy,” Suh said of picking the Rams during his introductory news conference on Friday. “There was a lot of other great teams that I had offers from and had an opportunity to join, but I think this was the best fit for me.”
Suh visited with the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans before he met with the Rams on March 20. He capped his visit with a sashimi dinner at the famed Nobu Malibu alongside McVay and owner Stan Kroenke. But before that came the key element of every stop in Suh’s free-agent tour: watching film with the coaching staff. That’s where Phillips appealed to him.
“I’ve seen him in Dallas, I’ve seen him in other places and do very successful things with a multitude of different athletes and different players, at elite levels, everything in between,” Suh said. “I think he’ll create a package for every single guy that he has.”
Suh signed a one-year contract for $14 million that includes additional incentives based on playing time and team success. He joins a defensive line that includes Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, and the bolstered secondary features Talib, Marcus Peters and Lamarcus Joyner. In addressing the offense, the Rams sent this year’s No. 23 overall pick to the New England Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who joins Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
The Rams, with new uniforms and a new stadium on the horizon, had the city.
They got the offensive-minded coach, who hired the defensive coordinator.
And now, it seems, they have the team.
Word is spreading.
“I’ll give the players credit — they vet,” Snead said. “They talk to their friends who play in this league, on our team, and they go, ‘Wait a minute, you really want to go play for not only Sean McVay, but Wade Phillips and all the guys in between.”