IRVINE, Calif. -- Trumaine Johnson uttered the same phrase six times in a span of four minutes: "I'm here to win games."
Underneath that, however, was a layer of unmistakable dissatisfaction.
Johnson wanted a long-term contract but never received one. His consolation prize is a good one -- Johnson will make $16.74 million under his second consecutive franchise tag, more than anybody else at his position in 2017 -- but the Los Angeles Rams cornerback also presumes he will be somewhere else next summer.
"I wanted it; I wanted it big-time," Johnson said of an extension after Saturday's first practice. "I believe the Rams are going in a different direction at the end of the season. It’s out of my control. I’m here. I’m still putting my jersey on. I’m lacing up my cleats. I’m happy. I’m here to win games, and I’m going to help this team to win games."
When the Rams first slapped the franchise tag on Johnson in March, they said they first wanted to see if Johnson was a fit under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before negotiating an extension later in the summer. They either didn't like the fit or, more likely, weren't willing to pay Johnson near the level of some of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, which would've probably required something in the range of what Stephon Gilmore received from the Patriots (five years, $65 million, with $40 million guaranteed).
"I’m here," Johnson said. "I’m still playing football. I’m still lacing up my cleats. I’m still putting that '22' jersey on. I’m blessed. I’m here to win games. That’s my goal. ... I’m here to win games. I’m not worried about after this season. I’m here right now, and my focus is on winning games."
Johnson answered every question -- and every heckler -- with a smile on a bright afternoon at UC Irvine. At one point on the first day of training camp, a fan yelled something to Johnson about earning his money. The 27-year-old came over and offered a handshake. Afterward, he signed autographs.
The Rams are set up to have nearly $40 million in salary-cap space next year -- without even accounting for the likelihood of a cap increase -- but didn't want to set aside enough room for their primary cornerback. Aaron Donald, who's holding out while hoping for a restructured contract, is the focus right now. So are inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, both of whom are heading into the final year of their contracts. Ideally, the Rams would agree to extensions with all three of them before the end of training camp.
"It’ll get done when it gets done," Ogletree said of his deal. "I have an agent who handles all that. I’m here to work; I’m still under contract. I’m going to abide by that, and we’ll see where it goes."
Johnson racked up 13 interceptions from 2013 to 2015, fourth-most in the NFL during that time. But that was as the No. 2 cornerback behind Janoris Jenkins, who eventually left for the Giants. Johnson's interceptions dropped to one in his first year as the primary corner last season, and Pro Football Focus graded him 25th among 109 at his position. Not bad, but not elite. And to the Rams, not worthy of a major contract.
Johnson was asked if he's looking forward to testing the open market next spring, and he went back to his new catchphrase.
"I’m here," he said, pausing, "to win games. When that time comes, at the end of the season, I’m going to take care of it. Right now, I’m with the Rams. I’m an L.A. Ram."