Rams place franchise tag on Trumaine Johnson for second straight year

Another losing season had just ended with a disappointing loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who played under a franchise tag in 2016, stood in the Coliseum locker room and pondered whether it might his last game with the organization that drafted him in 2012.

“I don't know what the future holds,” Johnson said after the January defeat. “We'll see, man. We'll see.”

On Wednesday, the Rams made a move to keep Johnson in the fold, putting the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row. A tag binds a potential unrestricted free agent to the team for one year if certain conditions are met.

Johnson was one of seven NFL players who were tagged this week in the run-up to Wednesday’s deadline.

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones, Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short and New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul also were tagged.

Johnson, 27, is regarded as a key part of a defense that ranked ninth in the NFL last season and will be under the direction of new coordinator Wade Phillips.

Johnson earned nearly $14 million in 2016. If he plays under the tag again, he is due a raise of 120% of his previous year’s salary. That means he will earn nearly $17 million under a $167-million salary cap set by the NFL on Wednesday.

Teams and players with the tag can work out long-term contracts. If Johnson signs with another team, the Rams would receive two No. 1 draft picks as compensation.

The Rams’ decision to tag Johnson is no surprise: They lack other proven and durable cornerbacks to play on the outside.

E.J. Gaines started 15 games as a rookie in 2014, but was sidelined for all of 2015 and part of last season because of injuries. Lamarcus Joyner has played mainly in the slot. Undrafted free agents Troy Hill and Michael Jordan played well at times last season but are not regarded as long-term solutions.

Last week, in discussing Johnson and the Rams’ defense, General Manager Les Snead said, “We like what Trumaine offers and we don’t want him to leave the building.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Johnson played in college at Montana and was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft.

He has 16 career interceptions, including a career-best seven in 2015.

Johnson was sidelined for two-plus games last season because of an ankle injury. He intercepted one pass.

Last year, the Rams used the franchise tag for the first time since 2009, opting to put it on Johnson rather than cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

Jenkins signed a five-year, $62.5-million contract with the New York Giants. The Rams last week received third- and fourth-round compensatory draft picks for last year’s  free-agent losses of Jenkins, safety Rodney McLeod (signed by the Eagles) and defensive lineman Nick Fairley (Saints).

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

 


UPDATES:

5:55 p.m.: This article has been updated with new information.

This articles was originally published at 8:55 a.m.

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