In December 2014 as the Rams, then at 5-7, trudged toward yet another disappointing finishing record, P Johnny Hekker re-signed. He re-upped all the way up.
Hekker signed a 6-year deal that offered the most guaranteed money to any punter (or kicker for that matter) ever accompanied by a playful press release that touted the Rams’ ability to keep hold of the “NFL’s completion percentage leader.”
Now there’s no doubting Hekker’s skill as a punter. He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice (2013 and 2015) in his four-year career. But much of the criticism levied at the deal at the time asked why the Rams would commit so much money with existing roster holes and upcoming ones of much more importance (I would argue many of those critics misunderstand to what degree Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher values special teams in Fisherball, elevating Hekker’s value to the Rams).
The question is whether Johnny Hekker is too good for his own good. Or put more accurately, if he’s too good for his team’s own good.
Chances of Making the Final Roster (10/10)
We’ve seen instances like this before. Sebastian Janikowski. Martin Gramatica. Roberto Aguayo. It’s rarer to see it from punters, especially if those punters are on teams with sufficient offense to lessen the reliance on punters with big legs and top accuracy.
The Rams aren’t one of those teams.
Their inability to move the ball with consistency since Hekker became a Ram has provided him the opportunity to boom away on fourth downs as well as offer him the occasional starring role in fakes and other trick plays.
If rookie franchise QB Jared Goff is the savior Rams fans are hoping he is, Hekker’s opportunities to show off his Pro Bowl-level skills will decrease dramatically. If Hekker remains a star, it means the Rams are stuck in neutral.
Punters are people too. But they’re vital components of your roster only when your team isn’t good enough.
And that sucks, because Johnny Hekker is a very, very, very good punter.