The NFL’s free agency period is nearing the horizon, and the Los Angeles Rams are likely to have a shakeup on their offensive line.
The Rams simply cannot afford to continue losing productive veteran offensive lineman to free agency. Dating back to last year’s offseason, the Rams elected to move on from LG Rodger Saffold and C John Sullivan. Their replacements did not pan out, and ironically, both LG Joseph Noteboom and C Brian Allen ended their seasons on injured reserve with major injuries.
Now, both LT Andrew Whitworth and iOL Austin Blythe are slated to reach free agency only one season after the Rams already parted ways with two veteran offensive lineman. Whitworth is nearing the end of his career as a 38-year-old, but still graded out as the Rams’ best offensive lineman in 2019, regardless of the high penalty count he accrued through the season.
Blythe — a former seventh-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts — has appeared in 47 games (32 as a starter) for the Rams in the past three seasons. Blythe has experience at all three interior offensive line spots, and has performed relatively well at all of them, though his play has been more inconsistent than warranted for a 27-year-old veteran.
The Rams are tasked with some tough decisions heading into this free agency period, particularly along the offensive line. General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay experienced first-hand how a lackluster offensive line can handicap an offense, ultimately losing a season in 2019 in which the Rams missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record after appearing in the Super Bowl just months prior.
The Rams could elect to move on from Whitworth or Blythe, or could look to add another veteran presence along a offensive line that could use the help. After getting a chance to look at the 2020 OL free agency class, here are the most notable options for the Rams:
Indianapolis Colts LT Anthony Castonzo
Castonzo is one of the premier offensive line options in this free agent class. The 31-year-old blindside protector has started 132 career games, all for the Colts. Castonzo is actually mulling retirement and has stated that he could hang the cleats up if a new deal isn’t reached with the Colts, but that shouldn’t stop the Rams from reaching for the phone. Castonzo was flagged only twice this past season and had an 81.3 PFF grade, routinely grading as one of the best pass blockers in football. Castonzo is likely to be an expensive option, somewhere in the range of $14-17m per year, but would represent a homerun addition for any team looking to solidify it’s blindside protector spot with a consistently great player.
New England Patriots LG Joe Thuney
Thuney — a 27-year-old veteran — is entering free agency after starting 16 games in four consecutive seasons. Thuney has yet to miss a game in the NFL, which is an impressive feat for a former third-round draft pick. His 2019 season resulted in a 77.4 PFF grade, another solid season for a consistently good-to-great player. In the past four seasons, Thuney has registered 4,507 snaps, 1,140 of which came in 2019. Surprisingly enough, Thuney was not flagged for a single penalty this past season. Thuney is likely to receive a major contract on the open market, a deal which could very well top Saffold’s 4-year $44m deal with the Tennessee Titans just last year.
Washington Redskins RG Brandon Scherff
A former top-five overall draft pick, Scherff is certain to re-set the guard market this offseason, which likely rules him out of the running for the Rams barring any unforeseen circumstances. Scherff is a three-time pro bowler, even after being flagged nine times this past year. Scherff still registered a solid 75.0 PFF grade, proving just how dominant he is when on the field. McVay has familiarity with Scherff as they overlapped in Washington for two seasons.
Philadelphia Eagles LT Jason Peters
If the Rams elect to move on from Whitworth, they could effectively replace him with another veteran option in the 38-year-old and future Hall-of-Famer in Peters. Peters has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons, but still registered an 81.8 PFF grade, though he was flagged 10 times. Peters is one of the most physically imposing and dominant players in the league, though the Rams would probably be best served to re-sign Whit if they’re looking at a veteran stopgap. Still, the nine-time pro bowler and six-time All-Pro is an option for the Rams.
Washington Redskins LG Ereck Flowers
Flowers is most notable for being one of the bigger busts in recent memory, but a move to left guard may have saved his career as Flowers put together by far his best season as an NFL player. Flowers was flagged only four times this season and registered a 64.2 PFF grade. If the Rams want to fill in the left guard spot with a cheaper veteran alternative, Flowers certainly fits the bill.
Buffalo Bills LG Quinton Spain
Coming off a one-year prove-it deal in Buffalo, Spain is now slated to reach free agency for his second time in as many seasons. A former undrafted player, Spain has overcome the odds and has started in 64 NFL games, registering a 55.4 PFF grade and being flagged only two times this past season. Spain is better suited for a gap-scheme as opposed to a zone-blocking one, but the Rams need to entertain all veteran options as Noteboom proved to be one of the worst guards in football in 2019.