For second straight year, the Rams are using their franchise tag on Trumaine Johnson. Tagging Johnson entitles him to a one-year, fully guaranteed salary of $16.75 million, making him the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback for 2017.
Los Angeles will have until July 15 to strike a long-term deal with the cornerback.
Johnson’s situation reflects the dilemma the Rams face over their secondary. Losing Janoris Jenkins to free agency last year broke up an effective pair of corners. Johnson’s production declined as the team’s No. 1 corner in 2016.
Johnson finished 2016 with 57 tackles and one interception, the first time in his pro career that he finished without multiple picks. He ranked 48th in receiving yards allowed, 24th in touchdowns allowed, and surrendered a QB rating of 89.4 on passes thrown his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.
However, behind Johnson, all the Rams have are question marks on the cornerback depth chart. Safety T.J. McDonald is a free agent, leaving the secondary with another hole to fill. In short, the Rams need him, even if they have to overpay to keep him.
The good news for Johnson and the Rams is that there’s a new coaching staff on board. Head coach Sean McVay is a rookie, but he’s bringing the cagey vet Wade Phillips to run the defense.
Under Jeff Fisher and his defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Rams leaned heavily on blitzes and stunts that left their defensive backs without much support down the field. Phillips has a reputation for coaching to his players, finding what it is that they do well, and tailoring his defense to fit the players.
The Rams are making a $16.75 million bet that Phillips’ approach can turn Johnson into the shutdown corner they’re paying for.