When the LA Rams cross-trained former defensive lineman Michael Hoecht to become an option at the outside linebacker position, little did anyone know that the result could lead to Hoecht becoming the senior statesman at the position for the player. But there is a small insignificant hitch to all of that. Believe it or not, Hoecht's contract expires at the end of the 2022 NFL season.
Well, before we become too hung on the future of the Rams' OLB position, let's churn some salary cap butter over Michael Hoecht and his 2023 NFL contract. The LA Rams can extend Michael Hoecht for another season at a minimal cost. Spotrac.com projects Hoecht as an ERFA, Exclusive Rights Free Agent, this off-season. The rules for an ERFA are pretty simple and straightforward. The LA Rams need to make a Qualifying Tender offer to retain Hoecht, who must sign for that amount to play one year, or sit out the season.
Because NFL teams are only hitched to their Top-51 contracts throughout the off-season, Hoecht will re-sign for the NFL league minimum, which will not move the needle for the salary cap. That makes the extension an ideal move, and that is before we talk about the Rams roster relying so heavily on Hoecht to deliver as a pass rusher in 2023. So now the question is, can he?
How handy is Hoecht at rushing the passer?
It's quite clear that the LA Rams once lauded linebacker corps of OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Bobby Wagner, ILB Ernest Jones, and OLB Michael Hoecht are now down to just Jones and Hoecht for 2023. While few could have guessed that the Rams were planning to purge their roster of elite defensive help this offseason, the effect of it all lands Michael Hoecht as a very important player to the Rams' defense in the 2023 NFL season.
So let's do a deeper dive into Michael Hoecht's OLB performance in 2022. What we discover is that he was actually pretty effective in the role. He played seven games at the position, and started six of those seven games. Before he migrated, he played just 15 defensive snaps on the line, plenty of ST snaps, and had two tackles and one quarterback hit. But after moving to the outside linebacker position, he racked up 34 tackles, 4.5 quarterback sacks, eight quarterback hits, and one forced fumble, and did all of that in just 393 defensive snaps. If you extrapolate that out to the 933 defensive snaps played by Leonard Floyd, you wind up with 11 quarterback sacks, 81 tackles, 19 QB hits, and three forced fumbles.
I'm not about to profess the reasons why or why not Michael Hoecht can deliver at that pace in 2023. I'll simply point to the fact that he did so with minimal training, often without the benefit of Aaron Donald lining up on the football field. So, in my mind, his performance was true proof in the pudding. He outplayed Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, and Chris Garrett, without so much as benefitting from OTAs or training camp at the position. Does the LA Rams defense need to address the outside linebacker position this offseason? Of course, and I expect two to be drafted and one to be signed after the draft at a minimum.
For now, it looks like the veteran OLB will be Michael Hoecht. He was an undrafted rookie signing in 2020 and will be the Rams starting OLB in 2023. That is pretty much how the LA Rams keep on going and keep on winning. The national media narrative about the LA Rams and draft picks is lazy reporting. When the Rams can land a starting OLB from an undrafted rookie, the roster rocks just the same.