Even though there is a Super Bowl championship riding his tail in the rear view mirror, the residual effects of building part of that roster through the trade market—Matthew Stafford, Von Miller, and Sony Michel—will once again force Les Snead to be the best general manager in the league on day three of the NFL Draft. Not likely to make a selection in the top-96, the 2022 draft class will be Snead’s first without a pick in the top-two rounds since 2018.
And if he winds up with a class that resembles that one—Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, John Franklin-Myers, Micah Kiser, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Travin Howard, Justin Lawler—the Los Angeles Rams may keep celebrating in the coming years.
Though you may be looking at that list and thinking, “But those aren’t superstars?!?!”, they are no less the backbone of any good team. Stafford, Miller, Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and the like, these are knockout punches and finishing moves of a great fighter, and no great fighter exists without also having all the less heralded attributes in their repertoire, such as stamina, strong mental acuity, and a hell of a lot of tiny little jabs to the ribs.
Noteboom, Allen, and Howard were all part of those jabs and well-earned their own Super Bowl rings this year. Four years from being drafted, these players are also now free agents in 2022. With the exception of Franklin-Myers, who has already signed a four-year, $55 million contract extension with the New York Jets, Noteboom will be of the most interest to outside teams on the market should the Rams not re-sign him first.
What will he earn? And where will he go?
Re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams
Expecting the Rams to sign Noteboom ahead of free agency may be wishful thinking on the part of fans, and even Noteboom himself. It would really require that Sean McVay believes wholeheartedly in Noteboom as a starter and yet if that were to be true, why hasn’t Noteboom been starting?
It can’t simply be that he was blocked by better players. Not after four seasons to prove himself as either a starting tackle or guard who is too good to be kept on the bench for players making a lot more money against the salary cap over the last two years.
However, Noteboom and his agent are going to argue that he is a starting left tackle. Noteboom made seven starts in place of Andrew Whitworth in 2020 and there were few complaints about his ability to maintain status quo at that position for an eventual playoff team that reached the second round of the postseason. He found his way back onto the field in 2021, making a start at left tackle in a win over the Texans, then a start at right tackle in a win over the Cardinals.
Add in eight career starts at left guard and Noteboom has a resume that at worst makes him a valuable “super utility” player who is virtually guaranteed to make appearances over a 17-game season and with so many injuries always happening in the trenches.
But in pre-free agency negotiations, you always have a player’s agent arguing that his future will be the best case scenario and a team that is arguing why he absolutely won’t ever be his best case scenario, even though they do really want to keep that player. Ultimately, I can’t imagine many outcomes that result in Los Angeles announcing a contract for Joseph Noteboom prior to free agency because that would have to imply that either the Rams strongly believe in him as a left tackle OR that Noteboom doesn’t believe in himself as a left tackle and wasn’t interested in testing the market.
Why wouldn’t he be interested in testing the market though? Teams are so desperate for offensive line help that Noteboom should draw plenty of offers on the open market.
This still does not close the door on a return to the Rams. Noteboom could find out that he was not as highly sought after as he expected, a reality that centers Austin Blythe and Austin Reiter found themselves in a year ago. L.A. opted to let Blythe walk and despite position versatility and a good number of starts for a winning team, he continued to be a free agent well after most had expected him to find a home. Blythe eventually signed with the Chiefs (Reiter’s former team) and made four appearances with zero starts in 2021.
If we find out that teams only view Noteboom as a “super utility” backup player, he may prefer to stick with the only franchise and coaching staff that he’s known up to this point in his career. If the Rams see Noteboom as the heir apparent to Whitworth, then you’d think we’d already have seen the wheels turning on clearing out his contract and making way for the replacement. We’re not seeing that and Whitworth is even mulling a return for a 17th season.
My guess is that Noteboom does not re-sign with the Rams, but you rarely rule out the home team entirely.
Joseph Noteboom signs with the New England Patriots
Prior to 2021, Bill Belichick rarely made noise during free agency in his tenure with the Patriots. That changed after a losing season in 2020 and New England spent more money on outside free agents than any other team in the league. By a lot.
Don’t rule out a semi-repeat of that in 2022.
The Patriots don’t have a lot of 2022 cap space at the moment (roughly $5 million effective cap space) but there’s plenty of ways to free up money with releases, restructures, and renegotiations. When Nelson Agholor is set to count $15 million against the salary cap, you know that the accountants must be called in to fix something.
If there’s any position that Belichick does seem to appreciate, it’s offensive linemen with versatility. The Patriots have Isaiah Wynn at left tackle (and entering a contract year) but right tackle Trent Brown is set to be a free agent. Noteboom was a right tackle for one season at TCU and filled in for Rob Havenstein once last year.
Center/guard Ted Karras made 13 starts in 2021 and will also be a free agent.
Noteboom could come in and compete at either right tackle or left guard, but he could also give Belichick options at left tackle and right guard, or even as a sixth offensive lineman in certain packages. There’s a lot that Noteboom could potentially do if he’s okay with working “the Patriots way.”
And I guess, you know, okay with like cheating and whatnot.
Joseph Noteboom follows Kevin O’Connell to the Vikings
At the moment there are still a few roadblocks between Noteboom and a trip to the NFC North.
One is money, as the Vikings don’t have a ton of cap space and must figure out if they want to/are able to trade Kirk Cousins to a team desperate for a starting quarterback. If Minnesota can trade Cousins, they’ll save $35 million against the cap next year.
The other problem is whether or not Noteboom signs as a super utility, as a replacement for a current (decent) starter at left guard, or if he can become the Vikings’ next starting right guard. At the moment, Minnesota has 2021 first round pick Christian Darrisaw at left tackle and Brian O’Neill at right tackle—neither seem like they need to be replaced right now.
The starting left guard is Ezra Cleveland, a second round pick in 2020, and he was cited as an improved player with a potentially bright future after last season. The main issues are at center and right guard, with the latter being occupied by Olisaemeka Udoh last season, a player benched at one point for Mason Cole.
But the team also drafted guard Wyatt Davis in the third round in 2021 and they might not feel that a $10 million APY for a right guard is great business. On the other hand, Noteboom can be that guy who Kevin O’Connell doesn’t have to necessarily “teach” anything new to as he brings his philosophies to Minnesota and can serve as a mentor of sorts to the Vikings other offensive linemen.
If not the Vikings, then I’d take a long look at the Bears, Bengals, Texans, Jaguars, and Giants as suitors. Another sleeper team could be the Seahawks, as offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is also someone who has a history with Noteboom from his days with the Rams.
What will Noteboom make in free agency?
My expectations on a Joseph Noteboom contract can best be described as “George Fant.”
An undrafted free agent in 2016, Fant signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a major project because he had been a high school and college BASKETBALL player prior to the NFL. Fant was adamant that he didn’t want to play football despite pleas from so many people to use his massive frame to try out being an offensive lineman. He was finally convinced by Western Kentucky—and coincidentally (to this blog) trained to play tight end by Tyler Higbee—to try out football in 2015.
Once 250 lbs, Fant started bulking up and is now well over 300 lbs and he was literally making starts at left tackle for the Seahawks in 2016 despite having only begun his football career a couple years earlier. As you can guess, he was terrible.
But four years later, after playing in 32 games from 2018-2019 with 14 starts, Fant signed a free agent contract with the Jets in 2020: three years, $27 million. At the moment, New York is so keen on Fant as their left tackle that there are rumors that Mekhi Becton, a first round pick in 2020, could be moved to the right side or traded.
Noteboom enters free agency at a similar age (one year younger than when Fant hit free agency) and with a similar amount of NFL experience. There was a lot of risk in that $27 million contract for Fant but it did pay off. Noteboom has more experience and position versatility but maybe nowhere near the same ceiling as Fant.
I think a three-year, $30 million contract sounds reasonable, but it could definitely be significantly higher—or significantly lower—when all said and done. My baseline is right around there, however. That’s also something that Noteboom is much more likely to sign with a new team than it is something that he could get from the Rams.