The Los Angeles Rams will have some difficult decisions to make this offseason with several players set to become unrestricted free agents, including key contributors to the defense.
“There’s been discussions,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said at his season-ending press conference. “There’s been negotiations and discussions. It’s been on-going. I’m confident that (executive vice president of football operations/chief operating officer) Kevin (Demoff) and (senior assistant) Tony (Pastoors) will get those things done. We have good relationships with the agents. By all accounts, they all want to come back, which is good.”
A second-round pick in 2012 out of North Florida, Jenkins led the Rams with 13 pass breakups and had 66 tackles and three interceptions. The 27-year-old has returned five interceptions for touchdowns in his four-year career, which is tied for the most in Rams history. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder has 10 career interceptions.
Johnson, 26, was a third-round pick in 2012 out of Montana and has bigger size than Jenkins at 6-feet-1 and 205 pounds and a more physical game. He led the Rams and finished tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions. He returned one of those for a 58-yard touchdown against the Detroit Lions in Week 14. He also had 69 tackles and 12 pass breakups.
Jenkins and Johnson don’t have playoff success or Pro Bowl selections on their resumes, but both will likely get paid well this offseason.
The NY Jets signed Darrelle Revis to the richest contract among cornerbacks last offseason — reportedly a five-year deal worth $70 million — but players like Byron Maxwell (six years, $63 million with Philadelphia), Brandon Flowers (four years, $36.4 million with San Diego), Kareem Jackson (four years, $34 million with Houston), Antonio Cromartie (four years, $32 million with the Jets), Chris Culliver (four years, $32 million with Washington) and Tramon Williams (three years, $21 million with Cleveland) also cashed in.
The Rams were unable to agree to a contract extension with Jenkins during the season and it’s possible that both players will command new deals similar to what some of the top free agents signed last offseason.
A third starter in the Rams’ secondary, free safety Rodney McLeod, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent after returning to St. Louis as a restricted free agent last offseason on a one-year, $2.35 million deal.
McLeod ranked third on the Rams with 106 tackles and also added five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. McLeod made the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2012 and has started all 16 games in each of the last three seasons.
Rams safety-linebacker Mark Barron will be an unrestricted free agent and is coming off the best season of his career.
A first-round pick (No. 7 overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Alabama in 2012, Barron made the most out of his first full season in St. Louis after the Rams traded for him during the 2014 campaign. He moved from roving safety to outside linebacker after Alec Ogletree got hurt and led the Rams with 135 tackles. He also added eight quarterback hits, five QB pressures, five passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one sack.
“We desperately want him back and he wants to come back,” Fisher said. “He likes the role. He likes the position. He’s very instinctive around the line of scrimmage. We’ll go back and do our self-scout and those kinds of things here in a few weeks, but the number sub packages that we face defensively, from an offensive standpoint, is going to put him on the field. In addition to the nickel back, or Lamarcus (Joyner), you also have the need for that position. So, the game’s changing a little bit. That becomes kind of a starting position for us on defense.”
Starting center Tim Barnes, kicker Greg Zuerlein and tight end-fullback Cory Harkey will also be unrestricted free agents, along with defensive ends William Hayes and Eugene Sims, wide receivers Brian Quick and Wes Welker and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
The Rams list of restricted free agents include quarterback Case Keenum and reserve running backs Benny Cunningham and Chase Reynolds, linebacker Daren Bates, safety Cody Davis and offensive lineman Brian Folkerts.
So while the Rams are officially making their relocation move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, the front office will also be working on re-signing several players from this season’s 7-9 squad.
The relocation will add a new twist to free agency also, with the new locale either helping or hurting in trying to bring players back.