It was clear in the offseason that the LA Rams were conducting a tryout of sorts for the tight end positon. Not only did the Rams welcome back veterans Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins, but the team traded for TE Hunter Long, drafted TE Davis Allen, and signed a number of free agent tight ends before OTAs ever began.
The Rams knew that their time was running out for both Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins, as both players are in the last year of their current contracts. Well, until today, that is. The LA Rams just extended tight end Tyler Higbee through the 2025 NFL season. Higbee becomes the 24th player under contract for the LA Rams in 2025, and the only noticeable player not signed for 2025 is All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
While that is great news for the LA Rams and for Tyler Higbee, it's not great news around the horn. For two of the Rams current players, the extension for Higbee is a wake up call to either work dramatically harder, or to prepare to play elsewhere.
Hunter Long has some catching up to do
The first player to discuss in veteran tight end Hunter Long. While he is currently contracted through the 2024 NFL season, he has been noticeably absent from the LA Rams offense due to a nagging hamstring injury that has prompted the team to send him to Injured Reserve to start the 2024 NFL season.
While he has not played an offensive snap for the LA Rams yet, don't look for fireworks and big games out of him when he finally does show up on the football field. So what should the Rams fans prepare for if and when Hunter Long finally sees action with the Rams' offense? I would consider Hunter Long somewhat in the role of former Rams TE Johnny Mundt. But don't ignore the fact that the Rams now have rookie TE Davis Allen through 2026, and veteran TE Tyler Higbee through 2025.
In short, Davis Allen is just a raw rookie, but he has to be presumed to be nipping at the heels of Hunter Long. While Allen has not seen much live action either, has has had the opportunity to practice with the LA Rams for the four weeks that Hunter Long has been on IR, As long as Long is on ice, his role is at risk of being claimed by Davis Allen.
Brycen Hopkins never truly showed up
The player who should be most concerned over the Tyler Higbee extension is his teammate Brycen Hopkins, who is all but gone at the end of the 2023 NFL season. Hopkins was drafted to assume a pass-catching tight end role. But even as a pass catcher, the LA Rams require tight ends to block. No block, no rock.
Hopkins has never attained a consistent ability to block for the Rams. He has flashed at times. But he has failed to be dependable enough to be considered a true option to start in the Rams offense going forward. As such, I believe that the choice came down to Tyler Higbee or Brycen Hopkins, and Higbee was the best option for the Rams going forward.
I'm not suggesting that Hopkins has no role to play for the Rams this season. On the contrary, I believe that he could make a huge difference for the Rams this year, particularly if the Rams expand their use of the 12-personnel package. Now entering his fourth season, Hopkins has been targeted on just 18 passes, catching 13 of them for 186 yards. He could easily double those numbers if he plays hard throughout 2023.
The LA Rams have three tight ends on the active roster, one tight end on IR, and two tight ends on their practice squad. Not all of the current LA Rams tight ends will be on the Rams roster next year. With the latest contract extension to Tyler Higbee, at least two Rams tight ends have been placed on notice. Now we just have to see how the Rams sort out their roster through 2023 and into 2024.