The Los Angeles Rams might have the worst offensive line in the NFL. Part of that is attributed to injuries, but the more important aspect of criticism is “Which players did the Rams choose in the offseason to be starters and reserves?”
L.A. knew that Andrew Whitworth had retired and that they weren’t going to pay to keep Austin Corbett at right guard. The Rams responded by giving Joe Noteboom a three-year, $40 million contract with $16.5 million fully guaranteed, drafting guard Logan Bruss with their first pick (104th overall), and essentially continuing to do what they had been doing to replace guards and centers in the past:
“Well, at least one of these journeymen or backups will figure it out.”
In this case, it would be Coleman Shelton replacing Corbett, and Brian Allen returning to man center on a three-year, $18 million contract.
Now 10 weeks into the season, having lost Noteboom for the year, Allen for five games, and Shelton for four games, it’s worth asking if the Rams could have taken a different approach with the offensive line in the offseason.
With Shelton back, here’s what the Rams’ starting offensive line should look like:— Rams Brothers (@RamsBrothers) November 9, 2022
LT Jackson, LG Shelton, C Allen, RG Brewer, RT Havenstein
Left Tackle - Was Noteboom the best option?
Fearful of losing a player who they had been coaching up and developing for four years, the Rams gave Noteboom a contract that only has a $3.5 million cap hit in 2022, but then that goes up to $15.5 million in 2023. With a $5 million 2023 roster bonus and $5 million in guaranteed salary, the Rams have a big decision to make on Noteboom next year: He gets another $8.5 million in injury guarantees if he’s on the roster on the fifth day of the league year.
Pretty big question mark for a player with a long injury history who is out for the season.
The Rams made this pact with Noteboom even though he had 17 career starts and only 11 of those came at tackle. He was the 89th overall pick, not the eighth overall pick. And then when Noteboom was out there for six weeks, he seemed to be one of the worst performing left tackles in the NFL.
Highest pressure rate allowed with screens, RPOs and play-action removed, per PFF:— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) October 12, 2022
1. Joseph Noteboom (13%)
2. Matt Pryor (12%)
3. Rob Havenstein (10%)
With former backup A.J. Jackson outplaying him thus far, Noteboom could be off of the Rams roster less than a year after making him the highest free agent priority.
Before we get into “Which other tackles could the Rams have added?” let’s not forget the most simple solution: Did Sean McVay have no idea that Jackson was a better offensive line “prospect” than Noteboom?
By comparison, the 49ers (Trent Williams), Seahawks (Charles Cross), and Cardinals (D.J. Humphries) all look to be ahead of the Rams at one of the game’s most important positions.
Alternate Reality: Terron Armstead
In the offseason, the Dolphins signed Armstead to a five-year, $75 million contract. The Dolphins have one of the top performing offenses in the NFL now. Is that a 1:1 reason for their success? No. But Armstead had a history of being a top-three left tackle and even though he has also missed a lot of time in his career, Noteboom wasn’t the picture of health either.
By comparison of pay, Armstead got more total and guaranteed money. He has a $4 million cap hit in 2022 and a $20.4 million hit in 2023. But those are SMALL differences in the grand scheme of things as compared to what Noteboom has been paid and not only could L.A. afford it, they also could have sold Armstead on the fact that the Rams... Just won the Super Bowl.
I know that it can be in bad form to grade team decisions with hindsight, but let’s consider two things: We know that the Rams go out and get big name players, so competing to sign Armstead is not ridiculous for L.A., if anyone could have done it, it’s Les Snead. They also had the money to make it work, even it meant assuming the risk of Armstead’s injury history.
The other alternate reality is that the Rams are champing at the bit to start their stud undrafted free agent find of 2021, Jackson, and spend that free agent money on Von Miller instead of Joe Noteboom or Terron Armstead.
Center - Why no alternative options?
The most criticized McVay decision of 2021, prior to the season, was penciling in Brian Allen as the team’s starting center without even holding a competition. Allen responded by playing well enough (Pro Bowl alternate) to not be the disaster that fans expected and then he got a new three-year contract in the offseason.
That’s completely understandable. Allen makes less than $2 million this year and only $6.8 million if he sticks on the roster in 2023. L.A. can also get out of the contract with some savings if they choose to move on, which I don’t think that they will.
But given how many bad draft picks that the Rams have made of late, couldn’t they have at least spent ONE on a center? L.A. picked Allen in the fourth round of the 2018 draft and that is the last time they’ve gone anywhere near the center position. Out of 35 selections in the last four years.
Alternate Reality: Draft a Center
The great Creed Humphrey debate may never subside. But even if it wasn’t Humphrey, why couldn’t Snead tab at least one more offensive lineman in the draft? Since 2019, the Rams have used five picks on offensive linemen (Bobby Evans, David Edwards, Tremayne Anchrum, Logan Bruss, A.J. Arcuri) and two of three picked since 2020 have been seventh rounders.
The Rams have been asking Jeremiah Kolone to fill in for Allen, but McVay and Snead should have had better options. Not only in case of injury but also to create an opportunity to let Allen leave in free agency.
Alternate Reality: Keep Austin Blythe
It’s worth noting that Blythe got almost no interest in 2021, spending the season as a Kansas City backup, but now he’s starting for the 6-3 Seahawks and former Rams offensive assistants Shane Waldron, Andy Dickerson. Blythe is on a one-year, $4 million deal.
Right Guard - Can Rams afford to keep being this cheap?
When it comes to quarterback, head coach, GM, wide receiver, superstar cornerbacks, and Aaron Donald, the Rams are NOT cheap. When it comes to the interior of the offensive line, McVay’s been satisfied with anyone who weighs over 300 lbs and has reliable transportation to and from SoFi Stadium.
The thing about Corbett is that he was a high draft pick. Even if the Browns gave up on him after one year, Cleveland still used the 33rd overall pick on Corbett and that’s about as high as any guard usually goes in the draft. Corbett’s ability to go from a reserve on the Browns to an immediate starter on the Rams was not out of thin air.
He spent 34 games at right guard from 2020-2021, and another six in the playoffs, going relatively unhitched. Split hairs on his value if you must, Corbett is a GOOD player who just happened to come cheap because the Browns are a STUPID franchise.
The Rams treated right guard the same as they’ve treated center and left guard: “Well, someone on the team can fill this role, we don’t need anyone special.” It turned out that David Edwards was a good enough option at left guard, but remember that he would lose competitions to Noteboom before injuries let him back in. Allen was a bad center who became a passable center with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback.
Maybe Corbett deserved more respect than he got.
Alternate Reality: Re-sign Austin Corbett instead of Noteboom or Allen
Corbett got a three-year, $26.25 million contract from the Carolina Panthers and he’s been one of the best players on a terrible team. Did I advocate for Corbett as being super underrated and a Pro Bowl snub who should have been re-signed?
We all get lucky sometimes.
Top-graded Panthers so far this season:— PFF CAR Panthers (@PFF_Panthers) November 9, 2022
1. Derrick Brown - 89.0
2. Austin Corbett - 76.0
3. Brian Burns - 71.0 pic.twitter.com/RXCjxwytJM
The Rams could have given all of Noteboom’s money to Corbett. They could have given the Allen money to Corbett and borrowed a little from, ya know, not signing Allen Robinson.
Instead, the Rams went to Shelton, a player who came into 2022 with two career starts, both at center. McVay expected to be able to turn Shelton into another Allen or Corbett or Edwards success story, but instead he’s missed half of the season already. Maybe L.A. would be getting by just fine at right guard if Shelton hadn’t been hurt, maybe the value difference is nominal, but we’d have one less thing to worry about if Corbett was given the same respect as Allen and Noteboom.
He had certainly done more to earn it.
Alternate Reality Offensive Line
Yes, it would be fair to say that it is too easy for me to sit here today and think, “Wow, the Rams could have had an Armstead-Edwards-Allen-Corbett-Havenstein offensive line,” if not “Armstead-Edwards-Humphrey-Corbett-Havenstein” if they had been REALLY lucky and smart.
I get so many benefits to be able to sit here and talk out of my ass about what “could have been.”
But let’s be real here. Austin Corbett was already in the building, that’s not a far stretch to say that L.A. let him walk away when they didn’t need to do that. It’s not “out of my ass” to say that the Rams had four years to evaluate Noteboom and that they should have probably re-considered the decision to peg him as Whitworth’s heir apparent, especially knowing that they had all those practices to see who their best options would be. And it’s hardly bullshit to say that if the Rams wanted the best left tackle on the market—just as they did in 2017 with Whitworth—they had the power to lure him in.
And it’s perfectly fine to say that the L.A. Rams have mishandled the draft, especially as it pertains to underrating the importance of the offensive line.
Yes. The Rams won the Super Bowl with their offensive line decisions in 2021. That included a future Hall of Fame left tackle who they paid in free agency, a borderline first round pick who they obtained via steal at guard, and a second round pick at right tackle who is one of the best at his position in the league. So why did the Rams get too cute this time around?
It may cost them much more than whatever they would have had to pay for better help.