1. Cut Tavon Austin and let Sammy Watkins walk. Let’s start with the easy one: Austin, the former eighth overall pick, was signed to one of the worst extensions in the league before the 2016 season, with a fully guaranteed roster bonus of $11.5 million preventing the Rams from cutting him last year. This year, his guaranteed roster bonus is only $5 million, which the Rams will be forced to pay regardless. They can get out of his $3 million base salary by releasing Austin before March 16.
If Watkins wants to come back on a one-year deal in the $8 million range, the Rams should bite and see if Watkins finally breaks out. If not, they should cut ties and use their assets elsewhere.
I think it’s pretty much safe to say that the Rams and Austin will be parting ways. Austin, who had his role nearly completely diminished (no snaps in the Wild Card game), is paid too much and offers too little. After struggling with the punt returner role, Austin became exclusively a de facto change-of-pace RB and decoy offensively. Cutting Austin would save the Rams $3m on the cap, with a $5m penalty.
As for letting Watkins walk, I’d have to respectfully disagree. Barnwell states in his article that Watkins wasn’t a part of the offense, and that he’ll experience an inevitable TD regression going forward. While that might be true, it simply isn’t fair to Watkins. Initially joining the Rams in Week 2 of the 2017 preseason, Watkins didn’t have much of a chance to get fully acclimated into the offense nor gain chemistry with QB Jared Goff. Watkins’ impact was felt though. Being the #1 WR, he routinely occupied opponents best CB allowing Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to play (and excel against) lesser competition.
I believe the best case scenario to be a franchise tag for Watkins, allowing another “trial run” so to speak, where Watkins has a full offseason to prepare with Goff and the offense.
2. Franchise Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner, who enjoyed a breakout season under Wade Phillips in his first year playing primarily free safety, is a much better use of the franchise tag. The Rams have a secondary in transition: They promoted rookie John Johnson III to the starting lineup this season, lost cornerback Kayvon Webster to a ruptured Achilles, and have both lead corner Trumaine Johnson and third corner Nickell Robey-Coleman hitting unrestricted free agency.
Interesting. I think most people would agree that Joyner is a must re-sign for the Rams. Franchise tagging Joyner is definitely an option, but I’m not sure the reasoning behind it. Why? Joyner was selfless in his transition to SS, and turned in an elite season. Joyner has spent his entire four-year career with the Rams and has proven his worth at both nickel CB and SS now. Sign him to a long-term deal!
3. Find a replacement for Trumaine Johnson. It’s not out of the question that the Rams could bring back the 28-year-old on a long-term deal, but after franchising Johnson during each of the past two seasons, he won’t be returning on a third tag. With Johnson and Robey-Coleman on different rosters and Webster in a hurry to return by Week 1, the Rams need to address the cornerback position this offseason.
This seems very likely to happen. The Rams have now franchise tagged Johnson in back-to-back seasons and still haven’t been able to agree to a deal. Johnson will look to be paid as one of the best CB’s in football and has earned it, honestly. With the laundry list of free agents, are the Rams going to be able to provide that financial investment? That remains to be seen.
4. Pick up Todd Gurley’s fifth-year option. It would be aggressive to sign Gurley to a long-term deal two years away from free agency, which the Rams did and regretted with Austin, and Gurley is probably going to be more expensive coming off of an MVP-caliber season than the sort of season he’s likely to have in 2018.
This is a no-brainer. Being a first-round pick, the Rams have a 5th-year team option on Gurley, and they’d be silly not to use it.
5. Re-sign Aaron Donald. It’s not going to be cheap, but it shouldn’t matter in Donald’s case. The two deals he’s going to be looking at belong to a pair of dominant rushers. Ndamukong Suh’s six-year, $114.4 million deal with the Dolphins guaranteed him $59.5 million at signing, while Von Miller’s six-year, $115.5 million extension with the Broncos includes $70.1 million in practical guarantees.
YES. Aaron Donald is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. He is the best player in football. He deserves to paid as such. Re-signing Donald gives the Rams a chance to solidify an elite piece on the defensive side for a handful of years.
The Rams will have some big decisions to make. The decisions they make this year will play a big part in determining what side of the coin they fall on in the future. What do you make of Barnwell’s five? Any you disagree with? Any moves that would replace one of these?