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Now would be a great time for Andrew Whitworth to return for a 17th season

Tom Brady’s un-retirement on Sunday made it clear that 40 is not the end of the road

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angele Rams v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

If Andrew Whitworth returns for another NFL season, he won’t be the oldest player in the league anymore. On Sunday, Tom Brady announced that he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for at least one more year, putting him at 45 when next season gets underway. Brady had announced his retirement after the season but kept the door open for a return, and it only took two months for him to miss the game.

He may have also found this week to be a hard deadline to return, giving the Bucs a clear view on their needs and their salary cap headed into free agency; Tampa Bay was rumored to be interested in trading for Deshaun Watson prior to Brady’s return announcement.

Will Brady surprise returning to the Bucs inspire Whitworth to surprise return to the LA Rams? And if he does, how will the Rams handle it?

On Sunday, I wrote about nine burning questions for the Rams headed into free agency and the first of those was “What’s going to happen with Andrew Whitworth?” Brady’s announcement amplified that question and really makes it apparent that maybe the Super Bowl-winning left tackle doesn’t want to stop playing yet.

If Whitworth decides to return, then the question becomes, “How can they afford him?”

Whitworth’s $17.6 million salary cap hit in 2022 ranks as the eighth most-expensive in the NFL, and he is due a $3 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year, which is March 19.

Retirement or release save the Rams $16 million against the 2022 salary cap and the team is currently projected at $20.2 million in the red at OTC. However, even if L.A. parts with Whitworth and saves $16 million now, the Rams will still need a competent left tackle to protect Matthew Stafford next season. If that turns out to be Joseph Noteboom, his first year cap hit could be low, but the team still needs to pay somebody to play left tackle. And there’s no guarantee that Noteboom will even return.

In some ways, Whitworth is actually a bargain at left tackle and his return would mean that the team doesn’t have to lift a finger to solidify one of the most important positions on any roster. The Rams could add one or two years to the contract, convert his 2022 salary ($9 million) into a signing bonus, and bring his cap hit below $10 million.

Yes, he will be 41 in December. But that’s hardly the oldest player in the league.

If Whitworth comes back and helps the team maneuver his 2022 cap hit to save $8 million, that both gives the Rams a dependable starter at left tackle at a relatively low cost and gets Les Snead even closer to having the money to retain some key outgoing free agents.