The Los Angeles Rams largely spent the first day of the NFL’s 2022 legal tampering period by retaining their homegrown talent - signing left tackle Joseph Noteboom to a massive contract extension and keeping Brian Allen away from his hometown Chicago Bears.
But with salary cap constraints the Rams could not keep everyone, and Sebastian Joseph-Day is headed cross-town to the Los Angeles Chargers. The fifth-year defensive lineman is reunited with Brandon Staley, who originally brought the Vic Fangio style of defense to the Rams.
The Rams are used to losing talent in free agency each year, and the return of draft capital in the form of compensatory picks are a key aspect of their team building approach. Fortunately for LA, they have been adept at understanding whether players are worth retaining - and those who have left have struggled outside of the Rams’ system.
Could Joseph-Day be the next player in a long line of former Rams that struggled after leaving the team? History does not appear to be in the defensive tackle’s favor:
Trumaine Johnson - 2018
The troubling trend started back in 2018 - Sean McVay’s second offseason as head coach - when the Rams chose to not re-sign cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Johnson was drafted by the Rams in the third round out of Montana in 2012- and he was almost instantly a starter. Johnson was scheduled to hit free agency for the first time in 2016, but instead of making a long-term investment in the corner the Rams elected to use the franchise tag two years in a row.
Johnson finally hit the open market in 2018 and he signed a five-year $72.5M contract with the New York Jets, which included $34M in guaranteed money. The signing later rewarded the Rams with a third round comp pick, and they later sent this selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a package to land edge rusher Dante Fowler. Johnson appeared in only 17 games for the Jets before they released him two years into his massive contract.
Lamarcus Joyner - 2019
In the following offseason the Rams had another defender with an expiring franchise tag - Lamarcus Joyner. He and Johnson’s departure showed the team was unwilling to invest heavily in their secondary players. The Oakland Raiders signed Joyner to a four-year $42M dollar deal in 2019. Like Johnson, he was also released by the team two years into his free agency deal.
Dante Fowler - 2020
Dante Fowler was the third overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft, but he tore his ACL in training camp and missed his entire rookie season. On a bad Jaguars team it seemed the start to Fowler’s career was already maligned - but things turned around when the LA Rams acquired him via trade in 2018.
Fowler only played eight games for the Rams during the 2018 season. In the NFC Championship game he famously pressured Drew Brees to force an interception by John Johnson III in overtime.
LA retained the edge rusher in 2019 by signing him to a one-year contract extension. He hit the open market in 2020 and signed a three-year contract worth $48M with the Atlanta Falcons. Fowler is now a free agent after recently being released.
JOHN JOHNSON OVERTIME INTERCEPTION RAMS BALL— FanDuel (@FanDuel) January 20, 2019
....and he breaks out the CHOPPA dance in NOLA pic.twitter.com/OMtH40Vb44
Cory Littleton - 2020
Cory Littleton carved out a niche on the Rams’ roster by blocking punts and playing an unheralded, though important, role on special teams - and he developed into the team’s starting middle linebacker and defensive signal caller when LA made the Super Bowl in 2018.
The Las Vegas Raiders signed Littleton in 2020 and they gave him a three-year contract valued at $36M. The linebacker struggled in his time with Las Vegas, and their entire defensive unit was stocked with under achieving free agent signings and premium draft choices.
Littleton is expected to be a free agent, as his time with the Raiders seems to be over.
Morgan Fox - 2021
Fox was largely a reserve, rotational player on the defensive line in his time with the Rams, and he benefitted greatly by the attention Aaron Donald regularly draws.
The Rams have refused to invest heavily in the secondary, aside from Jalen Ramsey, and at the middle linebacker position - both in terms of retaining their own talent and making splash signings in free agency. The team refusing to commit long-term to Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner show how they value the defensive backfield, and this is why we can expect Darious Williams to sign elsewhere in 2022.
The effectiveness of star defensive tackle Aaron Donald also allows his teammates to appear more effective than they actually are - and the attention he draws from opposing offensive lines has helped Dante Fowler, Morgan Fox and now Sebastian Joseph-Day earn major free agency pay days. But these players haven’t been nearly as effective without Donald, and it remains to be seen whether they can be successful on their own.
Joseph-Day could be a solid addition to the Chargers’ defensive line that now includes Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, but recent history of the Rams’ defensive free agent departures says the odds are not in his favor. Can the defensive tackle buck a troubling trend for former Rams defenders?