Rams add safety net to defense with addition of John Johnson

Rams safety John Johnson dives but can't intercept this Oakland Raiders pass in 2018.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

In his first stint with the Rams, safety John Johnson was a 21-year-old rookie playing for a rookie head coach in Sean McVay.

The Rams, with a roster that included running back Todd Gurley and defensive lineman Aaron Donald, had added free-agent receiver Robert Woods and offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth — and then made Johnson part of a draft class that included receiver Cooper Kupp.

Six years later, Johnson is back with the Rams.

“It’s like nostalgia,” Johnson said Tuesday after his first workout. “It feels good.”

Johnson, however, has returned to a Rams organization in a different operational mode.

Coming off a 5-12 season instead of a Super Bowl title, Rams coach Sean McVay has to change his mindset with a roster of untested players and many stars gone.

Aug. 8, 2023

Donald, Kupp and quarterback Matthew Stafford, all of whom received massive extensions after the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI victory to end the 2021 season, are the only remaining stars for a team that this offseason shied from its typical headline-grabbing ways.


Two years after winning the Super Bowl, and then experiencing the biggest Super Bowl hangover in NFL history, the Rams broke from their tradition under McVay. They traded star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They cut star linebacker Bobby Wagner and edge rusher Leonard Floyd. And they passed on the opportunity to re-sign other starters.

Instead, they waited for free-agent bargains.

Johnson, released by the Cleveland Browns in March, is the latest and perhaps most high-profile example of players signed to veteran-minimum contracts.

In May, the Rams signed receiver Tyler Johnson, in June receiver Demarcus Robinson and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. After running back Sony Michel retired a few days into training camp, the Rams signed running back Royce Freeman.

Rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett, 25, won two titles with Georgia and has shown during training camp what he’s capable of doing with the Rams offense.

July 31, 2023

And on Tuesday, they welcomed back John Johnson. The seventh-year pro, who collected $24 million from the Browns the last two seasons, signed a one-year deal for $1.08 million..

Total investment for the Rams for five players: slightly more than $5 million.

“They’ve all played significant snaps in this league and they know what it looks like,” McVay said, adding, “We’ve been able to acquire good players that are going to come in and have a chance to really impact this football team.”

John Johnson’s skill level and how he fits in Raheem Morris’ defense will be assessed in the weeks leading to the Sept. 10 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. But his leadership and experience should bolster a secondary that during the offseason included only one key player with more than a year of NFL experience, safety Jordan Fuller.

 Rams safeties Russ Yeast (2) and Jordan Fuller run a drill.
Rams safeties Russ Yeast (2) and Jordan Fuller run a drill.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Fuller and second-year safety Russ Yeast took first-team snaps during the first few weeks of training camp, with second-year pro Quentin Lake also getting significant opportunities The Rams selected rookie Jason Taylor II in the seventh round of the draft.

Now add Johnson to the mix.

“To be able to get a guy that’s familiar with the culture, has played a lot of really good football … we felt like it was a chance to be able to upgrade our secondary,” McVay said.

Johnson indicated he has much to prove.

Rams coach Sean McVay says Cooper Kupp might not return from a hamstring injury until the team’s second preseason game, against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Aug. 5, 2023

When he left the Rams after the 2020 season, he was at the top of his game — and he cashed in. But he said that during his two seasons in Cleveland, he did not meet his expectations, or those of the Browns.

Two years later, he agreed to return to the Rams for the minimum.

“You want to go out there and show that you can still go. I’m young,” Johnson, 27, said. “I feel like I’m in my prime.

“I just needed a place and opportunity to do it.”