The Rams were owners of the league’s top-rated defense during the 2020-21 season, and not by accident. Their former Defensive Coordinator and now Chargers head coach Brandon Staley had a lot to do with it, but he wasn’t the one producing on the field.
Multiple Rams had career years, and there was no better example of this than John Johnson. Johnson, although not formally recognized by the NFL, had himself a Pro Bowl worthy season. After only playing in 6 games in 2019, Johnson appeared in all 16 regular-season games for LA this year while leading the team with 105 tackles.
While injuries rattled the team’s secondary, Johnson was the one constant presence. His productivity helped lead the Rams’ defense, but it is unlikely that he will return in 2021. The 4-year safety is a free agent, and he will likely test the market after such an impressive year. And with the limited financial flexibility that the Rams have, a reunion seems all but impossible. Johnson is likely to require a significant pay raise, somewhere around the $13-14 million annual value mark, and this just isn’t something that Los Angeles will be able to give him.
Assuming that a split ends up happening, the Rams will still have plenty of talent at the safety position. Between Terrell Burgess, Jordan Fuller, and Taylor Rapp, there is plenty of reasons to believe that they will be able to handle an increased workload next season.
Burgess, in particular, should see an increase in playing time if the team doesn’t bring in another veteran safety. After being selected by the Rams in the third round of last year’s NFL Draft, the hope was that he would see a decent amount of snaps in his rookie year. Unfortunately, a broken ankle limited him to 7 games this past year, but he impressed enough to garner serious consideration as a replacement for Johnson heading into his second year.
There will be plenty of moving parts for the Rams this offseason, as multiple players are set to test the free agency market. Burgess, however, may make the potential loss of John Johnson a little less painful.