In a trade that spares the Chiefs from making a significant financial investment to one of the NFL’s most talented but mercurial players, the Chiefs have finalized a deal that will send cornerback Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams, two sources confirmed to The Star on Friday.
The Chiefs’ compensation in the trade, which cannot be made official until the new league year starts March 14, is not yet known.
The deadline to pick up the two-time All-Pro’s fifth-year option for 2019 — worth approximately $9.5 million — is early May, but as a fourth-year pro, Peters is already eligible to sign a long-term contract.
The Chiefs knew Peters, 25, would likely demand to be the game’s highest-paid corner, which would cost upwards of $18 million per season. So on Friday they decided to go in a different direction. They chose to trade him instead of risking a lengthy absence that could stretch through organized team activities (which he skipped a year ago) and potentially training camp, which would also hurt the already tepid-trade market for Peters with every passing day.
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The trade ends Peters' three-year run in Kansas City that was filled with multiple highs — like his knack for intercepting passes against his rivals — and handful of lows, most of which occurred during a tumultuous 2017 season in which he remained the Chiefs’ best corner, but missed the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career and found himself at the epicenter of controversy related to his pregame protests and sometimes-explosive temperament.
In September, Peters first drew criticism and attention for his ongoing desire to his decision to sit during the national anthem, which he eventually explained in an exclusive interview with The Star in October.
Peters’ anthem protests stopped sometime after team chairman Clark Hunt met with Peters and a handful of other players in October. From November on, Peters waited until the anthem was over before emerging from the locker room.
In September, Peters cursed at a fan during a home win over Washington after surrendering a touchdown, and the next week against Houston he was also caught on camera yelling loudly at defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on the sideline.
But it was his behavior in the Chiefs’ loss to the Jets in early December that led to the first suspension of his NFL career.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs appeared to stop a two-point conversion that would have kept them down just five points. But when fellow cornerback Steven Nelson was whistled for defensive holding, Peters — who was visibly frustrated throughout the game — picked up the penalty flag and chucked it into the stands, drawing another penalty.
Peters then walked off the field — escorted by a Chiefs security officer — even though he had not been ejected. Peters, who was visibly frustrated throughout the game, eventually returned to the sideline wearing cleats but no socks.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid suspended Peters for the next game for leaving the field prematurely, but NFL Network later reported that Peters also had a verbal altercation with an assistant coach during the team’s bus ride to the airport following the game.
The Chiefs snapped a four-game losing streak the next week without Peters, who missed playing against his hometown Raiders. But when he returned the next week against the Chargers, he appeared to recapture his old form, recording two interceptions and a forced fumble amidst a chorus of postgame praise from his teammates, many of whom regularly came to his defense, both publicly and privately, throughout the season.
And while Peters finished the season with 46 tackles, five interceptions and nine passes defensed, the Chiefs still only found a handful of potential trade partners. The Rams and 49ers emerged as Peters’ only suitors, sources told The Star.
NFL Network also reported the Browns, who are now guided by former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, were also interested in the star corner, but sources told The Star that the Browns and Colts — the latter of which is run by Dorsey’s former director of football operations with the Chiefs, Chris Ballard — were not major options.
But while Peters’ trade market was perhaps handicapped by two-fold concerns about his drama-filled 2017 season and his future contract demands, Peters now lands with a Rams team that clearly feels it can work with him.
Not only is Los Angeles a short flight away from Peters’ beloved hometown of Oakland, but both the Rams’ head coach (Sean McVay) and defensive coordinator (Wade Phillips) are respected for their ability to scheme and reach their players, two factors that could influence the happiness of a player whose coachability was a question dating back to the 2015 NFL Draft.
That’s when the Chiefs selected Peters, a 6-foot, 197-pounder, with the 18th overall pick despite his dismissal from the University of Washington midway through his final season with the Huskies. The Chiefs trumpeted their extra legwork, which included sending Ballard — Dorsey’s top assistant at the time — to Oakland to research Peters.
And early on the decision paid off as Peters recorded eight interceptions and 26 pass deflections on a defense that ranked dead-last in interceptions the year before.
Peters became the Chiefs’ first NFL’s defensive rookie of the year since cornerback Dale Carter in 1992. Then in 2016 he earned his second straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors by recording 35 tackles, six interceptions and 20 pass breakups.
But those numbers fell off last season, as he recorded career lows in pass deflected and interceptions as teams stopped targeting him, often choosing to go after a rotating cast of corners opposite him, which included Darrelle Revis, Steven Nelson, Kenneth Acker, Phillip Gaines and Terrance Mitchell.
Peters also showed an overwhelming proclivity for going for the strip last season, which led to a career-high in forced fumbles with four but also proved to be an area of consternation within the fan base. Reid never made a big deal of it publicly, but both defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and cornerbacks coach Al Harris told The Star in November that Peters needed to improve his tackling.
The Smith and Peters trades, once completed, will give the Chiefs five cornerbacks under contract. They include Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, Will Redmond, Ashton Lampkin and the recently signed David Amerson, while Acker, Gaines and Mitchell are currently ticketed for free agency.
Trading Peters will require the Chiefs to reinforcements. They will have an opportunity to do that once free agency starts in mid-March, or in the draft.
The Chiefs won’t have to wait too long before seeing Peters again. The dates for the 2018 schedule have not been announced, but the league has already announced the Chiefs will face Peters’ Rams in Mexico City.