The Los Angeles Rams were only down 16-9 in the fourth quarter when Ahkello Witherspoon made an unbelievable interception off of Joe Burrow to give the offense the ball back with over 10 minutes left in the game. However, it was also around that time that left tackle A.J. Jackson left the game with an injury and was replaced by backup Zach Thomas, a sixth round pick of the Bears in 2022 who had only played in one career snap prior to Monday’s game against the Bengals.
It was around his third career snap that Thomas was brutalized by star pass rusher Trey Hendrickson for a sack on Matthew Stafford. And on his fourth that Stafford was sacked again, forcing the Rams to give Cincinnati the ball back with just under nine minutes remaining. The Bengals would kick a field goal sooner after to take a two-score lead and all but seal the game away, but it wasn’t the fact that L.A. had to go to a backup offensive lineman that had fans puzzled in the fourth quarter.
It was the fact that Sean McVay went to Zach Thomas when he had a former left tackle on the roster and refused to move Joe Noteboom over from right guard to hopefully remedy a situation that made any comeback attempt by the Rams a moot point.
Not just a former left tackle, but a player who the Rams paid a guaranteed $16.5 million to last year to make sure he didn’t leave in free agency for another team.
Noteboom was paid to be a left tackle heir apparent to Andrew Whitworth, but when push came to shove in a desperate situation with a potential win on the line in Week 3, McVay refused to budge and risked both the game and Stafford’s health behind Thomas despite how overmatched he looked on every single snap. After the game, McVay said that moving Noteboom and having two replace two starters instead of only one was not in the best interest of the team.
“Zach Thomas had done a really good job, we felt making a two man switch wasn’t in the best interest (of the team),” said McVay.
“If Jackson is out for an extended period of time, we’ll look into it.”
McVay added, “I wish I had done better, there were opportunities for us to make plays and to be able to get through those downs, but that’s certainly something I’ll need to look at.”
Noteboom only has a $6.5 million cap hit this season, but that’s because L.A. was forced to restructure his contract in order to get under the 2023 cap. He now has a $20 million cap hit in 2024 and the Rams will owe a $15 million dead cap hit if they cut him. Where would $20 million rank among guards?
No right guard makes more than $14 million this season, while next season Noteboom’s cap hit is set to rank third if he stays at guard. Is Noteboom a top-three guard in the NFL?
As a left tackle, $20 million is more manageable, but still ranks inside the top-10. Which is a lot for player who the team isn’t comfortable playing at left tackle in the most desperate of situations.