The Los Angeles Rams made Trumaine Johnson is the highest paid cornerback in the league in 2017. There’s not a person in the world outside of Johnson and his family that would tell you he’s the best cornerback in the NFL. The Rams are certainly not thrilled by the money they had to pay Johnson, but they failed lock up a No. 1 cornerback long-term and did not have a choice but to pay him. But how did it come to this?
The Rams drafted a pair of small school cornerbacks on Day 2 of the 2012 NFL Draft. Janoris Jenkins, the problem child who was dismissed from Florida and found a second life at North Alabama, and Johnson, a two time FCS All-American from Montana. The young tandem quickly became one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
Unfortunately for the Rams, drafting the pair together meant they became free agents together. The Rams did not have the cap space to pay two cornerbacks elite money. The Rams tried to sign Jenkins to a five-year, $45 million contract, but he was seeking more money. When the money came from other teams, they chose to franchise Johnson instead and hoped to workout a long-term deal. They then let Jenkins walk. Jenkins signed a five-year, $62 million contract with the New York Giants that included $28 million in guaranteed money.
Jenkins flourished in New York and was selected to his first Pro Bowl in addition to being named a second team All-Pro. The Rams entered 2016 paper thin at cornerback, and Johnson struggled as the only real competent corner on the roster. The Rams then never came to terms with a contract extension with Johnson.
When the Rams franchised Johnson for the 2017 season, he was awarded a salary of $16.7 million, the highest at the position. It would have been foolish for Johnson to throw away that money for a team friendly deal with the Rams. Unable to trade Johnson or come to a deal, he returns to the Rams locked in as the team’s No. 1 corner.
As it currently stands, the Rams chose the wrong cornerback. They paid Johnson more money than they would have paid Jenkins over the past two years and might not be able to keep him on the team after this season. Johnson should be happy with his payday, but it’s understandable why he would be frustrated that the two sides never came to an agreement. An NFL player is one injury away from their last paycheck, and Johnson hasn’t had long-term security in three years. Meanwhile, his former partner in crime doesn’t have to worry about getting paid until 2021, and has taken the next step in his career.
The best case for the Rams is for Johnson to have a solid year, fall in love with playing for Wade Phillips, and take a somewhat team-friendly deal that allows them to keep the rest of the defense intact. If the new coaching staff can salvage their relationship with Johnson, this whole situation may have been worth it after all. But as of now, franchising Johnson over paying Jenkins looks like it was a decision Les Snead will grow to regret.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He graduated from Marquette University in 2016. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.