The Sean Smith Effect: Is Cornerback Trumaine Johnson Worth Five Years and $68 Million?

Sequoia Sims
Feb 28, 2018 at 9:16 PM


Recently, the Los Angeles Rams traded for former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, making their own cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who's a pending free agent, expendable. I'm asking the question: Is cornerback Trumaine Johnson worth five years and $68 million?


First and foremost ladies and gentlemen, Johnson's market value estimates at five years and $68,336,135, per Spotrac.com, which breaks down to the top four or five salaries of his professional peers, (annual salary of $13.6 million).

Johnson, over the last two years, has been franchise tagged a whopping $30 million in value. According to Overthecap.com, the 49ers have $ 68,989,382 in cap space.

However, that number doesn't reflect the new two-year contract extension (worth a reported $8 million) that was signed by offensive linemen Garry Gilliam.

And it's been reported the 49ers are in discussions with running back Carlos Hyde's agent on a potential contract extension, according to Matt Maiocco).

Should the 49ers overpay for Johnson's services because they have the cap space? Hold that thought.

Recently on Niners Live, I provided the top three cornerbacks that the 49ers should strongly consider in free agency (Chicago Bears' cornerback Kyle Fuller was one of those choices).

Johnson wasn't on that list, and there are several reasons why he wasn't. I'll break down Johnson's resume, what he brings to the table and why he isn't worth the money his market value would suggest from an objective perspective, of course.

Johnson's career resume at a glance


In his six seasons; Johnson has appeared in 85 games, starting 62 of those contests while accounting for 327 combined tackles, 67 passes defended, two forced fumbles, 18 interceptions (seven in 2015, two in 2017), and three returned for touchdowns.

Note: In the last three years, Johnson was targeted 266 times, surrendering 159 catches at a catching rate of 59.8 percent, allowed 1,941 receiving yards, six touchdowns, and a passer rating of 74.2.

What Johnson brings to the table


According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson was one of six cornerbacks who didn't allow a single score in at least 300 coverage snaps in 2017. And Bleacher Report ranked him 15th among all cornerbacks this past season, which is high praise.

The Rams finished in the top half of the NFL in terms of pass defense in 2017, ranking 13th in yards allowed (3,475).

The Rams were one of the best ball-hawking teams in the NFL, finishing with the fifth-lowest passer rating (78.4) against and the sixth-most interceptions (18).

By comparison, the 49ers had 10 interceptions and allowed a passer rating of 93.9). For the biggest culprit, see 49ers' cornerback Dontae Johnson.

Trumaine Johnson deserves some credit for contributing to his team's defensive statistics and success. And it should be called out that he would fit the 49ers' 4-3 under defense led by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. But at what cost?

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' aggressive defense, which utilized more press-man and less zone, suits the skill set of Johnson who is a big and physical press coverage cornerback that stands at 6'2 and 205 lbs.

His strengths are his physicality, strong hands, efficient tackling (77.5 PFF run defense, tied for 40th among cornerbacks), mental and physical toughness and a high football I.Q.

Is cornerback Trumaine Johnson worth five years and $68 million?


Trumaine Johnson has never made the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team. He finished 2017 as Pro Football Focus' 68th-ranked qualifying cornerback posting a 74.2 overall grade. Johnson allowed a passer rating of 79.8 last season. He's also lost a step in the foot speed department (Stockton, California native).

At 28 years old he was dominated in week three by 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garcon who has a combination of power and speed. Garcon had seven catches for 142 yards while averaging 20.3 yards per catch when exclusively matched up against Johnson.

Shortly after, Phillips decided to move Johnson to more favorable matchups against bigger and slower footed receivers and tight ends.

The Sean Smith effect


The 49ers have been in this position before. How so? You may remember the 49ers had a reported interest a few years back in former Kansas City Chiefs and current Oakland Raiders cornerback Sean Smith (signed for four years and $40 million) who stands at 6' 3' and 220lbs, and is similar in stature to Johnson.

Smith (also a California native) is now 30 years young and signed a four-year contract in 2016 when he was 28 years old. Smith not only has comparisons to Johnson in age at the time of his contract signing, but also in production (PFF overall grade of 73.1), size, and style of play.

Recent Niners Live article alerts: Why the 49ers need an Upgrade over Offensive Linemen Brandon Fusco, and Why CB Aaron Colvin Might not be as Good as you Think, from a different perspective, of course.

His contract was signed when his best days were already behind him (two interceptions in 2015 to Johnson's two in 2017). But wait, there's more. Smith, like Johnson, has never made a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team.

Smith has been bench several times (lack of foot speed) for consistently getting beat deep and has never lived up to his contract since signing with the Raiders.

In the end, the 49ers, much like they did in 2016 (see Sean Smith) can't get into a bidding war for Johnson's services, nor should they sign a cornerback that may have only two years left playing at a solid NFL starting caliber level to elite-level money.

The Raiders plan to make Johnson a high priority in free agency as recently reported. To Be Continued.....

Sequoia Sims: Founder of Niners Live, Content Creator, player breakdown specialist, and Senior Author. The home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, and different perspective, of course.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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