Why LA Rams John Johnson III likely signs record setter in free agency
By Bret Stuter
The LA Rams stand to lose many talented defensive stars via the 2021 NFL Free Agency market. While there is hope for the Rams to secure the services of restricted free agent Darious Williams, the team is probably far less likely to re-sign safety John Johnson III. There are several reasons for that, but the key factor simply comes down to the safety market for Johnson’s service.
Defensive back John Johnson III is enjoying an extremely popular demand right now. As such, there are many teams who know who he is and are more than happy to welcome him to their roster. Which teams are linked to Johnson? Well, there are the obvious Detroit Lions, the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Green Bay Packers. Then there are the less obvious but logical teams like the Chicago Bears, the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Atlanta Falcons.
Then there are the teams whose fanbases, analysts, or team blog sites have named Johnson as a target of this free agency. They include the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins, the Indianapolis Colts, and even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There is no shortage of NFL teams willing to pay for an elite safety. After all, JJIII is young enough to be entering the prime years of his NFL career. He is extremely intelligent, hits hard, covers well, and is versatile enough to give defenses an immediate upgrade and enable the defensive coordinator to disguise coverages.
Of course, the LA Rams can ensure that they retain Johnson by using their franchise tag on him. While that will ensure that the Rams keep Johnson for one more year, it would most certainly force Johnson to play for the Rams at a below-market price. So what is Johnson’s market?
Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker landed a four-year $59 million record-setting deal in 2020. But Johnson could exceed that deal this year. In fact, he is so good that I expect nothing less than a four-year $63.5 million deal. Look for the deal to include a $12 million signing bonus and up to $36 million in guaranteed money.
That is not only enough to set a new record for an NFL contract value for safety but could set the Rams up for a compensatory pick award for the 2022 NFL Draft, perhaps as valuable as a third-round pick. That will most certainly ferment a pretty lengthy conversation in the Rams strategy room over whether to apply the franchise tag to Johnson or not.
Either way this plays out, the LA Rams face a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full. So will the Rams allow Johnson to test free agency, and trust in their ability to promote existing players? Or will the Rams retain Johnson for one more run at a Super Bowl?