When the LA Rams ended their 2022 NFL season, the biggest concern for the team and the fans was the status of the offensive line. Much like 2019, the 2022 offensive line for the LA Rams was riddled with injuries to the point where the Rams depth was completely depleted, and the Rams front office found it necessary to sign multiple free agent veteran offensive linemen simply to field a team.
While that is not an ideal scenario for any NFL team, it had both curses and blessings. As far as curses, the lack of continuity was a huge handicap to the Rams offensive line, and therefore, to the overall team. And the effect of injuries to the offensive line seemed to amplify the frequency and severity of injuries to other offensive players. The impact of the initial offensive line injuries created a snowball effect on the overall team.
As fans watched in horror, the images and memories of Rams QB Matthew Stafford being tossed to the ground like a sack of potatoes burned so deeply that they are tough to shake off, even one year removed.
LA Rams roster is far deeper and effective at OL
While the LA Rams tackled their offensive line with a variety of strategies in the 2023 offseason, the Rams clearly focused on upgrading the performance of the group overall. The strategy of the Rams front office did not align with the demands of the fans, who lobbied loud and long for the Rams to devote significant draft resources to restock the Rams roster.
The Rams did draft two offensive linemen in the 2023 NFL Draft. The first was IOL Steve Avila with the 36th overall pick in Round 2. The second was OT Warren McClendon with the 176th overall pick in Round 5. Avila became the starting left guard for the Rams offensive line, while McClendon slotted in as a backup offensive tackle. He saw limited action in Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles, and played a full half in the Week 18 win over the San Francisco 49ers..
But the Rams were not done at the draft. They also traded with the Pittsburgh Steelers for backup IOL Keven Dotson after it became clear that second-year IOL Logan Bruss was not ready for an increased role on the Rams offensive line. So how did the Rams offensive line do in 2023?
Well, the group of LT Alaric Jackson, LG Steve Avila, C Coleman Shelton, RG Kevin Dotson, and RT Rob Havenstein did very well indeed. Perhaps well enough to make a strong case to bring every starter back for 2024.
But that is where things become a bit treacherous. The LA Rams starting left tackle Alaric Jackson and right guard Kevin Dotson are both on expiring contracts. Complicating the matter further, the Rams' two-year contract with C Coleman Shelton allows Shelton to void the second year (2024). Ideally, the Rams would love to extend everyone on the offensive line. But, at what price?
Rams offseason OL strategy
The Rams do have savings if the revisit the contracts of both Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom, players who were projected to become starters in 2022, but both are injury-prone and were unable to retain the starting role for 2023.
For Alaric Jackson, who projects as a Restricted Free Agent in 2024, the Rams could extend him with a 2nd-Round Qualifying Tender Offer of $4,633,000 for one year. That offer not only ensures that the Rams would get the right of first refusal, but if the team is unable to match an alternative offer, the Rams would be awarded a second round pick from the team that succeeds in signing Jackson away.
The Rams may have to pause and ponder the cost of extending Kevin Dotson. If Pro Football Focus's projection is in the ballpark, is $69 million over the next four seasons. That works out to just over $17 million per year, and carves out a pretty sizeable chunk of the Rams available $44 million in salary cap space.
But what of Coleman Shelton, who will certainly seek to get a much larger sack of cash to come back in 2024? And will the Rams pay an estimated $17 million per year? Or will the Rams be willing to surrender Dotson to the NFL Free Agency market, in the hopes of being awarded a compensatory pick in the 2025 NFL Draft, with a chance to be as high as a Round 3 pick?
The Rams are very likely to extend Alaric Jackson, and could be willing to bring back Shelton on a team-friendly deal of Shelton voids Year 2 of his current contract. But the LA Rams roster has significant depth right now, and have five developmental players returning on Reserve/Future contracts. Of course, the LA Rams front office may be willing to spend on the offensive line this offseason.
But with so many young players waiting in the wings? I would not hold my breath.