The Los Angeles Rams and general manager Les Snead have several decisions to make this offseason. While they have a significant amount of cap space that could grow even more by cutting linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Tavon Austin, they still need to get their priorities in order.
Two of those priorities are safety Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Now, ideally the Rams get a long-term deal done with one and give the other the franchise tag. With this scenario, it would make the most sense to give Joyner the extension and Watkins the tag.
However, what if Snead is only able to choose one? If so, which player do the Rams keep? Is it the Honey Badger 2.0 in Joyner who just finished a breakout season at safety, or is it Watkins who caught a team-high eight touchdowns?
Ideally the Rams are able to keep both. In the case that they don’t, here’s a case for the Rams to sign each player:
Prior to last season, Joyner had never started more than 10 games in a season and was arguably misused by Gregg Williams and Jeff Fisher.
There is the famous scene in Hard Knocks that shows when Joyner contemplated quitting football because he felt like his talent wasn’t being maximized to the fullest.
The 2017 season proved different for Joyner. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips moved Joyner back from nickel cornerback to safety, and he never looked back. Joyner compiled a team-high three interceptions and started all 12 games he played. He finished sixth on the team with 49 tackles and was one of 12 players to force a fumble.
There is no doubting Joyner’s playmaking ability. Like Tyrann Mathieu, Joyner can play at safety or cover the slot at the line of scrimmage. That’s what makes him a valuable player that teams covet.
The question however is how much a player of his caliber will cost this offseason. The thing with Joyner is that he really only has the one year of production under his belt. He started 12 games last season, but prior to that, he started only 14 games in his first three years combined.
Is Joyner worth top-5 safety money, which would be $12-million a year? Or is he top-10 safety worthy of $7-9 million a year? For what it’s worth, Mathieu’s contract averages $12.5-million a year, which is what Joyner’s camp may be using for reference.
This is what Les Snead and company will need to figure out. And they may let Joyner initially walk in free agency to figure out his true value.
When it comes to Sammy Watkins, 39 receptions for 593 yards doesn’t scream, “pay me $15-million.” This is why something like the franchise tag would make the most sense. It would put Watkins on a one-year, fully-guaranteed, prove-it type deal.
The Rams must settle the debate of talent and scheme. Can the Rams throw Josh Reynolds in at the z-receiver slot and get the second-year player to garner the same attention from defenses and put up the same production?
To me, that’s asking a lot of a second-year wide receiver that played limited snaps in his rookie year.
For over a decade the Rams searched for an elite receiving talent following the departure of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They drafted players like Donnie Avery, Mardy Gilyard, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Not to mention the outside guys they brought in like Kenny Britt, Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson and others.
The Rams, for the first time since Holt’s departure, have a young, elite receiving talent. Giving up on Watkins now would be a failure of a trade in which the team gave up a second round pick for. You don’t give up a second-round pick for a one-year rental.
Watkins stretched the field for guys like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Just having the elite threat of blowing the top off of defenses was enough to open things up in the mid-underneath zones for Woods, Kupp, and even Gurley.
Teams won’t give someone like Josh Reynolds that same respect regardless of the scheme. A scheme can be good, but at some point, that scheme needs talent. You couldn’t have put Sean McVay on the 1-15 2009 Rams team and expected an 11-win season.
That’s not to say Reynolds isn’t talented or doesn’t have potential, but there is a reason Watkins was drafted with the fourth overall pick and Reynolds was drafted in the fourth round.
When it comes to bringing back Joyner and Wakins, ideally the Rams get both done. However, if they can only bring one back, Watkins has to be the priority. This is an offensive team that needs offensive playmakers.
Meanwhile, look at the job the Rams have done developing safeties and defensive backs over the last five years. John Johnson seemingly came out of nowhere in the middle of last season. They also developed Cody Davis, Blake Countess, Rodney McLeod, TJ McDonald and Joyner.
While losing a guy of Joyner’s playmaking abilities on the defensive side of the ball would hurt, it’s easier to replace a safety than a skilled No. 1 receiver, especially when that receiver can make things easier for Goff.