Will LA Rams S Johnson return from injury be enough to ensure a new 2021 contract?
The LA Rams are banking hard upon the healthy return of 2019 injured starting safety John Johnson III. After all, since arriving at the LA Rams from the 2017 NFL Draft as the 91st selection, he has performed no less than stellar for the Rams. In three seasons with the Rams, he has been a 32 game starter. He started 11 games as a 2017 rookie, all 16 games in his second year, and just five games in 2019 due to an untimely injury.
Now, the LA Rams must hope that he will return to his former self. Like many of the LA Rams in 2019, he was not at the top of his game before falling to that season-ending injury. In fact, his Pro Football Focus grade for 2019 was a disappointing 53.5. Compare that to his 2018 grade from PFF of 84.1, or his 2017 grade of 82.9. The LA Rams are counting on Johnson as the defense takes on the new schemes of defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
PFF believes he’ll do exactly that
Pro Football Focus writer Timo Riske wrote about Johnson in his February 2020 article entitles The young defensive players most deserving of an early contract extension. In his article, he names seven such young defensive players who would be wisely extended now as their 2020 performance will make them very expensive players to sign in 2021. And in the case of Johnson’s lack of playing time in 2019, the author correctly points out that the Rams could sign Johnson below his market value if they act now.
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Per that estimation, Johnson is in line for an average payout of $16.4 million per year. But if he performs at the level he is capable of playing at, that cost could skyrocket to a price per year of greater than $20 million per year. Per the article, Johnson is elite in his pass coverage, averaging a grade of 90.7 in pass defense since 2017. In run defense, which he was tasked with about 50 percent of the time, he is an average 70.6 grade.
2021 may find 2020 rookie promotions
As the LA Rams project to the 2021 season, the team has several key contributors whose contracts expire. The team projects to lose WR Cooper Kupp, WR Josh Reynolds, TE Gerald Everett, CB Jalen Ramsey, and S John Johnson to name a few. Right now, with so much uncertainty about the 2021 salary cap, the Rams may focus their efforts on re-signing CB Jalen Ramsey alone.
That could mean that rookies WR Van Jefferson, TE Bryce Hopkins, and safeties Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller are in line for promotion in 2021. In fact, the LA Rams draft strategy for 2020 seemed to be as much about who held expiring contracts at the end of 2020 as it was to sign young talent who would benefit the team this season. We know that the Rams would like to re-sign WR Cooper Kupp and CB Jalen Ramsey to the roster in 2021. Hopefully, safety John Johnson III can make himself indispensable as well.