Let’s take a look at the Rams who are scheduled to be free agents (unrestricted - UFA, restricted - RFA, exclusive rights - ERFA):
2017 LA Rams Free Agents
Some key starters (namely WR Kenny Britt, CB Trumaine Johnson and S T.J. McDonald) and role players (namely RB Benny Cunningham, DT Ethan Westbrooks and DT Dominique Easley) will be evaluated by the new staff to see if/how they fit in the new schemes and if the need outweighs the price.
Britt is coming off a career year (the first Rams receive to hit 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Torry Holt did it a DECADE ago) and is likely seeking a big payday and more security than another one-year deal.
Johnson is coming off a good-but-not-great season (after an excellent 2015 campaign), in which he was paid almost $14 million on a franchise tag. He will no doubt want greater than or equal to that over a long-term (4+ year) deal. There have been rumors that he could be franchised again if a long-term deal can’t be worked out.
Here’s what the staff had to say on which Rams need to be brought back for 2017.
Elijah Kim (@TST_Eli)
The Rams must find a way to re-sign Trumaine Johnson. Not only because he's a good player, but losing him would completely deplete the secondary. Losing your top two corners in back to back offseasons would be a huge blow to the Rams. It would force the Rams to fill EVEN MORE needs. As we all know, the Rams can't afford to do so....
Sean Wilkinson (@Papa_Lurch)
It's gotta be Tru. Without him, the Rams are left with Lamarcus Joyner and E.J Gaines / Troy Hill - who were both roasted often in 2016.
FA Rams must re-sign: Trumaine Johnson.....As much as I don't think Trumaine Johnson is a true No. 1 CB or worth the $14-million. The Rams don't have much of a choice but to re-sign him. Unless the can pull Bouye in Free agency, Johnson is the Rams' only option. They are extremely thin at CB and letting their top guy walk without a backup plan puts them is a large predicament in which injury prone, EJ Gaines, becomes the team's top CB. Wade Phillips is a good defensive coordinator, but even he needs some talent to work with.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
The Rams should re-sign Benny Cunningham because of the amount of production he gives them not just on offense, but special teams as well. Despite RB Todd Gurley not having a great season, Cunningham was a breath of fresh air for the Rams when they needed it. He is as important as any of the other key free agents and it would be a shame to see him land somewhere like a New England and flourish.
Rams should re-sign Tru Johnson within a reasonable price range. He has prototypical size and should fair well in Wade's defensive system where man coverage is played often. Man coverage should allow Tru to use his physicality. If Tru wants top dollar, however, let dude walk.
Tevin Broner (@T_Bron)
The Rams should re-sign Trumaine Johnson. He didn't have an incredible season, but he's a better fit for Wade Phillip system and it will allow the team to not address corner early in the draft.
I'd say Trumaine Johnson is a must-keep player. He's not an elite talent or a total lockdown cornerback, but he's the only functional cornerback that the Rams have left. Losing him means they are punting the position away for an entire season.
I would have to say a must re-sign is Benny Cunningham. I'm taking cunning over Kenny Britt for two reasons. One, he's very good insurance. Everyone is quick ro say how easy it is to find a RB, well I begun to differ. It's become more of a cliché than it is truth. RBs have decent games all the time, but a consistently good back is hard to come by. Cunningham IMO is one of the better back ups in the league. He also has great special teams value. Secondly, he'd be cheaper. This is the bigger of the two reasons. It's going to cost about 9 mil a yr to keep Britt. I wouldn't be surprised if he walks away from March with a 4 yr $38.5 million deal, or something in the area. Benny will likely be had at around $2.5 mil a yr (something like 3 yrs $7.5). A d that's at the max value for him. With his value and fairly low price he makes a ton of sense to keep around.
Eric Nagel (@Eric_nagel)
No one. Nobody is worth the money they will command on the open-market
Brandon Bate (@NoPlanB_)
Which of the Rams' own should they look to retain in free agency? I guess I can answer that question in two parts...
If it's up to me, I'd let them all walk. Trumaine is by far the best player, but I don't think he's worth the franchise tag price, and I don't think the Rams should get into a bidding war to retain him.
If you're forcing me to keep one...I don't know...give me Case Keenum. He's not going to become a starter elsewhere, and I think there's value in having a veteran backup.
From one aspect, you have those players that are indispensable based on the system new Head Coach Sean McVay will install for the offense and the one his new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is bringing to the defense. In that regard, I don't think anybody from the free agent list is a requirement for McVay on offense. The idea that anyone on the roster of the NFL's worst offense is irreplaceable is just ludicrous. Defensively though, the Rams are looking at two members of their secondary potentially hitting the market in CB Trumaine Johnson and S T.J. McDonald. I could see an argument that Phillips and members of his staff might make in regards to making sure one if not both are on board moving forward. Bear in mind last year, General Manager Les Snead said that re-signing the secondary was "Priority A" for the 2016 offseason . It's also worth bearing in mind he failed at that top priority in losing CB Janoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod to competitors, so I wouldn't be surprised if we hear something (and sadly maybe even see something) similar this year.
The other aspect I think is worth acknowledging is which players have specific roles that are very hard if not impossible to replace immediately on their departure. I don't think RB Benny Cunningham or QB Case Keenum fall into that category as backups, but you could make an argument based on experience and team chemistry for both. Both WRs Brian Quick and Kenny Britt are slots you could address through free agency or the draft with relative ease. DL Dominique Easley is going to have fans in this regard (and for good reason), but I think the Rams are well-staffed as it is for depth. I think the two players that might fit the bill here are K Greg Zuerlein and RB Chase Reynolds. The risk in dispensing of either is very high if only because there's very little certainty in turning over core special teams contributors especially on what has been one of the NFL's best special teams units for years in nearly all aspects. Is Zuerlein the best kicker in the league? Is Reynolds the best at his role? Maybe not, but they're in the discussion. And so the risk of tabbing someone new for those very specific, albeit limited, roles is just very high.
The bottom line is that the Rams are facing roster issues at a level they haven't since prior to the RGIII trade in the 2012 NFL Draft. McVay and Phillips have a terribly tall task ahead of them roster-wise. They deserve the license to make any move regardless of how surprising it may seem to the conventional wisdom. To that end, nobody headed for free agency is really a must-have. Sadly, that's indicative of how poorly the Rams have played in recent years. Here's hoping these first decisions of the post-Jeff Fisher era start to change that.
The LA Rams have 10 free agents who they have to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze. Of those 10, I do not see a single one of them as a must sign. This team hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade. Only Aaron Donald and a lean towards Todd Gurley are the only two players I could not live without. With that said, I see this current crop like this.
Tru Johnson: I really like Tru, but he has a long injury history where he misses several games a year. If the team can sign him around the $10M mark, sure I would be in favor it signing him. If not, let him walk.
TJ McDonald: If you can get TJ for $7M a year, I would bring him back, but not for a dime more. TJ is not an elite player, but rather a pretty decent player who looks for the big hit more than he does looking to make the sound play.
Kenny Britt: Bye.
Case Keenum: Double bye
Brian Quick: Go be lazy on another roster
Benny Cunningham: Benny is one of the two players I would really like to see back, but at the right price.
GZ: GZ had a very nice bounce back year and kicked well on the grass in LA. He’s my second player that I would like to see back, but not at a crazy cost.
Chase Reynolds: Chase is a ST monster, but really, if D Bates was allowed to walk, so can Chase.
Cam Thomas: He played well as a role player, so yeah, bring him back if he’s next to free.
Stedman Bailey: Great story, average player before he was shot in the head. Sorry Steddy, but I’m saying no.
The one FA the Rams must (twist my arm) re-sign has to be Benny Cunningham. Benny has been lost in the mix of the Rams awfulness in past seasons. I think he is one of the few FA's the Rams have that actually prioritizes winning and #beinggood. From a schematic standpoint, I think McVay can use Cunningham in a lot of ways he used Chris Thompson as a pass catching option while with Washington. Benny can and should be a nice complimentary weapon, not just a KR, if the Rams offense is to graduate from a middle school offense to an NFL one.
Benny Cunningham. Benny is 26, has been underutilized in the running/passing game, and is a top kick returner (averaged 27.2 yards per return in 2016, good for 3rd). He should be a priority re-signing as long as his price tag is reasonable.
In 2016, McVay had three backs go over 300 yards: Kelley (704), Jones (460) and Thompson (356). Each had 60+ carries. Clearly, he likes to rotate his backfield. This makes Cunningham even more important, who in his career has averaged 4.4 YPC and 8.1 YPC.
What are your thoughts? Is there any Rams free agent that is a MUST re-sign?