Scheme fits, cap space and the Rams' departure from Alec Ogletree

The Rams are approaching $50 million in salary cap space and have accumulated 10 picks for the upcoming draft after their latest trade. Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams had already made enough trades that the general public had basically become desensitized to their offseason movement. But this latest one sent shock waves through the industry.

Trumaine Johnson was almost at a loss for words.

Todd Gurley seemed angry.

Rodger Saffold expressed dismay.

Alec Ogletree, a lynchpin in the Rams' locker room, was dealt to the New York Giants on Wednesday, less than five months after signing a four-year, $42 million extension. The return was draft picks -- a fourth- and a sixth-round pick in 2018, with next year's seventh-rounder going to the Giants -- and more salary-cap space, which harkens back to the trade that sent outside linebacker Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins only five days earlier.

Ogletree, like Quinn, wasn't an ideal fit in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, which is why Ogletree, like Quinn, was deemed better off somewhere else, giving the Rams additional salary-cap flexibility and draft capital they can use elsewhere. The Rams are now approaching $50 million in salary-cap space -- $3 million more will come off the books when they inevitably part ways with Tavon Austin -- and have accumulated 10 picks for the upcoming draft.

The extra money can go toward retaining their own free agents -- namely, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Johnson, whom they have expressed interest in bringing back -- and aligning the defense to Phillips' vision. But the Ogletree trade can be boiled down to two essential, albeit vastly different, factors.

  1. The Rams need to limit the amount of players who make significant money because of what is coming. Aaron Donald is awaiting an extension that would make him the game's highest-paid defensive player, preferably by a wide margin. But Gurley is only one year behind him, and Jared Goff is only one year behind him. Soon, those three could absorb up to a third of their salary-cap space. The Rams must plan accordingly.

  2. They're not satisfied with their defense, particularly their run defense. The Rams gave up the 12th-fewest points and generated the fifth-most turnovers, but they gave up the fifth-most rushing yards. And a lot of their struggles could be traced to players who weren't scheme fits, Quinn and Ogletree among them. They're trying to get the defense on par with the offense. It sounds crazy given the recent history of this franchise, but it's the new reality.

The Ogletree trade means it's a good chance that inside linebacker Mark Barron, a potential cap casualty, will stay. The Rams have promising young players who are next in line. Cory Littleton can replace Ogletree, Matt Longacre can replace Quinn and Samson Ebukam, last year's fourth-round pick, can replace Connor Barwin, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Phillips has a history of making unheralded linebackers rich, including 2012 sixth-round pick Danny Trevathan.

But the Rams still need serious linebacker help from the outside, not to mention potential replacements at nose tackle, center and slot corner.

Ogletree, the 30th overall pick out of Georgia in 2013, was a converted safety who eventually transitioned to middle linebacker and blossomed into a leader. In 67 career starts, he racked up 501 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 6 interceptions, 43 passes defended, 12 forced fumbles and 2 touchdowns. But Pro Football Focus graded him 76th among 86 qualified linebackers last season, making his upcoming price tag unsuitable.

Ogletree would've been a week away from unrestricted free agency had the Rams not locked him up in October. His departure would've probably netted a fourth-round compensatory pick in 2019, which means the Ogletree extension -- like the Austin extension -- didn't provide any real benefit.

Now it's all about what the Rams do with the empty space.