For Los Angeles Rams fans, none of their 2022 free agents are as polarizing as center Brian Allen. A fourth round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2018, Allen was heir-apparent to be the pivot point in Sean McVay's wide zone running offense. Now, after four seasons of highs-and-lows, he is negotiating his second NFL contact and is line for a big raise.
The branches of Sean McVay’s coaching tree, and with it, his offensive philosophy, are spread throughout the NFL. As such, starting-caliber center who has experience in calling and executing the wide zone running scheme may be in big demand during this years free agency process. Although Allen could fit into any one of the many teams that run some version of the wide zone, there are now NFL seven squads with direct contact to Rams and have up-close knowledge of his abilities.
Imagine if the color commentators watched film instead of prepared notes off of pff grades pic.twitter.com/zFPnsOHEG4— Taylor Boggs (@Tboggs50) January 28, 2022
Who has the inside track?
Zac Taylor-Cincinnati Bengals
It’s not news that the Bengals need offensive line help, particularly on the interior. Signing Allen would let Cincy grab a top guard prospect and keep Burrow upright.
Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips - Minnesota Vikings
Allen would offer experience and knowledge transitioning into the new scheme that the ex-Rams coaches will install. Former first-rounder Garrett Bradbury has underwhelmed.
Matt LaFluer- Green Bay Packers
A real long shot here, the Pack will have a deep line if everyone can come back from injuries.
Shane Waldron and Andy Dickerson - Seattle Seahawks
Hawks are transitioning from power to zone and Allen would be a nice fit. He would offer system stability and leadership. Both current Seahawk centers are free agents.
And to a lesser extent
Brandon Staley - San Diego Chargers
Not much need here after the Bolts ‘21 spending spree on C Corey Linsley and G Matt Fieler.
Ejiro Every and Dwayne Stukes - Denver Broncos
In 2021, Lloyd Cushenberry improved from dead last to middle of the pack in Pro Football Focus center ratings, but is not a real fit into the Bronc’s transition to wide zone.
Skip Peete - Dallas Cowboys
Allen doesn’t really fit into the Cowboy mold and when their line is not injured, it is one of the best in the NFL.
How did Brian Allen get to this point?
Like many Rams rookies in the Sean McVay regime, Allen was brought along slowly, using his rookie year to learn the pro game. His action as a rookie was limited to mopping up a few games and special teams snaps. He sniffed the field in Super Bowl LII for two plays.
He earned the starting center role in 2019 and held up until suffering a devastating knee injury in week nine versus the Pittsburg Steelers. He tore his MCL, meniscus, and fractured his tibia. The long, arduous rehab process was complicated by the broken bone that needed to be non-weight bearing for a month before he could even begin to walk.
2020 became a wasted year when Allen became the first NFL player to test positive for COVID-19. Being barred from the Rams training facility put off his knee rehab for another month and he would eventually be forced to sit out the whole season. It would end up being almost two years before Allen saw the field in an NFL game.
The Rams stayed committed to keeping the center position in house for 2021. They passed on upgrades through the draft, free agency, and let versatile Austin Blythe slip away. Perennial practice squaders Jamil Demby and Jeremiah Kolone got a look, as did undrafted free agents Cole Cabral, Jordan Meredith, and Coleman Shelton. Only Shelton was able to stick on the active roster.
As the preseason neared, it seemed that the Rams had decided to shift starting right guard Austin Corbett to the pivot and install Bobby Evans into the void at guard. Some combination of lackluster play by one, or both, of these moves propelled Brian Allen back into the starting role. He responded with a solid year, culminating with an alternate Pro Bowl berth and the ultimate prize, a Super Bowl ring.
Brian Allen starts out the day taking snaps for Matthew Stafford at center in situational 11 on 11s, with Austin Corbett at right guard. Obviously this is a change from…the entire spring and camp up until about Saturday. So that’s pretty interesting!— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 9, 2021
Spotrac has assigned Allen a market value of $5.4 mil per year and that number could easily push higher if multiple teams vie for his services. Along with interest from ex-coaches, his name has been linked to the Steelers and Chicago Bears.
In 2021, Allen had a cap number just short of $1.1 mil. So he’s in line for a nice raise. Although his departure would leave a big hole on the Rams offensive line, it’s hard to make a case for the Rams getting involved in a bidding war. Just last year, the team would not re-sign Austin Blythe for $1 mil, who had movement skills and the ability to play two positions.
If the Rams decide to let Allen walk, who will be the replacement? Currently under contract, Jeremiah Kolone and Tremayne Anchrum are the only players who have cross-trained at the center position. Free agency doesn’t look like it will offer much value, at a less or equal salary, than Allen’s re-signing would provide. LA’s scouting department will certainly have scoured the list. And finally, expecting to get a plug-and-play center at the very end of the third round is not realistic.
Should the Rams aggressively pursue and re-sign Brian Allen at $5 mil per year?