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Why the Rams brought in competition for Johnny Hekker

LA has had a complete overhaul on special teams except for one player

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Los Angeles Rams at Green Bay Packers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Hekker could be the best punter in the world — and at times over the last nine years that has been undeniable — but that would also confirm the one thing that holds him back from indefinite job security: the fact that he is a punter. And when you’re the highest-paid punter in the NFL by nearly any measure, you also accept that the expectations outpace every other player at the position.

Last season, Hekker was not the premier punter in the NFL and that makes his $4.937 million salary in 2021 — $1,480,462 more than second place Michael Dickson — the subject of cap casualty conversations.

However, Hekker managed to sidestep those talks for the last two months in spite of the Rams’ salary cap concerns headed into free agency because LA hadn’t made any significant moves to make us believe that they were considering a change at the position. That changed on Tuesday when the Rams signed Corey Bojorquez, a punter who has earned the right to be called more than simply a camp body meant to spell Hekker for breaks.

Bojorquez, 24, led the NFL with a 50.8 yard average in 2020 as a member of the Bills, though Buffalo opted to let him leave as a restricted free agent rather than offer him an original round tender. The Bills instead decided to go with free agent Matt Haack, a consistent four-year veteran with the Miami Dolphins.

The signing of Bojorquez also potentially signals the end of what was once one of the greatest special teams units of all-time: coordinator John Fassel, kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker, and longsnapper Jake McQuaide. Three of four are now with the Dallas Cowboys, and perhaps Hekker even wants an opportunity to join them.

The Cowboys currently employ former third round disappointment Bryan Anger (selected the same year that Hekker went undrafted) and a player named Hunter Niswander. If the Rams elected to have a competition or outright release Hekker, saving $2.6 million if done today or $3.75 million if done with a post-June 1 designation, there’s little blocking him from a reunion with Fassel and Zuerlein.

In LA, Sean McVay might see the writing on the wall that after Hekker’s career-low 45.6 average and a forgettable special teams season that already saw the team make a change at special teams coordinator, it was the right time to add a little cap space in preparation for talking to veteran free agents — including notable needs at center and cornerback — after the draft.

Or it could just be that the Rams wanted to simply have the option of looking at another punter and have optimism that no change will be necessary, leaving Hekker — a four-time all-pro and potential Hall of Famer if he managed to keep his career going for another 15 years — with the team for next season and beyond. Hekker still has three years remaining on his current contract.