Rams put franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner
The Rams led the NFL in scoring last season with an offense that might return every starter in 2018.
But when faced with choosing a player on the roster to franchise-tag, the Rams again looked across the line of scrimmage.
On Tuesday, the Rams put the non-exclusive franchise tag on safety Lamarcus Joyner, rather than receiver Sammy Watkins, essentially assuring that Joyner will play for the Rams for at least one more season.
Joyner was one of four NFL players who received the non-exclusive tag by Tuesday’s deadline. Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry were the others.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell received an exclusive tag, preventing him from signing with another team, and the Chicago Bears put a transition tag on cornerback Kyle Fuller.
The non-exclusive tag on Joyner comes with a salary tender of $11.2 million this season. The Rams and Joyner, who in 2017 received $1.6 million in the final year of his rookie contract, can continue to work until July 16 on reaching a long-term deal.
Joyner also can field offers from other teams. But if Joyner signs with another team, the Rams would receive two No. 1 draft picks as compensation, so the prohibitive cost makes that scenario unlikely.
The salary cap for 2018 is $177.2 million.
The Rams have about $39 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com. But that figure will grow March 14, when the NFL’s new league year begins.
On that date, an agreement that enabled the Rams to acquire cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, and another deal that sent linebacker Robert Quinn and his $12-million salary-cap number to the Dolphins, will become official trades.
Joyner, 27, moved from slot cornerback to safety last season and flourished in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme. He intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Keeping Joyner in the fold — a “huge priority,” coach Sean McVay said last week — was important for a defense that might go through more changes during free agency and after the April 26-28 draft. Linebacker Connor Barwin, for example, is a pending free agent.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who was paid nearly $31 million playing under the franchise tag with the Rams the last two seasons, also will test the free-agent market.
The $11.2 million price tag for Joyner is about $5 million less than what it would have cost to tag Watkins, who caught 39 passes last season, including a team-leading eight for touchdowns.
The Rams could still work out a deal with Watkins before free agency begins next week. They also have not ruled out possibly re-signing the veteran after he tests the market, which is expected to be less than the $16-million tag tender for receivers.
The Rams remain interested in bringing back a receiver whose deep-threat capability opened the field for receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and others.
If Watkins ultimately signs with another team, the Rams probably would receive a third-round compensatory draft pick for losing him via free agency, a situation that helped drive their decision to trade for a receiver who had a history of injury problems before he arrived last August.
Josh Reynolds, a fourth-round draft pick from Texas A&M, caught 11 passes as a rookie and is regarded as a deep threat who possibly could replace Watkins.
Watkins is part of a pending free-agent receiver class that includes the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Allen Robinson among others.
With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in place, and $66 million in cap space, the San Francisco 49ers are expected to be active in the free-agent receiver market, and they could target Watkins.
Watkins said near the end of last season that he was happy playing for the Rams. He complimented the training staff for keeping him healthy and said he did not want to bounce from quarterback to quarterback.
Asked about Watkins, McVay acknowledged after the season that “We can use him better. I’ve got to be able to put him in better spots.”
The day after the Rams’ playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, when asked about his future, Watkins said “I just know it’s a business.”
He said he played hard in his first season with the Rams.
“I can’t wait to see what my future holds,” he said, “here or anywhere else.”
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