There’s no question that the Los Angeles Rams downfall in the 2022 season has been their offensive line. After losing Andrew Whitworth to retirement, the Rams also faced an unprecedented number of injuries.
With that said, the offensive line also didn’t perform well when they did all play together in Week 1. Who knows how that situation would have developed if everyone stayed healthy. However, changes still need to be made.
The Kansas City Chiefs put an emphasis on their offensive line following 2019 and it paid dividends. They acquired Joe Thuney in free agency, traded draft picks for Orlando Brown Jr., then selected center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith in the 2021 draft.
It was a rapid overhaul and one that has worked. The question is, can the Rams with their resources do the same thing? While changing four starters along the offensive line might be unrealistic changes are needed. It’s not a matter of if changes are made, but where.
Below, I’ll take a look at each position for the Rams and where it makes sense for them to make a move and where they should stand pat.
When it comes to the left tackle position this offseason, the Rams have a lot to figure out and will need to figure it out quickly. However, that’s easier said than done. Orlando Pace left the Rams in 2008 for the Chicago Bears. Between 2009 and 2017, the Rams had failed experiments with Alex Barron, Jason Smith, Rodger Saffold, Jake Long, and Greg Robinson at the left tackle position. It was a revolving door to say the least.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Andrew Whitworth finally brought stability to that position and the results were immediate. It’s not easy, but the Rams need to find that once again.
To say the least, Joe Noteboom was not the heir apparent to Whitworth that they wanted him to be. While he filled in well in spots as depth in 2020 and 2021, notably the NFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Noteboom has been an injury-prone player throughout his career.
In 2019 as the the day one starter at left guard, Noteboom tore his ACL in Week 6, ending his season. As the day one starter at left tackle this season, he tore his achilles in Week 6, once again ending his season. The Rams can’t go into 2023 with Noteboom as the starting left tackle and they’re paying him too much to be a depth piece. Noteboom has been a five-year project that they need to move on from.
Thankfully, the Rams didn’t lock themselves into a deal with Noteboom. Yes, he’s signed to a contract through 2024, but it is very team-friendly. Outright cutting Noteboom pre-June 1, isn’t an option. The team would eat $13M in dead money while only saving $2.5M according to OverTheCap.
However, if they find a trade partner, that would be a best case scenario and teams might bite. It’s not often that a player with tackle and guard starting experience becomes available. If the Rams were to trade Noteboom pre-June 1, they would eat $8M in dead money while saving $7.5M. That would bring their current 2023 cap space to $13M.
If the Rams can’t find a trade partner, they could cut Noteboom post-June 1 and save $8.5M while eating just $7M in dead money. It’s worth noting that trading Noteboom post-June 1 saves $13.5M with only a $2M cap-hit.
That’s a lot of numbers, but simply put, if the Rams trade Noteboom before June 1, they save $7.5M. Noteboom gives the Rams depth at tackle and guard, but on his current contract, it might be best for both sides to move on. Noteboom’s extension is one of a few mistakes that the Rams need to admit this offseason.
Parting ways with Noteboom would leave the Rams with Alaric Jackson at left tackle. Jackson was the team’s highest-graded player in pass-blocking this season according to Pro Football Focus, giving up 13 pressures with 155 snaps at left tackle. However, he was diagnosed with blood clots and put on injured reserve this season. Going into the season with Jackson as the starting left tackle would be another risk.
Jackson has played well, but even if he is the day-one starter next year, the Rams need insurance. With Jackson’s experience at guard, they may prefer him inside or as depth anyway. This leaves free agency and the draft.
The free agent pool at left tackle is very thin. Orlando Brown at 26-years of age is currently projected as a free agent at left tackle this offseason. However, the Chiefs have $28M in cap-space and there is very little chance that they allow Brown to leave. This was a primary reason why they traded away Tyreek Hill last offseason.
However, the one player that makes the most sense is Elgton Jenkins. While the Rams are in bad shape from a cap standpoint, the Green Bay Packers have just over $3M in cap space going into 2023 and not a ton of wiggle room. They can restructure some contracts, but this locks them into aging players.
If the Rams can save money by trading Noteboom and then restructure some contracts to open up some money, they might be able to bring in Jenkins and pay him as a left tackle. This is something that the Packers wouldn’t be able to do with David Bakhtiari.
For example, restructuring Cooper Kupp and Jalen Ramsey would open up close to $28M according to Spotrac. It's still a long shot, but it might be the only option in free agency. This leaves the draft and potentially starting a rookie at left tackle next season.
At the top of the second round, Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse would be an option there. However, outside of Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State, this isn’t an elite or deep class at tackle. Darnell Wright from Tennessee has played well as primarily a right tackle, although he did play at left tackle as a junior.
This is what makes left tackle so complicated. The Rams invested poorly last season in Noteboom. There isn’t necessarily an Andrew Whitworth in free agency this year and it’s debatable if there’s a starting-caliber left tackle at the top of the second round. Options are limited.
The best option might be to draft someone like Darnell Wright if he doesn’t return to school or Matthew Bergeron and have them compete with Alaric Jackson at left tackle in training camp. Tremayne Anchrum will also return as depth next season. It doesn’t exude confidence heading into Week 1 of 2023, but it might be the only option.
The Rams backed themselves into a corner here. They made their bed and now they have to lay in it.
In 2019, the Rams made a mistake by not bringing back Rodger Saffold. Last season, they repeated that mistake by not bringing back Austin Corbett. The Rams absolutely cannot make the same mistake three times.
It may not be a popular choice among fans, but the Rams need to bring back David Edwards. Outside of this season when he’s been dealing with injuries, he’s remained a solid and consistent piece on the offensive line.
If the Rams cut or trade Joe Noteboom, it should leave them enough resources in cap space to bring back Edwards on a short-term, cheap deal.
The Rams are very thin as it is at left guard. When Edwards went down this season, they were forced to play Bobby Evans which was a disaster to say the least. Edwards isn’t a top guard by any means, but what the Rams have lacked this season is consistency. Edwards brings that.
In 2020 and 2021, Edwards was less than 25 guards to play more than 80 percent of his teams’ snaps. Edwards performed about the same as Corbett in 2021 according to Pro Football Focus last season. Among guards to play 50 percent of their teams’ snaps, Edwards graded as a top-17 guard in 2020 and 2021. He isn’t an all-pro, but you can do worse.
Coming off of an injury-plagued season, Edwards shouldn’t be very expensive and the Rams could make the deal highly incentivized. However, unlike left tackle, there are some free agent guard options.
It’s unlikely that the Eagles would allow Isaac Seumalo to walk and they’ll have the cap-space to bring him back. With a new regime, the Denver Broncos could let Dalton Risner go in free agency. Ben Powers is a free agent in Baltimore. Powers has allowed just eight pressures at left guard this season.
If the Rams move on from Noteboom and save $8M, that money can then be used to either bring back Edwards or another guard. It’s about the allocation of resources. This is where the Rams failed last offseason. If they can use some of the money that they would be spending on Noteboom for another more reliable option elsewhere on the offensive line, this would be an upgrade.
It’s about building consistency and for most of his career, Edwards has been consistent.
As is the case with left tackle, center is a little bit complicated. In a similar situation as Noteboom is Brian Allen. He’s been named that day-one starter on three occasions and hasn’t made it through the season in two of them.
Allen missed the second half of 2019 and has only played in four games this year after a very good 2021 season. While Allen did play well in 2021, he also missed a game due to injury.
The difference between Allen and Noteboom is that the Rams center has at least shown that he can play at a high level over the course of the season. While the Rams missed on Creed Humphrey, Allen was at least playing at a decent level in 2021 as he graded as the ninth-best center according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen is also only costing the Rams $6.8M next year. If they were to cut him pre-June 1, they would eat $4.2M while saving just $2.6M. A pre-June 1 trade would save them $3.6M. The benefits of cutting or trading Allen don’t outweigh him being on the roster. If anything, the Rams can build up their center depth so that they aren’t relying on Jeremiah Kolone in 2023 if Allen does get hurt.
The Rams can keep Coleman Shelton as center depth like they did in 2021 and find a replacement at right guard such as Jackson who played well in that spot this season. There are also free agent options such as Garrett Bradbury and Bradley Bozeman. Jason Kelce is also a free agent, but he’ll be an Eagle until he retires.
Additionally, if the Rams keep Allen, it doesn’t make sense to pay him his current salary to be a backup. The best option here is to build depth through the draft with someone who is capable of starting if needed.
At the top of the second round, the Rams could draft John Michael Schmitz from Minnesota who is arguably the best center in the country. They could easily make up for the Humphrey error by drafting Schmitz. Sedrick Van Pran from Georgia could also be an option there or in a trade down. Luke Wypler from Ohio State could be a mid-round option as well.
The right guard position is another spot where the Rams must get more stable. The Rams can’t go into 2023 in a similar position this year where if Brian Allen goes down with an injury, Shelton needs to move over and you’re replacing two positions instead of one.
Ideally, Logan Bruss comes back from his injury and performs well. While his preseason can be looked at negatively, to call him a bust after preseason snaps isn’t a fair assessment. If the Rams go into the season with Shelton and Bruss at right guard, it isn’t a bad thing, especially if they build depth at center.
However, that doesn’t mean they also shouldn’t look for improvements and more depth. Oday Aboushi could be brought back on a cheap deal. Jackson also showed that he could fill in well in this spot. That puts the Rams four players deep with the option to also draft someone on day three that they can develop.
The Rams drafted Bruss with the idea that he would be their future at right guard. While he suffered an injury, it’s way too early to say that he was a mistake that they need to admit on. If the Rams want to move on from Shelton, that is something that they can do as he would save them $1.5M. However, the benefit of cutting him, doesn’t necessarily outweigh what he brings by keeping him.
Shelton came into the season at right guard and has played just one game there. In that game against the Buffalo Bills, Shelton was the team’s best offensive lineman. For $1.5M, he at least provides versatile depth going forward.
The Rams can try to sign a cheap guard to play on the right side, but they may be forced to trust the process as well as draft a player on day three of the draft. Again, the Rams made their bed here and have to live with their decisions.
The right tackle position is the one spot that the Rams don’t have to worry about. Rob Havenstein is the definition of underrated and consistent. He’s the only offensive lineman on the Rams that hasn’t gotten injured this season.
They could consider playing him on the left side, but he’s never played there in his career. He’s a right tackle and that’s where he should stay. The Rams are better off keeping him on the right side and building around that.
For the Rams to move forward in 2023, they need to rebuild the offensive line and make it a priority. They can’t go into next season with what they currently have and just hope that everything is going to go their way.
While they’ve been hit with catastrophic injury luck, they still need to make improvements. Going through each position, here are potential possible scenarios.
Best Case Scenario
Depth: Jackson, Schmitz*, Bruss, Rookie Draft pick
The scenario would give the Rams stability at left tackle, consistency at left guard, a proven center with promising rookie depth, Shelton and depth at right guard, and then Havenstein. The Rams missed Whitworth this season and Jenkins would provide that veteran presence.
You could also replace Schmitz from Minnesota with Bergeron or Wright and then play Jenkins at left guard, allowing Edwards to walk. Jackson or the rookie would then be the starting left tackle.
Depth: Bergeron or Wright, Wynn or Dillard, Bruss, Rookie Draft Pick
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams make subtle, non-drastic changes. They need to admit the mistake on Noteboom and with how he played, they could see Jackson as the future at left tackle. With what they save on Noteboom, they can bring in Wynn or Dillard and keep Edwards.
Behind the starters, they draft a tackle such as Bergeron or Wright and then draft another rookie for depth in the mid-late rounds.
Worst Case Scenario
Depth: Noteboom, Brewer, Bruss, Rookie Draft Pick
The Rams absolutely can’t come out of the 2022 season thinking that they simply got unlucky. Yes, they got unlucky, but they also created some of that luck relying on injury-prone players.
They need to change things up and if they decide to essentially keep the same starting five, it would be a huge mistake.
The Rams need to make changes, but it’s also unrealistic to think that they’ll go into the beginning of the 2023 season with a brand new starting five on the offensive line outside of Havenstein. It’s hard to see a scenario where they have four new starting offensive linemen. The Rams have been a regime that doesn’t overreact while also understanding where things went wrong.
It’s hard to know at this point exactly who will be available in free agency and who will be available when the Rams select in the draft. However, the Rams could go into next season with Jackson competing with a rookie at left tackle, Edwards at left guard, Allen and rookie depth at center, Bruss at right guard, and Havenstein and see that as an improvement. Whether that is actually an improvement is to be determined.
The offensive line may not reach 2018 or even 2021 levels, but if they can make some improvements and remain average or above average, the offense can take a step forward in 2023.