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WR Sammy Watkins or CB Trumaine Johnson? A decision that will decide the fate of the 2018 Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have a lot of pending free agents. In the end, their decision may boil down to retaining either Watkins or Johnson.

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Houston Texans v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

With the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine upon us and the ‘legal tampering’ period roughly two weeks away, the Los Angeles Rams are already knee-deep into the 2018 offseason.

They started by adding Kansas City Chiefs CB Marcus Peters via trade.

That trade opened up a world of possibilities for the Rams in free agency, but it also gives the fans a unique opportunity into the ideologies of General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay when building out the roster. Will they retain CB Trumaine Johnson to pair with Peters or will they elect to keep their WR corps in tact by keeping WR Sammy Watkins?

It’s much more complex than that. Let’s look into what is on the horizon.

Assumptions

  • Cut ILB Mark Barron (as voted on by you) and WR Tavon Austin (also your decision), saving $7m and $3m respectively
  • OLB Robert Quinn stays at his current cap hit. In a previous article, TST chose to restructure as opposed to cut Quinn, but given recent developments I’m not sure the Rams will restructure Quinn’s contract
  • DL Aaron Donald becomes highest paid defender in the NFL with an average cap hit of $20m. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that Donald’s cap hit will be $20m for 2018 and not his current $6.9m

Cap Space

After the trade for Peters, the Rams have $38m in cap space. After cutting Tavon and Barron, they would have a hair over $48m. Then when you account for Donald’s extension, that will fall to $35m.

The Rams will have an extraordinary amount of flexibility in structuring these contracts. It’s worth mentioning that Snead prefers ‘pay as you go’ contracts and hasn’t backloaded contracts in the past. The final numbers will invariably be different, but for our purposes we will use $35m as a baseline.

Draft Picks

The rookie wage scale has made signing draft picks much less volatile and has even brought some stability to what was once a very tenuous process. The Rams need to account for these expenditures before signing any free agents - even their own.

According to OverTheCap, the Rams’ current draft class should come out to be right around $5.5m, bringing our working total down to roughly $30m.

Prioritizing Other Free Agents

Among the Rams pending free agents, there’s a consenus that S Lamarcus Joyner is the top priority. Without getting too far into the weeds, it’s a safe assumption that Joyner will require at least $10m annually. This brings the Rams working total to roughly $20m. If you don’t think he’s a priority, reread McVay’s comments yesterday:

“Some of the things that he can do in Wade’s system makes him a huge priority,” McVay told reporters from the podium at the combine. “He’s a great person as well. He represents a lot of the things that are right about your locker room and kind of what you want guys to embody from a football character standpoint, the way they attack every single day. Lamarcus is someone that’s really important, and we’d like to get him re-signed, for sure.”

You can argue semantics about pecking order and contract structure and whatnot, but C John Sullivan and nickel CB Nickell Robey-Coleman are likely affordable options that the Rams would like to keep around. The contracts aren’t too important since $20m wouldn’t be enough for Johnson and Watkins outright much less after re-signing Sully and NRC. OLB Matt Longacre (RFA) and CB Troy Hill (ERFA) also have to factor into this equation somewhere.

Johnson vs. Watkins

After all that, we can FINALLY get down to business with Tru and Watkins. I’d like to think that all of the moves above are common sense for the Rams. That leaves us with Johnson and Watkins - two enigmatic players who have value to the Rams, but not necessarily enough to force the team to overpay to keep them.

Dating back to the 2014 NFL Draft, Rams fans have seen the appeal of Watkins. The Rams were hurting for WRs for so long that we clamored for former WR Kenny Britt to develop into a #1 receiver. While Watkins hasn’t been able to meet expectations in the NFL, the appeal is still there. He’s still just 24-years old and offers plenty of upside, though that may not be enough for him to earn a big payday in LA.

Johnson, on the other hand, has already earned his payday if only by virtue of consecutive franchise tags that have earned him nearly $31m over the past two seasons. To me, Johnson has always been an outstanding CB2, but not quite at the caliber of a true top-of-the-depth-chart CB. You don’t find him mentioned among the likes of Washington CB Josh Norman, Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson, Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman......or new Rams CB Marcus Peters.

Prior to the Peters trade, it was hard to see the Rams retaining Johnson. If they REALLY wanted to get something done with Tru, they would have had a long-term contract on the books long ago. But I think that the Peters trade gives the Rams some leverage in negotiations and that it might increase Tru’s desire to stay with the team.

What will the Rams prioritize?

In the simplest terms, the Rams will likely have to choose between Johnson and Watkins. But when you look deeper, it gives fans some strategic insight into the philosophy of Snead and McVay. Will they elect to keep the secondary or WR corps together? Do they value offense or defense more? Youth or experience? How important is home grown talent?

Electing to retain Johnson will give the Rams a very formidable secondary. Peters and Joyner are among the best at their position and Robey-Coleman would be a very, very good #3. Let’s not forget CB Kayvon Webster either. He’s recovering from an Achilles injury, so having the ability to ease him back into action could prove invaluable for the Rams. Rookie S John Johnson also graded out well in 2017 being ranked the #15 safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

If the Rams were to pick the other side of the coin and retain Watkins, that would allow WR Robert Woods to continue to face CB2s and WR Cooper Kupp to go against CB3s. Without Watkins they are bumped to #1 and #2 respectively. That value can’t be understated. Also, if you are a fan of PFF, retaining Watkins would give the Rams three of the top 41 WRs in the NFL - which would undoubtedly make McVay happy as the offensive playcaller.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, I don’t feel like the Rams can go wrong with this decision.

A CB depth chart with Peters, Johnson, Robey-Coleman, and Webster is very formidable. It would be a very deep and allow Wade Phillips to be creative with the front 7 to generate pressure.

A WR corps led by Watkins, Woods, and Kupp would be exciting for Rams fans and give McVay a LOT of toys to play with. And that’s before considering WR Pharoh Cooper, WR Mike Thomas and WR Josh Reynolds among the WR depth.

Both groups have the ability to withstand the loss at the top of the depth chart, it just boils down to which group the Rams want to keep in tact - and which situation puts them in the best position for long term success.

For the record, my vote here goes to Watkins. I think the Rams could take the same path with him that the Philadelphia Eagles took with WR Alshon Jeffery. There are a lot of parallels between Jeffery and Watkins and I feel like this would be a great move for a developing offense.

But my views here aren’t what matter. What do YOU think?

Poll

If forced to choose, would you re-sign Trumaine Johnson or Sammy Watkins?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Trumaine Johnson
    (230 votes)
  • 74%
    Sammy Watkins
    (676 votes)
906 votes total Vote Now