Faced with the impending free agency of nearly the entire secondary, and equipped with the option to control at least one of the players, the Rams zeroed in on cornerback Trumaine Johnson and applied the nonexclusive franchise tag on him Tuesday.
The salary for cornerbacks who receive the nonexclusive franchise tag will be about $14 million this season. Teams and players with the tag have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
If Johnson signs with another team, the Rams would receive two No. 1 draft picks as compensation.
Johnson, 6 feet 2 and 208 pounds, intercepted seven passes in 2015. He played at Stockton Edison High and at Montana before the Rams chose him in the third round of the 2012 draft with the 65th overall pick.
He has started 33 games and has intercepted 14 passes, returning two for touchdowns.
"Since we drafted Trumaine in 2012, he has developed into an integral part of our defense," General Manager Les Snead said in a statement. "We look forward to having him with us this season and more to come."
Many players dislike the nonexclusive franchise tag. The one-year salary is no less than the average of the top five salaries at their position last season, but the tag prevents them from testing the open market and also can leave players at risk of injury without a guaranteed longer-term deal.
Johnson, 26, has played opposite Janoris Jenkins, 27, who is also among the Rams' 12 unrestricted free agents. Jenkins also was regarded as a potential candidate to get the lone franchise tag. Jenkins fired his agent last weekend and, under NFL rules, must wait five days to hire a new one.
In a tweet that appeared to address his negotiations with the Rams, Jenkins on Sunday wrote: "Total disrespect when u held down one side all 4 years and force the ball the other way.. #ThanksButNoThanks."
Agents for unrestricted free agents can begin negotiating, but contracts can't be signed, on March 7, the start of what is commonly referred to as "legal tampering." The free-agency signing period begins March 9.
The Rams are about $60 million under the salary cap, which last week was set at $155.27 million.
The Rams cleared about $23 million in salary-cap space a few weeks ago when they released linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and tight end Jared Cook.
Snead and Coach Jeff Fisher have said that signing Johnson, Jenkins, safety Rodney McLeod and safety-linebacker Mark Barron was a top priority.
Defensive linemen William Hayes, Eugene Sims and Nick Fairley also are set to become unrestricted free agents.
Quarterback Case Keenum is among the team's restricted free agents, and the Rams are expected to tender an offer to keep him. If Keenum accepts an offer sheet from another team, the Rams would have the opportunity to match it and retain his services. If they lose him, the Rams could be granted one or more compensatory draft picks.