LOS ANGELES -- The "No Fly Zone" might not be gone. It might have just moved, a little bit further West, from Denver to Los Angeles, where the Rams turned what was once a barren secondary into quite possibly the NFL's best unit in a little over a month.
When the Super Bowl ended and the offseason began, the Rams were left scrambling in their defensive backfield. Their standout safety, primary cornerback and slot corner were bound for a promising free-agent market, while their No. 2 corner remained in the early stages of recovery from a major injury. But the start of the new league year, at 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday, will mark the official end to a remarkable turnaround by general manager Les Snead.
The Rams traded for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, two All-Pro corners who have combined for seven Pro Bowl appearances. The team franchised Lamarcus Joyner, pairing him with the young John Johnson to form a devastating safety tandem for at least another year. And on Tuesday, the Rams re-signed one of the NFL's best slot corners, Nickell Robey-Coleman, to a three-year contract worth a reported $15.75 million, solidifying a five-man group that should make defensive coordinator Wade Phillips giddy.
Here's a look at where each of those five players ranked at their respective positions in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus:
Talib: 15th out of 121
Peters: 17th out of 121
Robey-Coleman: 19th out of 121
Joyner: 3rd out of 87
Johnson: 15th out of 87
Peters, still only 25, leads the NFL with 19 interceptions since 2015 and finished within the top 15 percent in passer rating allowed when targeted after each of his first three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Talib, a Pro Bowler after each of his four years with the Denver Broncos, has allowed 0.7 yards per coverage snap over the past two seasons, tied for second best in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Robey-Coleman, meanwhile, allowed an average of only 0.8 yards in 316 snaps out of the slot in 2017.
Behind them, Joyner and Johnson have the freedom to fly around and make plays, as they did while helping the Rams' defense generate the fifth-most turnovers and allow the fifth-lowest passer rating in 2017.
Talib, Peters, Robey-Coleman, Joyner and Johnson will combine to cost roughly $30 million toward the 2018 salary cap. Their presence was made possible by the trades of linebackers Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree, which freed more than $15 million in cap space but also left clear holes at those positions. Once the Rams part with gadget receiver Tavon Austin, which is expected to take place after the start of the new league year, they will have roughly $30 million in cap space.
But there will remain a need for edge rushers, run-stuffers, a center and, now that Sammy Watkins has joined the Chiefs, potentially a wide receiver. The Rams also have to allocate room for a potential market-altering extension for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has little interest in playing the final year of his rookie contract without one.
The Rams can free up an extra $3.5 million or so if they get rid of Kayvon Webster, who is recovering from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in December. Webster is a solid cover corner when healthy, and when the offseason began he was a pivotal starter. Now he is merely depth. With Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields joining the Rams after spending the past two years recovering from concussions, and the up-and-coming Troy Hill and Kevin Peterson situated alongside him on the depth chart, Webster might suddenly become expendable.
The Rams got that much better in their secondary.