Arguably, the most surprising development for the Los Angeles Rams this season has been the play of the offensive line. The first 10 weeks of the season showed the Rams as an inconsistent team with no real identity and a true lack of competent play along the offensive line. Most of which was the same unit that was the strong point in 2018, helping lead the team to a Super Bowl berth.
This season obviously brought some changes as LG Rodger Saffold departed in free agency — joining the Tennessee Titans on a lucrative deal — and C John Sullivan being cut and taking time away from football — potentially retiring.
The replacements — LG Joe Noteboom and C Brian Allen — were subpar on their best days and downright awful on their worst. The dropoff in play was largely expected, but the surprise was the true regression between RG Austin Blythe and RT Rob Havenstein. Blythe entered the season as a full-time starter in 2018 and impressed throughout, but the tail end of the year showed some deficiencies in his game which ultimately led to inconsistent performances. One of the main stables of consistency and great play was Havenstein, who took arguably the biggest step back in 2019 as his 2018 season was borderline pro bowl level.
Big Hav was signed to a four-year $32.5m contract extension in 2018, immediately rewarding the Rams with a dominant season. His regression leads to many possible outcomes, particularly due to the play of third-round rookie RT Bobby Evans. Evans stepped in as a starter in Week 11 due to Hav being inactive by way of injury. Over the past four weeks, Evans has played incredibly solid, though he has received plenty of help admittedly. Regardless, some of the assignments drawn over the past few weeks included players like Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Matt Judon, Chandler Jones, and Jadeveon Clowney.
The improvement in play and shift in offensive line ultimately saved the Rams’ season as they immediately flipped the light switch on the back of the new offensive line. Since starting the new five-man combo, the Rams are 3-1 with only one blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The offense looks to be as strong as it has been all season, resembling the 2018 version at times.
Starting 2019 OL:
LT Andrew Whitworth
LG Joe Noteboom
C Brian Allen
RG Austin Blythe
RT Rob Havenstein
LT Andrew Whitworth
LG Austin Corbett
C Austin Blythe
RG David Edwards
RT Bobby Evans
Which begs the question: Will Havenstein get his job back this year when his health permits him to return?
Who knows. With how the offense — and Evans — is performing, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense as of right now. And if the Rams do allow Evans to continue to play at right tackle for the remainder of the season, plenty of questions arise about Havenstein’s future as a Ram.
Looking at Havenstein’s contract, the Rams should have essentially no issues trading him, if they choose to do so:
The dead money would only account for $2.4m and the savings would amount to $5.4m. For a team that’s cash-strapped heading into the 2020 offseason with a ton of free agents to re-sign, that savings figure would be significant. Not only that, but offensive lineman are a premium in the NFL. There aren’t many right tackles in the league as talented as Havenstein, which means the Rams could ultimately net a pretty decent return for a 27-year old tackle with plenty of experience on a good deal for three more years.
The one lineman who is relatively similar — albeit better — in terms of skill set that was traded relatively recently was former Houston Texans LT Duane Brown. Brown was traded to the Seahawks in mid-2017 during a six-game holdout, going for a CB, a 2018 fifth-round pick, and a 2019 second-round pick.
It’s tough to gauge exactly how much Havenstein could return. The positives are his age (27), his experience (68 games), his contract ($8.125M APY), and his play. With how strapped the league is for offensive lineman, the Rams could realistically recoup a third or fourth-round pick for Havenstein, if they choose to do so.
So that begs the question, should the Rams explore trading Havenstein in the offseason?
Well, it depends on how Evans performs for the remainder of the season, but the early signs show the rookie may not give the Rams any choice as his play suggests he’s not looking to relinquish the starting job.
One thing to note, Whitworth and Blythe are both scheduled to hit free agency, and that could ultimately play a role in how the Rams attempt to address the Havenstein situation. It would be uncanny for a team to lose all five starting offensive lineman in a two-year span, though the synergy between rookies Edwards and Evans on the right side has given the Rams new life and has ultimately allowed their offense to regroup and get back on track.
Looking forward into the offseason, the status of Havenstein will be one of the bigger talking points and interesting stories. What the Rams choose to do will likely be decided over the next three games (and potentially more barring a playoff entrance).