Can the LA Rams compete in 2024 without re-signing this monster free agent?

Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout, Ryan Wendell
Los Angeles Rams Offseason Workout, Ryan Wendell / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

If you had to point to the LA Rams 2023 NFL season, you could come up with a rather long list of players who were vital to the team's late season rally to earn a playoff berth. Some players are veterans, who simply needed the opportunity to prove to the LA Rams and the NFL that they still had what it takes to succeed in professional football.

Of course, there is the wave of incredible productive first timers who lead the Rams rookie class of 2023. Not only have these young men proven worthy of competing in the NFL, many lead the way of even their more seasoned veteran peers. And then there is the one or two players who were specifically targeted by the LA Rams front office as a gotta-get-that-guy category, and whose production for the LA Rams has confirmed the team's interest.

Veteran interior offensive lineman Kevin Dotson is such a player, and his performance in the Rams offensive line has been nothing short of spectacular:

Since he began to suit up for the LA Rams, the Rams have played to an 8-5 record. That's pretty impressive for an offensive lineman who did not benefit from OTAs, training camp, or even preseason games with the Rams in 2023.

He was acquired by the LA Rams from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 2024 fifth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick, and the Steelers discounted him by refunding the LA Rams a 2024 fifth-round pick and a 2025 sixth-round pick. Before he suited up for the Rams in the first three games of the season, that seemed to be a rather expensive price to pay.

Fortunately, as Dotson started at right guard for the Rams and grew comfortable with his teammates, his value on the Rams roster skyrocketed. He has been everything that the Rams sought in a right guard. He is dependable, effective, and plays rather angy.

He was not on the football field for the LA Rams when the team faced the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2. I think he will make a difference in the rematch. But will he be so valuable that the LA Rams will extend him at fair market value?

Rams can re-sign, or be compensated

The Rams signed swing tackle Joe Noteboom to a three-year $40 million contract in 2022. Right now, Pro Football Focus projects the FMV contract to sign IOL Kevin Dotson to come in at an estimated $69 million for four years, an average annual salary of $17.25 million per year. Without knowing whether third-year IOL Logan Bruss will be ready to compete for a starting role in 2024, it's difficult to assess whether the Rams will pay that much to keep Dotson.

If Dotson does indeed command a new contract in the $17+ million per year range, he will likely price himself out of the Rams budget, even with significantly more avalable salary cap to spend. But that lofty market value could trigger the compensatory algorithm to award the LA Rams a third-round compensatory draft pick in the 2025 NFL Draft.

In essence, the Rams will have traded a Round 4 pick in 2024 and a Round 5 pick in 2025 for a one-year rental of Dotson, a Round 5 pick in 2024, and a Round 3 (projected compensatory) and a Round 6 pick in 2025.

Let's not be over dramatic here. The LA Rams front office proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a playoff caliber team can be built for a fraction of the cost that fans expect the team to pay. And it's not always about renting mercenary elite NFL stars, but building a team that truly can count on the players to have one another's backs. Dotson has played very well for the LA Rams in 2023, because he is playing for his next big contract.

I would love a scenario in which the Rams re-sign Kevin Dotson for a more affordable price of $9-12 million per year and at least four seasons. If that is significantly less than his market value, I trust the Rams front office to find an affordable alternative. After all, nobody expected the LA Rams to be competitive in 2023. This team will be even better in 2024, if for no other reason than the Rams rookie class of 2023 will be one year older.