March 4, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Can free agents Leonard Floyd, John Johnson stay with Rams?

In four seasons with the Rams, safety John Johnson performed above expectations and ascended to become the signal-caller for a defense that ranked among the NFL’s best in 2020.

In his lone season with the Rams, edge rushed Leonard Floyd recorded a career-best 10½ sacks for a team that advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

Johnson and Floyd are among the Rams’ 11 pending unrestricted free agents and, should the team choose to use it for the first time since 2018, candidates for the franchise tag.

The tag, which enables NFL teams to avoid a long-term commitment by paying one player a one-year guaranteed salary equal to the average of the top five highest-paid players at their position, can be applied starting Tuesday.

The period to tag players ends March 9, slightly less than a week before the so-called “legal tampering” period begins on March 15 to negotiate with free agents in the days leading to the start of the new league year on March `17.

Last year, the franchise tag was $11.4 million for safeties, $15.8 million for linebackers and $17.8 million for defensive ends.

In the aftermath of revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the salary cap will decrease. Last season, it was $198 million. For 2021, the league has set a $180-million floor, but the final figure has not been determined.

Teams are expected to wait until the cap and franchise-tag tenders are officially set before making moves.

“Will be interesting,” Rams general manager Les Snead told reporters after the season. “One that we haven’t as NFL clubs, front-office members, coaching staffs, have had to work through, because the salary cap has pretty much trended up versus down during our, probably, lifetimes here.”

Since returning to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016, the Rams have used the franchise tag three times.

In 2016 and 2017, they tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson and paid him nearly $31 million. In 2019, they tagged safety Lamarcus Joyner and paid him about $11.3 million.

In 2020, edge rusher Dante Fowler and linebacker Cory Littleton were regarded as possible tag candidates. The Rams let both hit free agency.

Fowler left for a three-year, $45-million contract with the Atlanta Falcons that included $29 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com. Littleton signed a three-year, $38.25-million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders that included $22 million in guarantees, according to the website.

The Rams have two young safeties ready to play besides veteran John Johnson III.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Johnson, 25, was a third-round draft pick in 2017. Last season, he earned $2.1 million, far below the salaries earned by top players at his position.

“You really saw him grow a lot this year and we put a lot on him and he showed why he was more than capable,” coach Sean McVay told reporters after the season.

Floyd, 28, was the ninth player chosen in the 2016 draft, but the Chicago Bears cut him rather than exercise a fifth-year option. Floyd signed a one-year, $10-million, incentive-filled contract with the Rams that reunited him with first-year Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, his position coach with the Bears.

As with Fowler in 2019, Floyd thrived playing alongside star tackle Aaron Donald, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year. He reached all incentives and earned $13.25 million.

Staley since has become coach of the Chargers.

“He was one of the more complete edge players in this league,” McVay said of Floyd. “Brandon had an experience with him in Chicago that made him feel really comfortable and confident. … I thought you saw his best this year.”

Cornerback Troy Hill, defensive linemen Morgan Fox and Derek Rivers, linebacker Samson Ebukam, running back Malcolm Brown, tight end Gerald Everett, receiver Josh Reynolds, offensive lineman Austin Blythe and long-snapper Jake McQuaide also are pending unrestricted free agents.

Cornerback Darious Williams is a pending restricted free agent.