The Los Angeles Rams are one of the great early stories of the 2017 NFL season as the league's highest-scoring team, a shocking but pleasant surprise.
Less talked about is their defense, which has had some dicey moments to this point and remains an area that needs improvement. The whole operation is still coming together under new coordinator Wade Phillips and there is a belief that things could tighten up based on the talent they have.
One player off to an uneven start is cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who is currently playing this season on the $16.7 million tender he signed in the offseason when the team shackled him with the franchise tag. Phillips is believed to have campaigned for keeping Johnson in the fold as he implemented his new pressure-heavy scheme.
The Rams have played a lot of man defense on the back end this season, and Johnson is considered a good press-man corner. But his play has been noticeably inconsistent — strong one minute, but less so the next.
Johnson stood tall in Week 1, being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week with an interception (and 39-yard return) and a forced fumble and recovery. But he struggled to contain San Francisco's Pierre Garcon in Week 3 and had a few lapses against the Dallas Cowboys, who seemed to want to go after him. It has been an uneven start to the season for Johnson, and that leaves his future with the team in some doubt.
The Rams made Johnson a captain prior to the season and would appear to want him back — after all, they're asking a lot of him in covering top receivers every week. But getting Johnson at the right price next year is going to be the key here. It's very likely that the price could be too high for a player who has been largely up and down throughout his career, which is a bit alarming for one who turns 28 in January.
The guess here, right now? Johnson will hit the open market and likely be offered more elsewhere. Whether he returns or not might depend on how small that gap is between the Rams' eventual offer and what some other team might pay.
The 2018 cornerback market in free agency will be interesting. Older options such as Vontae Davis, Johnathan Joseph and Prince Amukamara will be out there, and it bears watching what happens with New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler, who could a top target in some teams' minds if he's allowed to walk.
But Johnson could be attractive enough to the right team and the right scheme, so even continued uneven play might not damper his price. That could push the Rams — who also must pay Aaron Donald at some point — out of the Johnson market.