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What kind of market will there be for the Los Angeles Rams’ biggest free agents?

CB Trumaine Johnson and WR Sammy Watkins are both headed to the free agency market while S Lamarcus Joyner is at least tagged for 2018.

Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson defends Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant
Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson defends Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL New Year starts on March 14 at 4pm ET. In just five days, players with expiring contracts will hit free agency. Here’s the list of Los Angeles Rams with contracts set to expire:

2018 LA Rams Free Agents

Player POS Type Outcome
Player POS Type Outcome
Connor Barwin OLB UFA
Derek Carrier TE UFA Signed with Raiders: 3yr
Cody Davis S UFA Signed with Jaguars: 2yr
Lance Dunbar RB UFA Released
Dominique Easley DT UFA Re-signed with Rams: 1yr
Trumaine Johnson CB UFA Signed with Jets: 3yr
Lamarcus Joyner S UFA Tagged
Cornelius Lucas OT UFA
Jake McQuaide LS UFA Re-signed with Rams: 3yr
Nickell Robey-Coleman CB UFA Re-signed with Rams: 3yr
John Sullivan C UFA Re-signed with Rams: 2yr
Tyrunn Walker DT UFA
Sammy Watkins WR UFA Signed with Chiefs: 3yr
Matt Longacre DE RFA Tendered
Cameron Lynch OLB RFA
Darrell Williams OT RFA
Malcolm Brown RB ERFA Tendered
Sam Ficken K ERFA Tendered
Troy Hill CB ERFA Tendered
Zach Laskey FB ERFA
Garrett Sickels OLB ERFA Re-signed with Rams: TBD

Many of those Rams will be former Rams this year, but not many will sign immediately when the market opens. Top earners set the conditions for the 2018 market with mid-range guys having to wait and negotiate with different suitors to find their best option.

For the Rams’ soon-to-be FAs, the big names are CB Trumaine Johnson, WR Sammy Watkins and S Lamarcus Joyner. The Rams placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on Joyner, so he’s at least under contract for 2018. What will the market look like for the other two? And is there any way the Rams will be able to come close to match competing offers?

ESPN’s Dan Graziano took a look at the top 25 free agents (behind ESPN’s insider paywall) per ESPN’s free agent rankings and he’s got some eye-opening potential contracts on the books coming in a week’s time.

The first Ram up is Tru at #12:

12. Trumaine Johnson, CB

2017 team: Rams | Age: 28
Projected contract: Five years, $77.5 million

A whopper of a deal that would put Johnson atop the cornerback market. But hey, he already has been there the past two years on his franchise tags, and with cap-rich teams like San Francisco and Cleveland in need at the position, Johnson looks set to cash in big. Johnson and agent Joel Segal have wisely waited out the franchise tag process (a la Cousins and agent Mike McCartney at the top of this list) and are in position to set new market benchmarks at the position as a result.

Simply put, the Rams aren’t anywhere near this kind of deal for Tru. They never were. Whether it’s Tru specifically or the position not meriting that kind of value for the Rams, they haven’t made those kinds of deals for defensive backs. So if he’s offered anywhere in the realm of this, good for him. He earned it. But it’s worth considering that this is where your top FA CBs are hitting in 2018 because whether we’re talking about what to do with CB Marcus Peters or dealing with a post-Aqib Talib CB FA landscape (both of which would coincide after the 2019 season, FWIW), the Rams are going to hit this decision point again. That they didn’t meet it with Tru should tell you where the Rams set the bar in terms of performance and what they’ll reward in their secondary. That they’ve been able to staff those positions with the talent they have year in, year out should tell you something as well.

Next up is Sammy Watkins, the frequent discussion point on Turf Show Radio. Graziano takes the easy out:

15. Sammy Watkins, WR

2017 team: Rams | Age: 25
Projected contract: One year, $13 million

Similar situation to Robinson’s, except Watkins did make it through this year healthy and is seen as a potential No. 1 wideout, so his number is higher. Teams will want to see Watkins (A) stay healthy again and (B) play to his draft pedigree before committing long term.

One year, $13m...Whew. Let’s look at this from all three vantage points.

From the Rams’ perspective, it’s probably the optimal outcome. It’s not much different than if they would have used the franchise tag on him instead of Joyner. So obviously, it shouldn’t take much for the Rams to come to the table on this deal.

From Watkins’ perspective, the logic is obvious since this is what happened a year ago with WR Alshon Jeffery and the Philadelphia Eagles and WR Terrelle Pryor and Washington. Watkins would get a one-year audition to prove himself for a long-term contract in a better and more stable environment than he had a year ago. Much like a tag, if Watkins is able to perform at a high level, improve his production and stay healthy, he’d be able to hit a big payday in a year’s time.

The problem is the final perspective: the market’s. I find it very, very, very hard to believe that there won’t be a single team that’s willing to come in on a lucrative deal for Watkins in this year’s free agency window. ESPN’s rankings have Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Robinson as the first WR up at #14, one spot above Watkins. Robinson is coming off a year lost to a knee injury, so Graziano has him at a one-year, $10m market rate. And as he notes, Watkins made it through the year in a WR1 role. So while teams may want to see him do it again while putting up bigger numbers, I just find it very hard to believe that the handful of teams who are the most desperate to add talent at WR are all going to pass on a multi-year deal for Watkins.

Last up is Joyner one spot below Sammy:

16. Lamarcus Joyner, S

2017 team: Rams | Age: 27
Projected contract: One year, $11.287 million (franchise tag)

The market number on Joyner seems to be around $10 million per year, which means he might be wise to play it out on a franchise tag number that’s higher than that and force the Rams to keep making that decision on him year-to-year the way they did with Trumaine Johnson. I could see Joyner signing something like a four-year, $40 million deal before the July deadline, but the bet here is that he plays on the tag.

Yes, a four-year, $40m deal makes all the sense in the world for all parties involved. I just struggle to understand why this isn’t done already. And given how the Rams undervalue defensive backs compared to the market, the real concern is that it won’t get done at all.

We’re close. On Monday, teams can begin legally contacting players on expiring deals and their representatives to assess their market demands as “legal tampering begins” (and there definitely has not been any illegal tampering whatsoever no no no those agents just sit in their offices and don’t talk to anyone for 11 months). The market opens on Wednesday.

Get some rest this weekend...