The Los Angeles Rams traded for Kevin Dotson at the start of the season for practically nothing, but it will cost a lot more than that to keep Dotson on a new contract in 2024. The pending free agent would not likely get the franchise tag, so the Rams will need to shell out a sizable contract to keep him from testing the market. That’s not something that L.A. was willing to do for former right guard Austin Corbett, will general manager Les Snead make a different offer for Dotson?
And what would it cost?
Kevin Dotson’s 2023 season
Dotson, a fourth round pick in 2020 out of Louisiana, spent three seasons on the Pittsburgh Steelers and made 26 starts from 2021 to 2022. He played in 100% of the Steelers snaps last season.
But Pittsburgh wanted to go in a different direction after signing Isaac Seumalo in free agency to a three-year contract following seven years with the Philadelphia Eagles, just a year after signing James Daniels to a similar deal. Seeing an opportunity to trade Dotson to a team that had a need at the position, the Steelers sent him to the Rams along with fifth and sixth round picks in exchange for fourth and fifth round picks. Essentially, it took L.A. day three pick swaps in each of the next two years and now Sean McVay had competition at guard for Tremayne Anchrum and Joseph Noteboom.
Anchrum had been expected to win the job with little competition in camp and that all changed with the trade for Dotson.
After being inactive for the first three weeks, Dotson became the full-time right guard opposite of Steve Avila beginning in Week 4’s overtime win against the Indianapolis Colts. Since then, Dotson has remained the starter and has graded as one of the best—or flat out the best if you’re reading PFF—guards in the NFL.
As an unrestricted free agent in 2024, Dotson can punch his ticket to become one of the highest-paid guards in the NFL if teams believe he’s going to continue to be as good as he’s been in the last eight games.
He’s been blamed for just two QB hits, two sacks, and four hurries allowed in 511 snaps.
I like to check in on Kevin Dotson, as IMO, he got a really bum rap here and should have been kept. We saw how horrid Herbig was when he took over for Daniels— F. S. Flip Fisher (@Flipsteeler) November 29, 2023
Against the Cards, he had a 92.2 PFF grade. 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, 0 hurries, again. 2 QB hits, 2 sacks, 4 hurries for 2023
What could he cost
Projecting Dotson’s contract is complicated because it’s not easy to figure out what teams will actually think about his 2023 season and prospects for the future. Will his success continue and could it translate to any offensive line? Just three months ago, the Steelers didn’t want him to start for them and now he’s PFF’s highest-graded guard in the NFL.
Something does not add up.
It doesn’t mean PFF is wrong or that PFF is right. It just means that something doesn’t add up. He could have been a bad fit for the Steelers or just a perfect fit for the Rams. He could even play worse next season than he has this season, a rollercoaster that happens all the time in the NFL.
Andrew Norwell was an All-Pro guard for the Panthers in 2017, which he parlayed into a massive five-year, $66.5 million contract with the Jaguars, making him the highest-paid at his position in the league. But Norwell regressed back to average and the deal was considered a massive overpay. This doesn’t mean Dotson is bound to slip back to replacement level, it’s just that any team has to be cautious of a contract year value explosion for any player.
Another complication for projecting Dotson’s value is that there isn’t just like a top tier, middle tier, and bottom tier of guard contracts. There’s really a couple of guys in the stratosphere, a few guys way above the normal, and then a lot of guys who are all over the map in terms of being a bargain or a waste of $5 million.
Take Corbett, for example.
RG Kevin Dotson is playing REALLY good ball. He's been a phenomenal pickup for LA. Big man is fired up after this downfield pancake on the screen TD. pic.twitter.com/MuP2zbYQGH— Josh Cohen (@JCohen_NFL) November 28, 2023
The Rams got a similar career out of Austin Corbett when they pried him from the Browns only a year after he barely slipped out of the first round. Corbett became a solid starter on the interior of L.A.’s offensive line, but the team opted to go back on the cheap market rather than bid for his services.
Corbett ended up with a three-year, $26.25 million contract with the Panthers, a little over $8 million per season, and he’s been one of the few well-liked players on Carolina’s offensive line.
Is Corbett a bargain or an overpay? Maybe it just depends on the week when you’re asking the Panthers about him. Corbett has been solid, but he’s missed a lot of time with injury this season and his $8 million is not helping Carolina win games. Could the Panthers have spent that money on a position more important than right guard?
While Dotson won’t come close to the $20 million per season of Quenton Nelson and Chris Lindstrom, or go north of $15 million like Zack Martin and Brandon Scherff, he could nuzzle his way into the $8-$10 million per year range at his current trajectory.
Guards who don’t have better resumes, like Alex Capp and Nate Davis, have signed for over $8 million per year recently. Dotson could convince a team to let him tap into the $10 million range, as there are teams that have cap space and certainly a lot of BAD offensive lines.
Will Rams do it?
Not only did L.A. let Corbett walk in 2022, they let David Edwards leave in free agency a year later too.
The Rams didn’t have a lot of money to spend when they let Corbett leave—at least not based on their plan, which turned out to waste a ton of cash on guys like Allen Robinson and a Bobby Wagner rental—so for them, it made more sense to go the cheap route with Coleman Shelton and Bobby Evans, with injuries eventually leading to Oday Aboushi and others filling in.
Not re-signing Corbett proved costly in 2022, but they’ve managed to rebound immediately at the position in 2023 without having to make a huge move.
The only offensive linemen who Snead has cared to re-sign lately, Noteboom and Brian Allen, are now backups and turned out to be burdens on the salary cap. Will that encourage or discourage the Rams from competing to keep Dotson away from offers that could come close to $10 million per season?
The Rams didn’t want to pay Corbett an $8 million contract and he helped them win a Super Bowl. Will they want to pay more than that for Dotson after a 13-game audition?
On the other hand, the Rams do not have any guards in the pipeline at this time.
2022 third round pick Logan Bruss has spent the year on the practice squad. Avila has a job already on the left side. Anchrum wasn’t trusted to start at right guard (and is also a free agent) and Allen probably isn’t going to push Shelton back over any time soon. If the Rams let Dotson go, they will need to replace him again. If there’s any thought to do that in free agency, well, then why wouldn’t they just work to keep Dotson?
At least he’d be the pricey player they know instead of the one who they don’t, which could always turn out to be the next Andrew Norwell.
But these moves never come in a vacuum. Any fan expecting the Rams to keep Dotson at any cost, even if it is a $10 or $12 million salary cap hit in 2025, will have to answer the question, “Who do you cut to keep him?”
Yes, the Rams could have a ton of salary cap space in a couple of years and there are a lot of older stars seemingly nearing the end of their tenures. However, it still means that having an expensive right guard—something that has never been in Snead or McVay’s plan—leads to not having an expensive player at another position. It’s a luxury to pay a guard that much, so if Dotson has moved into the upper echelon of his position, if he convinces just one team to make him an offer he can’t refuse, do the L.A. Rams have that luxury?
We will find out in a few short months. A lot can change in a few short months.