- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
John Johnson was one of the first draft picks of the Sean McVay era, landing with the Rams as a third-round pick in 2017. Though he wasn’t an immediate starter, it didn’t take him long to become one as a rookie that year.
Since then, he’s only gotten better with each passing year, culminating in arguably the best season of his career in 2020. As a leader in the secondary, he played just about every snap at safety and led the team with 105 tackles.
Johnson will now become a free agent in March and based on the way he’s played, his price might be out of the Rams’ range. He’s set to be paid like one of the top safeties in football and given Los Angeles’ history of not paying homegrown players at that position, it’s unlikely that will change.
A return can’t be completely ruled out, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
8 pass breakups
2 tackles for loss
PFF grade: 85.6
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey get most of the attention on defense for the Rams, but Johnson is right there with them as one of the most important players on the team. While he may not pull down five or six interceptions every year, he provides excellent coverage in the deep middle and deep half of the field. He was everywhere for the Rams in 2020. He was a free safety, strong safety, tight end eraser and at times, almost a third inside linebacker. Johnson is as good as they come as a tackler and in coverage, he’s equally great. There’s truly no weakness to his game, which was abundantly clear this past season. Just take a look at this play, which demonstrates his play recognition, instincts and hitting ability. https://twitter.com/robertmays/status/1349438531601629188 Johnson is going to make any defense he plays for better, with his coverage skills, tackling and leadership. To further prove his value, he also called the defensive plays for the Rams for the first time in 2020, which isn't typically a role that falls on the shoulders of a safety. The Rams almost never took him off the field, either, knowing how important he was as a defender in the secondary.
Positional need: Low
The Rams have been preparing for a potential departure of Johnson for a little while now. They drafted Taylor Rapp two seasons ago, then added Jordan Fuller and Terrell Burgess in the 2020 draft.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
All three of those players will play key roles defensively next season, with Fuller being penciled in as a starter for the second straight year. If Johnson leaves, he will obviously be missed. But the Rams have the depth in place to lessen the pain of losing him. Fuller is a perfect free safety, patrolling the deep middle when the Rams run Cover 3. Rapp fits the mold of a true strong safety, while Burgess has the flexibility to play deep, cover the slot and play in the box. And this is without even mentioning Nick Scott, who played valuable snaps while Fuller and Rapp were out last season. He can contribute, as well.
Prediction: Signs 4-year, $56 million deal elsewhere
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Historically, the Rams have not paid to keep their safeties around long-term. Just look at Lamarcus Joyner, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, none of whom were retained. I don’t think that will change with Johnson, even with as important as he is in the secondary. He’ll find a new home elsewhere, possibly with Brandon Staley and the Chargers, or maybe with the Raiders, who he seemed to hint could be a landing spot in an Instagram Live stream last month. Johnson will be paid like one of the top safeties in the NFL, it just won’t come from the checkbook of the Rams.