If the plan going into the start of free agency really was to re-sign the entire secondary, the Rams suffered two major losses Wednesday.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins left for a huge payday from the New York Giants. Safety Rodney McLeod signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Rams salvaged the frenetic first day of the NFL’s new league year by holding on to safety-linebacker Mark Barron and defensive end William Hayes, who along with cornerback Trumaine Johnson provide some stability to a defense that was regarded as the team’s strength last season.
Center Tim Barnes and safety Cody Davis signed contract extensions, receiver Brian Quick agreed to terms on a one-year contract, and the Rams took an expected step to keep quarterback Case Keenum in the fold and ward off possible suitors by offering him a first-round tender, which comes with a price tag of $3.635 million. If Keenum signs an offer sheet with another team and the Rams choose not to match it, the Rams would be awarded a first-round draft pick as compensation.
It all made for an eventful day as the Rams continue preparations for their first season in Southern California in more than two decades.
The Rams entered Wednesday, the first day that free agents could sign contracts, with about $45 million in salary-cap space.
General Manager Les Snead and Coach Jeff Fisher had said that keeping the secondary intact was a top priority, but after the Rams put the franchise tag on Johnson — at nearly $14 million for the 2016 season — Jenkins became a sought-after player on the open market.
Wednesday started poorly for the Rams when news broke that Jenkins had agreed to a five-year deal, reportedly worth $62 million, with the Giants.
“I want to thank the city of St Louis for giving me incredible love the past 4 years,” Jenkins wrote later on Twitter. “I want to thank the entire Ram organization, especially Coach Jeff Fisher for believing in me … Words cannot express my gratitude.”
A few hours before players could begin signing contracts, McLeod reached agreement with the Eagles on a reported five-year, $37-million deal, so keeping Barron became paramount for the Rams. They did so by signing him to a reported five-year, $45-million contract.
The Rams released middle linebacker James Laurinaitis a few weeks ago, clearing the way for Ogletree to move to the middle and opening a starting spot for Barron.
“He had a really good year,” Coach Fisher said of Barron at last month’s NFL scouting combine. “So as you see there’s a trend in the league right now for that type of guy, and we feel like he really fits into our defense.”
Hayes, drafted by Fisher with the Tennessee Titans in 2008, increased his value with another productive season filling in for Chris Long, who was released after two injury-plagued seasons. Several teams pursued Hayes, but he chose to remain with the Rams and reportedly signed a three-year, $21-million contract.
Brock Osweiler’s decision to leave the Denver Broncos for the Houston Texans and Chase Daniel’s move from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Eagles set the quarterback carousel spinning. Snead has said the Rams did not intend to let Keenum go to another team, and the first-round tender probably ensured it.
Keenum is the presumptive starter heading into off-season workouts, but Fisher and Snead have said that they will seek to upgrade all positions, including quarterback, through free agency, trades and the draft. Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Sean Mannion also are on the roster.
Running back Benny Cunningham, a restricted free agent, received an original-round tender worth about $1.7 million. The Rams have a right of first refusal if Cunningham receives another offer.
Offensive lineman Brian Folkerts did not receive a qualifying offer but re-signed with the Rams. Linebacker Daren Bates and running back Chase Reynolds became unrestricted free agents because they did not receive qualifying offers.