Fear of a playing with a potential gaping hole in the defense caused the Rams to spend about $42 million on franchise-tagged players the last three seasons.
The spree might be over.
Tuesday marks the first day NFL teams can place a franchise tag on one of their pending unrestricted free agents, and the Rams are not among the favorites to utilize it.
A non-exclusive tag binds a potential unrestricted free agent to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. The player is guaranteed a salary no less than the average of the five highest-paid players at his position, or 120% of the player’s previous salary, whichever is greater.
The deadline for teams to tag players is March 5, eight days before the start of free agency and the new league year.
The Rams’ pending unrestricted free agents are Joyner, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Ethan Westbrooks and Dominique Easley, linebackers Dante Fowler, Ramik Wilson, Matt Longacre and Bryce Hager, cornerback Sam Shields, quarterback Sean Mannion, running back C.J. Anderson and offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
All appear likely to test the market.
Fowler, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft, was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars last October in a trade-deadline deal. He was in the final year of his rookie contract because the Jaguars declined to pick up the fifth-year option. Fowler was arrested twice on misdemeanor charges and also got into a fight with a teammate while in Jacksonville.
When Fowler joined the Rams, he described it as “a new chapter” that would enable him to “just show guys who I really am.”
Fowler made several big plays during the Rams’ run to the Super Bowl. His hit on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in overtime helped cause an interception that positioned the Rams for a game-winning field goal in the NFC championship game.
Ideally, the Rams would prefer a full season to evaluate Fowler before making a long-term commitment. But to secure that season would cost them more than $15 million.
Suh, 32, signed before last season and played on a $14-million contract. He earned an additional $1 million in incentives. The franchise tag is projected to be $15.5 million for defensive tackles.
Anderson, 28, was a late-season addition after Todd Gurley suffered a knee injury. Anderson started the final two regular-season games while Gurley was sidelined and got the majority of carries in the postseason.
Saffold, 30, has been in the lineup at left guard for every meaningful game the last two seasons and has played his entire nine-year career with the Rams.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein