The Los Angeles Rams sit in a quandary that must be answered within the next 11 days.
General manager Les Snead might have to decide whether to franchise tag receiver Sammy Watkins or safety Lamarcus Joyner before the March 6 deadline unless he can come to a contract agreement with one.
It's previously been speculated that the Rams were considering tagging Watkins. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo pumped the brakes hard on that thought, reporting Thursday on Up To The Minute Live that L.A. is leaning toward doing the inverse if it comes down to it.
"I don't know about that," an enthusiastic Garafolo said of tagging Watkins. "Hold onto that one. Because based on conversations that I've had with those involved and around the situation, I'm getting the sense that the Rams are looking at Lamarcus Joyner, their safety, as a priority, and he might be the one that winds up getting the tag."
Garafolo pointed out the Kansas City Chiefs were in a similar situation in 2013. K.C. wanted to keep both receiver Dwayne Bowe and offensive tackle Branden Albert. The Chiefs worked out a (regrettable in hindsight) long-term deal with Bowe, which freed up the franchise tag for Albert.
In an ideal world, the Rams would do likewise, inking either Watkins or Joyner to a long-term pact before the tag deadline, freeing up the tag for the other.
Absent a deal coming to fruition soon, the Rams will lean toward keeping the versatile safety.
The decision to prioritize Joyner over Watkins makes the most football sense. Joyner is a key chess piece in Wade Phillips' defense. The 27-year old moved to safety in 2017, thriving in that role. His ability to drop down and play slot corner, where he spent his first three seasons, makes the 5-foot-8 defender a commodity in today's NFL.
With the Rams finalizing a trade agreement to acquire former All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, it appears Trumaine Johnson's time in the Los Angeles secondary is over. Keeping Joyner in the secondary over the likes of a receiver who earned just 593 yards seems like a no-brainer from an on-field perspective.
We've seen many times in the past, however, that not all decisions are made in a football-related vacuum (even within the Rams own organization -- see Tavon Austin's contract). L.A. sunk a lot into acquiring Sammy Watkins, giving up a second-round pick and corner E.J. Gaines. Watkins finished the regular season as the Rams No. 4 receiving option and tallied just 39 receptions. However, the prevailing thought in keeping the wideout has been that after a year and a full offseason, Watkins and QB Jared Goff could find a better rapport moving forward.
Is Watkins worth a $16 million franchise tag to find out?
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport said Watkins would have a "legit market from teams who view him as a No. 1 receiver," noting the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears as possible destinations if Watkins makes it to free agency.