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It was a simple philosophy, one built on patience, that last season helped edge rusher Leonard Floyd make plays for the Rams.
Floyd amassed a career-best 10½ sacks with relentless effort, strength and speed. But he also perplexed and stymied mobile quarterbacks by waiting for them to come his way.
“Be the fox, and not the rabbit,” Floyd explained during a videoconference with reporters Thursday. “That's just all I thought about during the game and the plays just happened to come to me.”
Ten days ago, the Rams approached Floyd with an offer the then-pending unrestricted free agent could not refuse. The Rams gave Floyd a four-year contract that includes $32.5 million in guarantees, and could be worth as much as $64 million, according to overthecap.com.
“I’m still at a loss for words,” Floyd said.
Patience paid off for Floyd. The ninth pick in the 2016 draft was cut by the Chicago Bears before the start of free agency in 2020. He signed a one-year, prove-it contract with the Rams — and then went out and reached every incentive on his way to earning $13.25 million.
Now, he is presumably set for the next few years.
“It just shows if you keep working hard, no matter what, no matter how many plays you make or don't make, just keep the same work ethic and eventually it'll happen for you,” Floyd said. “That’s basically what I learned over the few years.”
Floyd will be part of a defense undergoing major changes after ranking among the NFL’s best last season.
Brandon Staley, the architect of the hybrid 3-4 scheme — who coached Floyd with the Bears and lobbied for the Rams to sign him — left after one season as defensive coordinator to become the Chargers’ head coach. Inside linebackers coach Joe Barry and cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant left for opportunities with other teams.
Chris Shula, who tutored Floyd last season as outside linebackers coach, will oversee all Rams linebackers in 2021. Ejiro Evero, safeties coach the last four seasons, now oversees the entire secondary.
New defensive coordinator Raheem Morris must figure ways to compensate for the departures of safety John Johnson, cornerback Troy Hill, linebacker Samson Ebukam and defensive linemen Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox.
Morris still has two major cornerstones in three-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But keeping Floyd in the fold was a priority.
General manager Les Snead said the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Floyd was “more than just an edge rusher ... more than just a disruptor,” with rare athletic ability.
“Tough in coverage, and someone that quarterbacks have to shoot over, because he is tall and long when he does drop back,” Snead said last week. He added that Floyd’s skills enable him “to redirect when, all of the sudden, the play becomes unscheduled, and then have the speed after he does redirect to go chase them down.”
As the start of free agency approached, Floyd said he and Staley “threw little hints about me playing over there.” But Floyd wanted to remain with the Rams and coach Sean McVay — “I wasn’t trying to go anywhere else,” he said — and continuing playing with Donald and Ramsey.
“He knew it was time for him to get out on his own and do his own thing,” Floyd said of Staley. “It worked out for both of us.
“We still in the same city, I can go eat lunch with him anytime I want to he's still around. So, I still got him. He's just not on the team anymore.”
Last season, with the defense leading the way, the Rams advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers.
Floyd is confident Morris can keep the Rams’ defense among the league’s elite.
“We can get it done,” Floyd said. “Whatever he calls, we just have to lock into his system and believe it will work.”
Young players must step up to replace the veterans who cashed in with other teams, Floyd said. He also has new goals.
“I want to make the All-Pro team and things like that,” he said. “So, more work to be done, more stuff to put in the lab. I'm looking forward to doing it.”
But his main goal is to win a Super Bowl.
“My driving motivation is getting the rings,” he said. “Especially after last year: I felt like we could have gotten the ring just off of defense alone.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.