How a zero-time Pro Bowler is about to become one of the NFL's highest paid players

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

A last-ditch contract extension between the Los Angeles Rams and franchise-tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson is not in the works, two sources familiar with negotiations have told Yahoo Sports. Johnson is now expected to hit free agency in 2018 – setting the stage for him to become one of the NFL’s most pursued defensive players on the open market.

NFL teams have until July 17 to sign franchise-tagged players to contract extensions. Following that deadline, teams can’t negotiate with tagged players until after the season’s conclusion. Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are the other two players currently seeking contract extensions under the tag.

Johnson has already signed his second straight franchise tag, guaranteeing him $16.7 million this season. That alone is a rarity, with Charles Woodson representing the last cornerback to sign back-to-back tags, in 2004 and 2005. A third consecutive franchise tag would deliver Johnson the richest of two scenarios in 2018: a 144-percent raise over his 2017 salary (pushing his one-year number to $24.1 million) or the top-five average of the NFL’s highest paid position (quarterback).

As it stands, Johnson’s $16.7 million gives him the highest base salary of any cornerback in the NFL this season – albeit in a one-year scenario. But with NFL contracts continuing to explode for the highest tier players, he’ll be pursuing one of the richest defensive contracts in history next offseason, too.

Trumaine Johnson has never been to a Pro Bowl and never been an All Pro. (AP)

That has created part of the difficulty between Johnson and the Rams. Just from a common-sense starting point in extensions pushed by franchise tags, Johnson’s basement for guaranteed money starts at roughly $41 million – which equates to the guaranteed total of the 2017 and 2018 franchise tags. That guaranteed figure alone would put Johnson in the top-five highest paid cornerbacks in the NFL. That’s staggering for a player who has never earned a Pro Bowl nod in his career, let alone a much more meaningful All Pro designation. But the market drives price tags, and Johnson has something else working in his favor: a fairly weak defensive free agent class next offseason.

Barring an implosion on the field next season, Johnson should be one of the most coveted free agents next offseason – and could very easily be the most pursued defensive player on the market. Thanks in large part to a number of contract extensions that have removed players from the 2018 class, Johnson’s chief competition for a massive cornerback deal will be the New England PatriotsMalcolm Butler, Indianapolis ColtsVontae Davis and Minnesota VikingsXavier Rhodes.

The difference between Johnson and that group? The others could be removed from the 2018 free agent class via a franchise tag without absorbing a $24 million hammer.

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