Whether he’s tagged or not, Johnson’s future hurts the Rams
If the Los Angeles Rams decide to slap the exclusive franchise tag Trumaine Johnson, it will be the second time in as many years. It will also be more than $30 million the team has sunk into a cornerback that has not exactly played up to the monetary value.
The 2015 season was the hallmark year for Johnson, as it was for his ex-teammate Janoris Jenkins. Both corners had career seasons in the finals season of their contracts, and both expected to command a big contract once they hit the open market. The Rams, unable to keep both corners, slapped the franchise tag on Johnson, and tried to negotiate with a disgruntled Jenkins.
Only Jenkins received the big contract from the New York Giants. Johnson remained with the Rams, earning more than $13 million for 2016.
The 2016 season has come and gone, and for Johnson, it was nothing like his 2015 season. He allowed four touchdowns, a little more than a 60 percent completion percentage, and Pro Football Focus ranked him 27th overall for corners that year.
His expected payday if the Rams use the exclusive franchise tag? More than $16 million.
The Rams have around $40 million in available cap space for the time being. Should the Rams tag Johnson again, as they’re expected to do according to Dan Graziano of ESPN, it would be a huge hit to their cap space. A Johnson tag would eat almost 50 percent, for a corner who isn’t even ranked in the Top 15 corners in the league.
If Johnson leaves, who will the Rams have left?
The Rams the option to not tag Johnson and let him hit the open market, but that is not any more appealing.
For starters, if Johnson is allowed to hit the open market, the Rams talent at corner takes a huge hit. The next talented corner would be EJ Gaines, who also had a bad 2016 season. He tried to come back from an ankle injury that sidelined him in 2015, but he could never fully rebound.
Some might say LaMarcus Joyner is the next talented corner, but he proved in the preseason he cannot handle the responsibilities of outside corners. His best spot is a nickel corner over the slot. From there, Joyner is at his best. Outside of that, he’s a liability.
If the Rams choose not to tag Johnson, it leaves their cap space available for free agency spending, which they will need to utilize greatly this season. The team has a lot of holes on both sides of the ball, and they will need solid veterans who can contribute in 2017.
Does this situation reflect more on Snead’s general managing?
If the Rams tag Johnson or not, this whole situation begs the question: why can’t the Rams retain their talent?
A no-tag for Johnson would likely result in him accepting a deal to another team. If that happens, it would be the third time the Rams lost a talented defender in two years. In 2016, the Rams lost Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.
There has not been much speculation of McDonald’s future with the team, but if he goes, the situation in Los Angeles looks even worse. It may not be bad enough to scare away free agents, as the new regime of Sean McVay, Matt LaFluer, and Wade Phillips would be a promising pitch. But it does speak ill of current general manager Les Snead.
Snead had a year to work out a deal with Johnson, and yet the team is in the exact position they were last year.
Snead had a similar situation with Jenkins; a year to work out a deal, and Jenkins walked away from the table furious. The Giants arguably overpaid for Jenkins, but it appeared as though Snead missed Jenkins re-signing by a mile.
What will happen when Aaron Donald becomes a free agent after this year? Will Snead be forced to tag him with a franchise tag? Or will Donald walk away from the team that drafted him and have success elsewhere like a handful of others?
The Rams have until Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. (EST) to decide which poison they will choose.