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The Rams have a Joe Noteboom problem. How should they move forward?

How should the Rams move forward with Joe Noteboom?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams have a Joe Noteboom problem. For the past six years, the Rams have tried to make Noteboom one of their starting offensive linemen. Every time they’ve tried, something has gone wrong and it simply hasn’t happened.

In 2019, the Rams attempted to play Noteboom at left guard after spending a third-round pick on him the year before. Noteboom got hurt in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season.

Last year, the Rams inked Noteboom to a three year, $40M contract extension. He started Week 1 at left tackle, taking over for Andrew Whitworth, a player he had been learning behind for four years. Noteboom got hurt in Week 6 and missed the remainder of the season.

Fast forward to this year and Noteboom began the season in a competition at left tackle with Alaric Jackson . After missing the majority of OTAs with injury and some of training camp, Jackson has gotten the nod at left tackle.

With Steve Avila at left guard and Rob Havenstein at right tackle, this has forced the Rams to decide whether or not to bench a player they gave a contract extension to last offseason or try to force Noteboom into a spot at right guard. The issue here is that Noteboom has played 10 career snaps at right guard. Additionally, Tremayne Anchrum has been at right guard all offseason and has done nothin to warrant losing that spot. On top of that, Noteboom has once again been hurt the majority of the last two weeks.

Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue wrote,

“And while I think I know what the line will look like into the regular season — Alaric Jackson, Steve Avila, Coleman Shelton, Noteboom, Rob Havenstein — I haven’t seen that group get any consistent competitive work together.”

Focus on that last sentence: “I haven’t seen that group get any consistent competitive work together.” That’s a problem as the regular season is just two weeks away. A big reason for that is that Noteboom hasn’t been able to practice. If the Rams are going to have Noteboom switch positions on the opposite side of the offensive line, shouldn’t you want to know what that looks like?

The concern that TurfShow Times’ Kenneth Arthur wrote about earlier this offseason has come to fruition. We’re heading into the final week of the preseason with no idea who the Rams’ starting offensive line will be. As Arthur wrote,

“One of the major issues for the L.A. Rams in 2022 was obviously the injury mayhem that happened on the offensive line, but the symptom was that those five players could never develop any chemistry together because there wasn’t continuity.”

Here we are with two weeks to go before Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks and the Rams have yet to start building that continuity. McVay didn’t seem to concerned about not having a starting five when asked about it this week by the media. The Rams head coach said,

“You know what, I’m not going to waste my time with stuff that, hey, is it ideal? No. But it’s not something that I’m going to waste any sort of time on. When those guys are back, we’ll continue to coach them up, but in the meantime we’ve got minimal opportunities to be able to get better.”

The Rams insistence to play Noteboom at right guard is a result of one of a few things. The first is that they actually see Noteboom as one of their five best starting offensive linemen. That’s arguably a problem and a conversation for another day. Secondly, they are trying any way possible to get Noteboom and his contract on the field to contribute.

Of course, both of those things can be true, but is Noteboom switching positions at this point in the offseason really the best thing for the offensive line? Is throwing Noteboom at right guard just trying, once again, to fit a square peg in a round hole. As mentioned earlier, Anchrum has done nothing to lose his job at right guard. In fact, he hasn’t allowed a single pressure at right guard in the preseason.

The final option here is that the Rams are talking up Noteboom and holding him out with the idea of trading him next week during roster cutdowns. Still, keeping Noteboom as depth might be the best option.

At some point, the Rams need to admit a mistake with Noteboom. They’ve doubled down and tripled down on him. The fact is, he’s never going to be the heir to Andrew Whitworth that they had in mind when they drafted him. He’s played well when filling in as a backup, but that’s about it. The best spot for him might be as a backup and the Rams and Noteboom may need to accept that. Depth on the offensive line isn’t a bad thing. The issue is that he’s never been a player that can be relied on as a full-time starter.

The injuries aren’t his fault, nor is how the Rams have chosen to develop him. Still, the Rams need to move forward. In the NFL, the best ability is availability. Noteboom hasn’t been available. While they’ve shuffled the offensive line all offseason, the former third-round pick hasn’t taken a preseason snap and has been held out of practice or limited to individual work on the side.

So, what are the Rams’ options with Noteboom and how do they solve this problem?

Option 1: Is Noteboom Ok With A Depth Role?

The best option if Noteboom is to stay with the Rams is for him to play in a depth role. That’s a role that he’s succeeded in throughout his time in Los Angeles. Whenever he’s spot-started over a stretch of games, he succeeded. Noteboom allowed just two pressures during the 2021 playoff run while filling in for Whitworth.

The question here is whether or not Noteboom is ok with a depth role. It would essentially be a demotion. There’s no doubt Noteboom would be given the chance to start on other teams around the NFL. When he signed a three-year extension with the Rams last year, the assumption was that he would be the starting left tackle. If he isn’t the starting left tackle or starting on the offensive line at all, can the two sides move forward and be ok with that?

Option 2: Would the Rams Trade Noteboom?

Noteboom may not have a lot of trade value, but as an offensive lineman with starting experience, he will have some value for teams around the league. The Rams would likely be looking at a sixth or seventh-round pick, but that might be the best way to move forward.

Contractually, the Rams could manage it as well. According to OverTheCap, the Rams could trade Noteboom and save $1.5M. They would also save an additional $5M next season. There is $5M in dead money, but that contract is much more moveable now than next offseason when they would take on $15M in dead money. A fresh start for both sides may be beneficial.

Option 3: Has Noteboom Earned A Starting Role?

The Rams may see Noteboom as one of their best five starting offensive linemen, but has he earned a starting role? Noteboom missed time with injuries during OTAs and lost the starting left tackle role to Jackson. After giving Jackson the nod at left tackle, the Rams have since decided to move Noteboom to right guard.

However, over the last two weeks, Noteboom hasn’t been able to practice or been limited to individual work. Meanwhile Anchrum has taken every snap at right guard all offseason and hasn’t allowed a pressure at right guard this preseason.

At this point, it’s difficult to say that Noteboom has earned a starting role on the offensive line. That’s partially what makes the insistence to start him at right guard frustrating. The offensive line is crucial to the Rams’ offensive success. It seems like a big risk to start a player at right guard who has just 10 career NFL snaps at that position and hasn’t been practicing there.

Option 4: Could Noteboom be a Surprise Cut?

This option seems unlikely, but possible. If the Rams are trying to move Noteboom and are unable to find a trade partner, cutting ties completely is an option on the table. Obviously, keeping Noteboom as depth is ideal, but if both sides want a fresh start, cutting him might be the way to go.

Throughout the preseason, the Rams have gotten good performances from Zach Thomas. AJ Arcuri also had a solid game against the Raiders after not playing against the Chargers. Grant Miller has quietly looked good as depth as well. The Rams need to rebuild their offensive and moving on from Noteboom one way or the other may be seen as the first step in doing so.