Trumaine Johnson’s Contract Could Spell Doom for the Future

Oct 25, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) celebrates after the defense recovered a fumble by the Cleveland Browns during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 25, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) celebrates after the defense recovered a fumble by the Cleveland Browns during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

On Friday, the deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to long-term deals passed, and Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson was not a signee. Thus, he will play the 2016 season under a $13.95 million franchise tag.

Johnson had a tremendous 2015 campaign where he tallied 71 tackles, seven interceptions, and 17 passes defended as opposing quarterbacks posted a mere 49.7 passer rating when throwing at him–the league’s lowest mark despite missing three starts. To build on that narrative, Johnson has intercepted 15 passes and defended another 43 since entering the league in 2012 despite missing a little more than half a season’s worth of games in that time span.

Case in point, he’s one of the game’s best.

Because Johnson is one of the game’s best, he will likely seek to be paid as such. Spotrac has him valued at $14.2 million a year, similar to the likes of Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Joe Haden.

Signaling a decline in his targets due to his success, it’s unlikely Johnson will match last season’s stat sheet and with Janoris Jenkins gone, this allows fellow quarterbacks to test the unproven members of the Rams’ secondary. The aforementioned trio has seen their number of interceptions drop as their career has progressed because their amount of targets have simultaneously done the same, but their base salary has remained between $10-$12 million.

What this essentially means is that Johnson will likely use this as a ploy when it’s time for his extension, as will the fact that Jenkins’ 5 year/$62.5 million affects the market for a quality corner. If they fail to reach a long term deal following this season, Johnson’s franchise tag will jump to $16.74 million, which is where the (potential) doom begins.

More from Rams Free Agency

Signing him to one-year tender in 2017:

Following the 2016 season, it’s likely that Kenny Britt, Michael Brockers, Greg Zuerlein, and T.J.McDonald will be free agents with a 2016 cap hit of $14.08 million combined. It’s too early to tell who the Rams will choose to bring back, let alone which one–which is why everything is recognized as “potential” at this point.

However, the quartet has been a key contribution under Jeff Fisher’s reign and I confidently believe it wouldn’t cost more than $10 million combined to retain all four players. The issue is Johnson’s $16.74 million due to the fact that the Rams are set to have $31.25 million in cap space, leaving virtually no money to make an impact in a talented free agency pool.

Giving him a long-term deal:

This where things get dicey and could present the bigger issue as cutting Nick Foles after June 1st next offseason provides the Rams with $42.96 million for 2017 free agency–which is more than enough to shore up the weaker parts of their depth chart (i.e wide receiver, offensive line). It’s a safe bet to assume Johnson’s long-term will be a minimum of five years, but here are some of his teammates who will need new contracts by 2021: Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Robert Quinn, Jared Goff, Mark Barron, Johnny Hekker, Tavon Austin, and Greg Robinson.

For starters, there’s no guarantee that Austin and Robinson will be retained in 2018, but I do feel comfortable in projecting Austin as a Ram in 2019 more than I do with Robinson. As for Donald, he got even better in 2015 and has yet to signal he won’t progress as he seems to be a lock to seek something in the neighborhood of $100 million when the time comes.

Gurley’s contract situation, if he continues down the path he is on, is most comparable to Adrian Peterson because only Peterson has sustained a level of success far superior to other backs for a far longer time. With this in mind, Gurley will likely seek close to $10 million a year.

Goff is obviously a wildcard, but should he pan out, his per-year average could jump to more than $16 million. if he’s borderline elite by year four, there’s reason to believe he could be the next $100 million passer.

It’s premature to accurately project the numbers with Goff, but you get an idea of looming contracts possibly interfering with Johnson’s.

It seems the only scenario is to let Johnson walk, but I can assure you that’s not where I stand. As we know, football is commonly unforgiving as Donald and Gurley could see production stagnate before bottoming out and Goff may prove critics right. Not to mention Quinn and Baron will be in their early 30’s.

In spite of Johnson’s talents, Gregg Williams’ system is predicated on disguising coverages and rotating blitzes, relying on better back end defenders rather than talented corners. Therefore, letting Johnson walk with young talent in E.J. Gaines and Lamarcus Joyner behind him isn’t exactly the worst idea in the world.

The Rams didn’t want to give Jenkins the $12 million a year he sought because they didn’t think he was worth that amount (and they were right) and his attitude wasn’t vindictive of a culture they were to trying to improve.

As for Johnson, only time will tell.