With the offseason underway, the Los Angeles Rams are just under a month away from the start of the free agency period.
However, before that can get started the Rams are faced with an important decision concerning their roster in regards to the use of the franchise tag. The most likely candidate to receive this designation is once again cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who had it put on him for the 2016 season earning $13.9 million.
Los Angeles has the realistic scenario of possibly using the franchise tag again on Johnson, which would be a 20-percent increase from last year's salary to $16.7 million for the 2017 campaign. The front office is in the tough position of deciding whether to keep their top cornerback under contract for another season or run the risk of him walking in free agency like Janoris Jenkins did last March with the New York Giants.
The Rams must come to terms quickly on whether they believe the 27-year-old is worth that type of money which would take nearly half of their available $40 million in salary cap space for this offseason. His departure would take another significant hit to the secondary that currently lacks quality dependable play beyond Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner.
The former third-round pick is coming off a respectable season that saw him finish with 57 total tackles, 11 pass deflection, and one interception in 14 games played. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the 27th overall player at his position (81.0), 26th in pass coverage (81.6), and 98th against the run (39.2).
Keep in mind, he had a hot start through the first five games where he was tied for the league lead with nine pass deflections along with recording one interception. His play tailed off once he returned from an ankle injury that forced him to sit out two games.
Despite that, Johnson has remained the team's best option at the position as a strong source of reliability throughout his first five seasons in the league. He has been relatively healthy over that span playing in at least 14 regular season games in four out of the five campaigns.
In light of that, general manager Les Snead stated last month during an interview with the LA Times that the Rams view Johnson's contract situation as a critical decision for the franchise this offseason.
"That will be a big decision," Snead said. "Wade (Phillips), like a lot of [defensive coordinators], likes good players on the outside. Trumaine fits that category. ... Trumaine is a larger guy with good ball skills and all things like that. Is it a square in a square, a triangle in a triangle or more a rectangle in a square? ... That's probably one of the top priorities when Wade walks in the door because, obviously, the magnitude of what his contract will look like and the magnitude of what another franchise tag looks like and everything in between."
Much of this could hinge on how much Wade Phillips values Johnson's potential role in the defensive scheme. In the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, he received strong cornerback play from a pair of All-Pros in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr..
Ultimately, the Rams are faced with a difficult determination ahead with Johnson that could have a tremendous affect on how their entire offseason plays out.