The Los Angeles Rams placed a franchise tag on CB Trumaine Johnson today making him the highest-paid cornerback in the entire NFL.
With Tru set to make $16,742,400 on the tag if the Rams can’t sign him to a long-term deal before July 15 at 4pm ET, it cuts the Rams’ available cap space to spend in the 2017 offseason in half thanks to the NFL certifying that the salary cap has been increased $10m to $167m for 2017.
Here’s how things look:
Rams have nearly $20m in remaining cap space
The salary cap has been set to $167m for 2017. That leaves the Rams with $167,304,311 as their team budget for this year based on the 2016 money we carried over in January:
After the tag, the Rams have $19,651,880 remaining with free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft looming.
Reminders of failures past
The Rams are still on the books for $2m, $1m apiece, for QB Nick Foles and CB Coty Sensabaugh. This year.
The Rams paid Foles a $6m bonus last year before allowing him to cut his guaranteed money for this year from $1.75m to the $1m on the books left over from his three-year deal he signed after being traded from the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford along with draft compensation.
Sensabaugh came through free agency signing a three-year, $15m deal last offseason. He was released after just four games.
Cap casualties coming?
I covered the major potential cap casualties earlier this month. The top three in savings would be OLB Alec Ogletree, DE Robert Quinn and OL Rodger Saffold, but unless the Rams want to cast serious doubts on their commitment to winning in 2017 those are remain unlikely. Behind that trio, TE Lance Kendricks, DEs William Hayes and Eugene Sims, and C Tim Barnes would all offer some extra space without handicapping the roster too overwhelmingly.
Likelihood of major activity
This is going to depend on how much additional room the Rams can clear and if they can sign Tru to a long-term deal. The roster needs are wider and deeper than they were at any time in previous Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s tenure save for the first few months prior to the RGIII trade in the 2012 NFL Draft.
That move, and the subsequent trade with the Dallas Cowboys, provided Fisher and General Manager Les Snead with five picks in the first 65 selections of that draft. This year, on the back of last year’s trade with the Tennessee Titans used to select Jared Goff #1 overall, leaves first-year Head Coach Sean McVay with no first-round pick and just one selection in the first 68 selections of the 2017 NFL Draft.
So yes, there’s pressure to find something in free agency even without much “firepower” to be able to do so.
The Rams have to be smart about it though.
They’re likely looking at a season in which they need to evaluate the major holdovers from Fisher’s era to see how they fit for McVay, new Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur and new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. I’m maintaining some cautious optimism about the team’s ability to compete in 2018, but that will require legitimate on-field evaluation of those holdovers as well as successful drafting. Free agency activity will need to fit the plan to compete then, not fit the immediate desperation of trying to tread water now.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell said recently:
Whatever the Rams do this offseason probably isn't going to make a huge difference, and that should be OK.
That should be at the forefront of assessing free agency this year. Opportunity costs trump salary costs for 2017.
So with the rumors set to come fast and furious as we get past the combine and into the tampering period next Tuesday before free agency opens on Thursday of next week, keep in mind that while the Rams have some room to operate and will likely create a bit more, the focus has to be the future beyond this season, a future the Rams can’t set themselves up for with desperation buys in free agency this year.