LA Rams can still get a Super Bowl-winning bargain in NFL free agency
By James Dudko
The LA Rams have kept quiet so far in the 2023 NFL free agency market, but there's still time to find a Super Bowl-winning bargain on the market. Free agent running back Jerick McKinnon would be a terrific addition to an LA Rams backfield needing a refresh and an offensive scheme lacking variety last season. Best of all, he should be available for a team-friendly price. He earned less than $1.2 million in 2022, and should be available at or for less than that this season.
McKinnon helped the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, but the veteran running back hasn't been brought back yet. The 30-year-old's availability is something Rams' head coach Sean McVay can't ignore because McKinnon is a useful runner, willing blocker and a terrific receiver.
Those traits can expand what McVay does with his offense. Running the football has been an afterthought in recent years, but Cam Akers is still on the roster as the likely workhorse for 2023, provided he can get along. Akers can execute McVay's familiar outside zone-stretch runs with power, but McKinnon has some one-cut-and-go pop of his own.
Veteran experience at rookie cost
The nine-year pro has averaged 4.1 yards per carry during his career. He spent two NFL seasons, 2018 and 2019, trying to recover from a very serious knee injury and earn a spot on an NFL roster. But McKinnon still has some speed and proved that he can be useful at the goal line. This is despite his relatively slight 5-foot-9, 209-pound frame, but his value goes beyond being a runner.
Specifically, the Rams are lacking versatility in the backfield. It's a quality McKinnon can add, mostly thanks to his chops as a pass-catcher. The Chiefs were never shy about using McKinnon's talent as a receiver, like for this touchdown against the Houston Texans from Week 15:
McKinnon caught 56 passes for 512 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Those numbers are a galaxy above what Rams' running backs produced in the passing game during 2022, just 49 catches for 361 yards.
LA Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford needs an invaluable checkdown option to help cut down his penchant for turnovers. McKinnon could handle the role, while also helping McVay add different looks to the ground game. And you know that head coach Sean McVay would love to have a dependable receiver option on the roster, if for nothing more than cutting down the wear-and-tear on the team's top receiver, Cooper Kupp.
One of those new looks might involve putting McKinnon and Akers together in the same backfield. It worked to help spring Chiefs' running back Isiah Pacheco for a touchdown against the Eagles in the Super Bowl, the second play highlighted here by Sharp Football Analysis editor Dan Pizzuta:
Now imagine this play with McKinnon and Akers in the backfield, while Tutu Atwell goes in motion. It would be just one way for the Rams to freshen up a formula that became stale last season.
The other notable aspect of Pacheco's score against Philly was how McKinnon acted as a lead blocker and moved Eagles' linebacker T.J. Edwards (57) backwards. It was just one of many examples of McKinnon's willingness to do whatever's asked of him to help his team win.
McKinnon is a willing blocker
That selfless streak was best summed up by McKinnon's savvy decision to slide short of the goal-line, despite facing a free path to the end zone, late in the fourth quarter. Foregoing the touchdown allowed the Chiefs to kill the clock and position Harrison Butker to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
This play might have been the ultimate example of sacrificing personal glory for the collective good. McKinnon rightly earned praise from many, including KC Varsity Combines via SportsCenter:
McKinnon's smarts and team-first approach would be welcome on a Rams team needing to unify again following 2022's miserable failed title defense. Those intangibles would also make McKinnon a worthy mentor to second-year Rams' running back Kyren Williams, a 22-year-old with the physical attributes to growing into a role as a versatile backfield weapon.
The Rams have $14,419,114 worth of space under the salary cap, according to Spotrac.com, more than enough to land McKinnon, who made $1.035 million in base salary last season.