The Los Angeles Rams have perhaps the most dominant defensive player in the NFL in Aaron Donald. By adding the talents of shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey to their defense in a 2019 trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Rams solidified their secondary for years to come.
The biggest drawback to the Jacksonville deal was seeing if the Rams would come through with a long-term deal that would ensure that Ramsey would stay put.
This was made to be a big deal as training camp got underway. Back in the throes of an unusual training camp with no preseason games taking place due to COVID-19, Ramsey didn’t sound to worry that something would get done. His concentration was locked in on football.
“I can’t do anything about it. I’m not worried about it. I’m trying to do my job as a football player,” Ramsey said in a Zoom press conference with reporters in early August. “I’m trying to be a leader on the team. I’m not going to do every Zoom session, or however we are going to do them this year, talking about my contract. Look if it comes, it comes. It’s going to be a surprise to me like it’s going to be a surprise to you all. I called my agent up, before August, and I said I don’t even want him to call me about it. I literally told him, I said, ‘I want you to call me one time.’ I said, ‘When my deal is done.’ I said, ‘When you feel like my deal is done, call me.’ That’s it. I’m not worried about it. I’m worried about football. I’m worried about other things in my life. Like, my blessings will come when they come. I’ve got all my trust in God. So, when I give you all an answer, that’s the answer. I don’t appreciate you all trying to push me to a different answer because that’s not what you wanted to hear. That’s my real genuine answer.”
A month later, and just before the Rams would take the field in the confines of their new and permanent home at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood against the Dallas Cowboys, Ramsey got what he was expecting: a new deal. Ramsey signed a multi-year contract with the Rams (reportedly 5-years for $105 million). That equates to $21 million annually.
“I don’t even cry or nothing like that. I just teared up thinking about my daughters, thinking about taking care of them without any worries, and how they’ll never have to worry in their life, even in their kids’ life,” Ramsey said after his contract became a done deal.
Having the contract now out of the way, Ramsey is a bit relieved that this chapter of his professional is behind him.
“Everything is in God’s timing, honestly,” Ramsey said. “I really believe in that. This is kind of like human nature. It’s hard not to have it in the back of your mind just a little bit even no matter how much trust you have. I started, you know, as the season got closer to being here, I started to think about it a little bit more, getting kind of anxious a little bit. But having it done before the season, before really this week’s preparation, meant a lot because now I can truly focus and truly be free.”
In return for the big money that the Rams gave (signing bonus) and will give to Ramsey, Los Angeles now has a cornerstone in the defensive secondary to pair up with the relentless domination of Donald that will offenses to pause. Donald is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a 6-time Pro Bowler. Ramsey has been selected three times to the Pro Bowl.
The Rams’ inside (Donald) and outside game (Ramsey) should give offensive coordinators around the NFL plenty of worrisome nights on how to go about attacking L.A.’s defense. Ramsey’s new deal gives the Rams a security blanket in their secondary. That makes Donald plenty happy.
“You’re making sure that your best guys are here for the long run, to continue to build off the success we’ve had in past years and try to build a legacy,” Donald said. “You know, that’s what you want. That’s what you expect from our organization. You want to make sure your top guys and your top playmakers are here for the long ride. Again, that’ll make the guys comfortable and make them want to go out there and do their job at a high level, to bring guys around them along as well.”
While there’s is a large emphasis placed on Ramsey’s playmaking abilities (and should be) and animated play as one of the league’s top defensive backs, there is an underlying approach to the game the 25-year-old Tennessee native also brings to the table that only a few people has been allowed to see, and that’s showing leadership qualities.
When Ramsey came out of Florida State and became the No. 5 pick in the first round by the Jaguars in the 2016 NFL Draft pick, he evoked immediate comparisons to legendary ballhawk Deion Sanders. As long as Ramsey continues to play at the high level he has since he entered the league those comparisons-fair or unfair-are going to be made. But what both Donald and Rams head coach Sean McVay sees in Ramsey is something more than a guy who possesses out-of-this-world talent.
Donald and McVay say they see a player looking to mentor and help other players around him.
“Through the camp process, I saw him doing that every day, helping the younger guys, giving them little tips and things like that,” Donald said. “That’s leadership. That’s what you want from a guy like that. He’s a great football player. He’s accomplished a lot from the way he plays the game. For him to pass that to the young guys, trying to bring them up so they can have some type of success. That’s what you want. Those are the type of guys you want on your team.”
McVay said to get a true gauge on who Ramsey is as a player, teammate and as a person, you have to be around him to see how he operates.
“I think you just get a chance to be around him and get to know him and watch the way that he does his deal every single day,” McVay said. “The way that he builds relationships with his teammates, the way that he came in last year and immediately made an impact with the way that he practiced, the way that he prepared. Watching him in a leadership role in the offseason program and kind of really gathering guys together to do workouts. Just his command on everything that we’re doing. Just seeing his body of work, day-in and day-out is how you end up seeing this is what’s real. Whatever the narratives were before, I haven’t seen any of that. I’ve seen nothing but good stuff from him. That’s why we’re fortunate that he’s going to be a Ram for a while.”
As far as football itself, Ramsey was front and center of the Rams’ 20-17 Week 1 win against the Cowboys. In securing the team’s first victory of the 2020 NFL season, Ramsey drew an offensive pass-interference call against Dallas wide receiver Michael Gallup near the end of the game. A long completion to Gallup from quarterback Dak Prescott went for naught, and the Rams managed to preserve their first win of the season in their home and season opener.
“I can tell you it was clear and obvious on the field, of a hand into the opposing player,” NFL referee Tony Corrente said in explaining the offensive pass-interference call. “A full arm extension that created separation. In all situations that would be called. We’re not going to allow that at any time of the game.”
After the game, Ramsey talked about what it felt like playing with no fans in the stadium and the Rams getting the “W.”
“It’s definitely a little bit different with no fans, honestly. You have to create your own energy but that’s something we pride ourselves on doing anyway,” Ramsey said. “That’s something I pride myself personally on doing is bringing a lot of energy, heart and passion for the game and try to be contagious and the best for my teammates. I feel like we did that for the most part. There is ups and downs, ebbs and flows of the game that we had to overcome and I feel like we did a good job of that. It was a tough game just like we knew it would be, Week 1 against a good Cowboys team, but we just persevered, we kept fighting and we were able to come out with the win.”