With free agency right around the corner of this offseason, the Los Angeles Rams will be forced to make some difficult decisions as to whether or not key contributors will remain a part of the organization for the 2017 season.
A new regime at the forefront can bode poorly for “Fisher players” who were brought in during his tenure as Head Coach via free agency or the draft. Players who, in my opinion, are the biggest assets to the Rams who are pending free agents are: Kenny Britt, Trumaine Johnson (just received franchise tag), T.J. McDonald and Benny Cunningham. Coach McVay and his staff will have the final say as they weigh the potential of these players in a new system along with the kind of money it may cost the organization to keep them in LA.
Many have speculated that Kenny Britt will ultimately end up departing in free agency. Britt is the prime example of a “Fisher Player.” He was drafted by Tennessee in 2009 when Fisher was the Head Coach and then brought along to the Rams in 2014. It would be particularly difficult to watch Britt pack his bags after coming off of his best season as a pro, a season where he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time for the Rams since Torry Holt did in 2007.
Rams expect Kenny Britt to test free agency
Didn't exactly make it sound like he'd be back
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 2, 2017
Additionally, he is still only 28 years old and still has productive football ahead of him and has been a player who can run the entire route tree for an offense. However, if Britt does leave town, then it would not be a shock to see either of McVay’s former Redskins, Desean Jackson or Pierre Garcon come to LA. The coveted player in the receiver market is Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery and if the Bears let him walk, will the Rams make a play for him? Another name to keep in mind is Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor.
On the defensive back end, the Rams face a quandary with corner Trumaine Johnson and safety T.J. McDonald. The obvious concern when dealing with Johnson is money. He received the franchise tag last year and it cost the team just south of $14 million. Wednesday, the Rams made Johnson the highest paid cornerback this season ($16 million) when they opted to place the tag on him again. Unless the two sides come to agreement on a long term deal, this is how it will remain for the season.
With today's franchise tag, Rams CB Trumaine Johnson is now scheduled to be NFL's highest-paid CB at $16 million.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 1, 2017
2017 NFL Draft: Five first-round sleepers
Cover32 Exclusive:: Interview with NFL prospect, St. Francis safety, Lorenzo Jerome.
Rams Picks: L.A. awarded two needed compensatory pick
Rams Still Need A Starter: Los Angeles should have a starting caliber QB at backup
Uniform Watch: Los Angeles will wear new helmets in 2017
Johnson is coming off a season where he did not match his 2015 production, but was a solid player nonetheless. Like Janoris Jenkins the year before, I’m not sure the team could withstand letting their top corner go elsewhere.
Three of the top remaining names in the corner market are A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore and Morris Claiborne, if the Rams decide they are still in need of more help. Meanwhile, T.J. McDonald’s contract is also up and the current class of free agent safeties is looking to get paid after the huge contract that Kansas City put together for Eric Berry.
McDonald has been the mainstay at strong safety for four seasons since he was drafted. Under Wade Phillips, Denver’s safety play has been nothing short of impressive with players like T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart (former Ram) at the helm and, in comparison; Ward and McDonald have a similar style of play, so maybe the two sides will work something out. Jonathan Cyprien, Tony Jefferson and Barry Church would be bigger names to keep an eye on in the safety market.
Finally, there is running back Benny Cunningham.
Any running back on this roster who is not named Todd Gurley will have to know their role as a backup and potential third down specialist. However, Cunningham has been just that. He has backed up Zac Stacy, Tre Mason and Gurley and done a fine job, in my opinion. When asked to carry the ball, he has been productive (4.8 ypc last season) and catches the ball with effectiveness. He carves out a nice role on special teams as well, which is always valuable to a team.
It would hurt to lose a core team player like Cunningham, but the Rams do have young backs on the roster such as Malcolm Brown and Aaron Green. In free agency, another Washington play to keep an eye on in this spot would be Chris Thompson, he made his money catching the football on third down and moving the chains for Sean McVay in 2016. A player of a similar mold, also without a team, is former Charger Danny Woodhead.