Amid all of the talk about Aaron Rodgers possibly joining the New York Jets, it was their AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins who made the first blockbuster trade of the offseason Sunday, bolstering their defense by acquiring cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams received a 2023 third-round pick (No. 77 overall) and tight end Hunter Long. The trade will be processed on Wednesday when the 2023 league year officially begins.
Ramsey, 28, is a three-time first-team All-Pro, most recently in 2021, although his performance last season wasn’t as strong. The Dolphins, who had been restructuring contracts recently to create salary cap space, also informed cornerback Byron Jones that he will be released after the new league year begins.
It’s the second consecutive year the Dolphins have made a splashy offseason move, having traded for former Kansas City Chiefs star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who turned in a first-team All-Pro season, in 2022. The Dolphins are hoping Ramsey and a healthy Tua Tagovailoa, the dynamic quarterback who suffered two concussions last season, will be catalysts for a Super Bowl run after the team was eliminated by the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round last season.
Miami’s odds to win the Super Bowl remained at 35-1 immediately after the trade, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
The Rams, meanwhile, are in the process of shedding salaries to get under the cap.
ESPN Dolphins reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques and Rams reporter Sarah Barshop broke down the trade from various angles, including what other Rams players might be on the move.
Could Ramsey be the final piece to the Dolphins’ Super Bowl puzzle?
Super Bowl talk might seem unrealistic for an organization that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000, and the Dolphins still need to shore up a couple of positions, but they’re closer to possessing a Super Bowl-caliber roster than they were a week ago.
They had a need at cornerback after informing Jones he would be released, and they addressed it after a week of clearing salary cap space through multiple contract restructurings. The Dolphins restructured the contracts of Hill, Terron Armstead and Bradley Chubb to clear space for this move, and they reworked Ramsey’s deal to guarantee the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Miami will have roughly $12 million in salary cap space.
Now that it has made its big splash of the offseason, Miami can focus on adding depth at offensive line, adding running backs and evaluating its situation at inside linebacker. But the core of the roster it hopes will lead to a Super Bowl is built. –– Louis-Jacques
What impact does this have on the AFC East balance of power?
The Dolphins saw an opening after a win and a pair of close losses against the Bills last season. On paper, at least, they’re ready to challenge the narrative of what’s been a one-sided rivalry as Miami has just one win in its past 10 games against Buffalo.
But there were times when the Bills appeared vulnerable last season, and losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round fell short of preseason expectations.
For Miami, much will depend on the caliber of play of its cornerbacks — Xavien Howard and Ramsey — at this stage of their careers. If they play to their All-Pro level, they are the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. But even if their best days are behind them, both are capable of making life difficult for opposing offences.
And if the Jets’ offense features Rodgers at quarterback, it will make the division even more intriguing. — Louis-Jacques
Is Ramsey still a game-changing cornerback?
Ramsey can be a difference-maker, but there’s no doubt his coverage numbers in 2022 were worse than the year before. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, as the nearest defender, Ramsey allowed a completion percentage of 65% in 2022, compared with 60% the year before, and he yielded 8.4 yards per attempt vs. 6.2 YPA in 2021. Ramsey allowed seven touchdowns as the closest defender last season; only Atlanta Falcons cornerback AJ Terrell allowed more.
“I mean, I ain’t saying I played the best I’ve ever played in my career, but I played well,” Ramsey said at his end-of-season news conference. “. … I’ve never been a stat guy. I’ve always said that: ‘I hate stats,’ right? But statistically, I put up some of the best numbers in my career.” — Bar shop
How will Ramsey fit in with new DC Vic Fangio?
What has made Ramsey and Howard special is their ball skills and physicality. Since both players were drafted in 2016, Ramsey and Howard rank third and fourth in passes defended, and 13th and first in interceptions, respectively.
Fangio’s defensive scheme confuses opposing quarterbacks and makes them second-guess coverages. If quarterbacks make the wrong decision, the Dolphins’ secondary will make them pay. If they take too long to make a decision, Miami’s pass-rushers will close in. The Dolphins just took a massive step towards playing complementary football once again. — Louis-Jacques
Which other Rams are likely to get moved?
The Rams still have work to do to get under the salary cap, but they could do that by restructuring a contract or two. The one name still on the trade list for the Rams is wide receiver Allen Robinson, who had 33 catches for 339 yards and three touchdowns in his first season in Los Angeles.
Robinson, who didn’t have much time to work with quarterback Matthew Stafford during the offseason or training camp, played in only 10 games, eventually ending the season on injured reserve with a foot injury.
General manager Les Snead said he had taken calls on nine players this offseason, but the Rams have already been busy, agreeing to part ways with linebacker Bobby Wagner, cutting Leonard Floyd and now trading Ramsey. — Bar shop
Who will fill Ramsey’s spot in LA’s secondary?
The Rams will have to add to their cornerback room as they’re currently depending on a young group featuring 2022 fourth-round pick Cobie Durant, 2022 sixth-round pick Derion Kendrick and 2021 fourth-round pick Robert Rochell.
The Rams could also bring back cornerback Troy Hill for a veteran presence. Los Angeles had 16 interceptions from eight different players during the 2022 season, including three from Durant. — Bar shop
What does this do for the Rams’ salary cap situation?
Because the Rams traded Ramsey before June 1, they will take on $19.6 million of dead money on their 2023 salary cap with $5.6 million of cap savings. It’s a move focused on helping Los Angeles contend in 2024 because although that’s a high dead money number for 2023, it allows for a cleaner 2024 cap. It’s the same logic the Rams employed when cutting Floyd now instead of using a post-June 1 designation to split that dead money up. Last week, Snead said that, unlike the previous five years, the Rams are focused on engineering “a healthier cap situation.”
“Our DNA is to attack, hit the gas, [but] we’re going to hit the brakes a little bit,” Snead said. “That does not change how we’re going to approach the season, how we’re going to approach the day-to-day, but it will definitely change how we approach constructing the roster.”
Before this trade, Ramsey was scheduled to have cap hits of $25.2 million in 2023 (second among cornerbacks), $26.7 million in 2024 (first) and $22.7M in 2025 (fifth). Even though the Rams will incur a high dead money charge in 2023, this move helps the Rams’ salary cap situation down the road. — Bar shop