With the non-exclusive tag, other teams may negotiate with Johnson. But if any other team were to strike a deal with the cornerback, it would owe Los Angeles two first-round picks as compensation.
In other words, even with the non-exclusive tag, the cost is extremely prohibitive for the other 31 NFL teams.
On Thursday, general manager Les Snead addressed the media at the NFL Combine and explained the team’s thinking on utilizing the franchise tag for Johnson in consecutive years.
“The thinking for Trumaine started last year, when we had two [free agent] corners,” Snead said. “After the 2015 season Trumaine — in terms of looking at the corner position since 2012 when he was drafted — he ranked second in interceptions. After last season, he ranks fifth.
Of course, the Rams have a new coaching staff, and that affects the scheme in which Johnson will be playing. While most of the talk surrounding defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been about the transition to a 3-4 defense, Snead said part of the rationale for using the franchise tag again was to give the new staff time to get to know Johnson on the field through the offseason program.
“We change coordinators going to Wade Phillips, but we know this: Wade values corners,” Snead said. “So I think what we're going to do with Trumaine is, because everyone is new, we need to work together, live together, see if we all fit. Does Tru fit Wade, does Wade fit Tru? Because it's obvious by the tag number and what corners get paid — it’s a heavy investment and you want to be right.”
“We want to proceed with caution before we go long term,” Snead later added. “And we communicated this with Tru and I think everybody’s on the same page.”
But just because the Rams have placed the franchise tag on Johnson doesn’t mean he’ll play under it for the entire season. Snead said the Rams will have a window to get a deal done between the end of the offseason program and the July 15 deadline.
“That’s the next dot on the timeline,” Snead said. “And what we said is let’s get through the OTA period, and at that point we can sit down and see if we have enough data to move forward. If not, we’ll move into the season.
“We still have time to get things done,” Snead added, “but we need to hit the grass and make sure that we’re syncing up.”