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Rams place tag Lamarcus Joyner; Watkins set to be FA

The Los Angeles Rams made a move with their franchise tag.

The team announced Tuesday it placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner.

The safety tag number sits at $11.29 million for one season. Sides have until July 16 to hammer out a potential multi-year deal.

The expectation for weeks had been that the Rams prioritized franchising Joyner over free-agent-to-be Sammy Watkins. L.A. had hoped to get a long-term deal done with one in advance of Tuesday's tag deadline to free the tender for the other, but a pact couldn't be struck in time.

The decision to prioritize Joyner over Watkins makes the most on-field 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.

Keeping Joyner, coupled with the pending trade for corner Marcus Peters, provides the Rams' secondary with proven playmakers at both safety and corner. L.A. is expected to let Trumaine Johnson walk in free agency.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the Rams will be aggressive in trying to keep Watkins in L.A. The Rams traded a second-round pick and corner E.J. Gaines for Watkins last offseason. He spent the year as the team's third most productive wideout, behind Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, corralling 39 passes for 593 yards, and eight touchdowns. The Rams insisted keeping Watkins is a priority, and believe a full offseason in Sean McVay's offense would unlock his potential.

Such a move will be more difficult, however, after using the franchise tag on Joyner. Watkins will hit the open market on March 14. With plenty of teams -- Chicago, San Francisco, Carolina, etc. -- needing receivers, and Watkins still owning enticing traits, the wideout could be primed to cash in during free agency.

The non-exclusive version of the franchise tag allows Joyner to negotiate and potentially sign a deal with another team in exchange for two first-round picks -- a move highly unlikely to happen.

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