I had a dream this weekend, then woke up and researched it.
It turned out my dream was right! Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson is by far the best cornerback on the market heading into free agency.
Yes, I dream about Rams football, all football to be perfectly honest. Who doesn't? Shrug life...
Over at NFL.com, Johnson is the highest rated corner available according to Gregg Rosenthal. Tru’s at 13 followed by New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler, but according to PFF he graded outside of the top 50 corners this year. Washington CB Bashaud Breeland is down at 23, but his talent and production level isn't on par with Johnson. For the top 40 overall, there's only two more free agent corners mentioned, in no specific order, and that's Brent Grimes (hella old) and Vontae Davis (who's face is all over milk cartons).
After realizing my dream was a reality, the next question I had to ask myself was crystal clear...
What happens to the best cornerbacks on the market?
The answer was probably more clear than the question: They get $60-65m contracts with $35-45m guaranteed.
Tru’s market is going to be red hot. He should have an insane value heading into the opening of free agency. Spotrac currently values him on a five-year, $55m deal.
Two teams that might need cornerback help more than any other team are the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers. Those two teams also happen to have more cap than any other team in free agency, though the Niners just used a huge chunk to re-sign QB Jimm Garoppol. By having so much cap space and such a huge need with Tru being the best free agent CB on the market, they could make an offer that is out of everyone else's range well beyond Spotrac’s projection including the Rams.
Sidenote: the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers round out the top-five highest caps and all have huge needs for a CB. Teams will likely need at least $64m to crack this year’s top five, and the Rams are sitting at number ten overall with a little over $45m.
You might now be able to see why Johnson so happily signed his franchise tender without any hesitation for a second year in a row. It was made clear that by waiting and avoiding a huge drop in his play, he would be the most sought out corner in a dry market for his position leaving him to be paid handsomely for his patience as this is the year of the quarterback. He was basically paid to be the NFL's highest paid corner for a chance to be the NFL's highest paid corner.
His agent deserves a raise.
Now the question expands beyond Tru. Can the Rams afford to pay Johnson and DB Lamarcus Joyner?
Joyner is a top-five safety in both run and pass defense as well as the top safety in free agency and higher overall ranked free agent than Tru. PFF ranks him as the 52nd best player in football regardless of position. And let's not forget Joyner also has versatility. He doesn’t just play deep center; he’s all over. So five years $55-60m and somewhere in the neighborhood of that $35-45m should come into play.
Hopefully what he said on HBO's Hard Knocks about giving money back because it’s not about the money is true. I believe him to some degree, because he’s a football nut. It’s all he cares about. Football and winning. But I also know he’s not going to sign a five-year $25m deal with $10m in guarantees.
The Rams have the cap to re-sign both to their respected positions in the max deal range. And could theoretically front load them — by paying heavy signing bonuses — to leave some space for the next two years for new contracts for RB Todd Gurley, QB Jared Goff, and DT Aaron Donald. But then they’ll be strapped for cash for the rest of this year.
The draft is loaded with secondary help, but the talent is mostly in the first two rounds. We could see as many as 18 players drafted in the first two rounds to play in the secondary. However, losing Tru is not a viable option as the Rams already need one — if not two — corners. And I’m not talking solely about cornerbacks depth corner. The Rams should be in the market for a starter without a second round pick.
Losing Tru could put them on the hook for a whole new CB corps.
It should be interesting to see how this plays out, but it makes sense why GM Les Snead said that re-signing Donald is not the top priority this offseason.
Trumaine Johnson is.