Jeff Fisher: Rams were 'closer than people think' to keeping Janoris Jenkins

Keeping Janoris Jenkins was a priority for the Rams, but ultimately the price got too high. "I was disappointed. ... I expected that we were going to get things worked out," says coach Jeff Fisher. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Before free agency even began, the Los Angeles Rams made it abundantly clear that keeping their own key free agents was going to be the top priority. At the NFL scouting combine in February, coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead took it a step further and pointed to the retention of their secondary as the primary focus.

That meant the Rams were intent on keeping cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins as well as safeties Rodney McLeod and Mark Barron. It was an arduous task, to be sure, but one that the Rams didn't believe to be impossible.

Realistically, the Rams knew that they might lose one of those players but didn't expect that two would eventually depart. When all was said and done, though, the Rams watched Jenkins head to the New York Giants and McLeod land with the Philadelphia Eagles as both players scored lucrative long-term contracts with a combined $45.8 million in guarantees.

In McLeod's case, the negotiations eventually went to a price the Rams were uncomfortable paying so they couldn't have been surprised when he decided to leave. But things were a bit different for Jenkins, according to Fisher.

"We were a lot closer than people think," Fisher said. "I was disappointed. I thought we were, I thought we’d get, he really wanted to come back. I spoke to him several times during the process and prior to the process. I expected that we were going to get things worked out."

The Rams and Jenkins had been working on a potential extension for over a year, with the Rams offering up to around $8 million annually last preseason. Jenkins cut off those conversations at the week 6 bye, saying he wanted to focus on football. Talks resumed in earnest late in the season as the Rams hoped to get a deal done with Jenkins before free agency so they could still use the franchise tag on Johnson, thus locking up both starting corners.

Despite reports of the Rams upping their offer, it simply wasn't enough to prevent Jenkins from wanting to test the market. All along, Jenkins and his camp were aiming to start the bidding in the range of the $10.5 million annual salary cornerback Byron Maxwell got from Philadelphia in 2015. After a last-minute agent change, Jenkins had no shortage of suitors when the league opened its negotiating window a couple of days before free agency started.

Even as the new league year opened, the Rams stayed in the mix.

"And then the money did take off," Fisher said. "The market was there. But we were a lot closer than people think. So I was disappointed to see him go. But you know this is the first time since we’ve been here or we’ve had to deal with unrestricted free agency because we drafted them four years ago and we developed them. Try and keep them all, you can’t. The staff did a great job, especially developing the defensive backs."

Ultimately, Jenkins landed a five-year, $62.5 million deal -- a $12.5 million annual average that places him among the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. Apparently, the Rams were willing to consider doing something similar but, in the game of free agency, there's no prize for second place.