Rams OL has fans alarmed. How must the team address expiring contracts for 3 starters?

Los Angeles Rams, Rams News, Rams Roster, Alaric Jackson, Coleman Shelton, Kevin Dotson
Los Angeles Rams, Rams News, Rams Roster, Alaric Jackson, Coleman Shelton, Kevin Dotson / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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III: Offensive center Coleman Shelton

The starting center for the LA Rams in 2023 was Coleman Shelton, but that was not the first year that he started as the Rams center. In fact, whenever Shelton started as the center for the Rams in 2021 or 2022, the Rams were able to run quite effectively. That streak continued into 2023 as well. That was just one of the reasons why the LA Rams were compelled to re-sign Coleman Shelton for the 2023 NFL season, even though the team had next to no money to spend.

But that extension came with a wrinkle. If Shelton surpassed a threshold of playing time, Year 2 of his two-year contract could be voided by the player.

Well, that condition was met, and Coleman Shelton will undoubtedly void the second year of his contract in order to negotiate more money to play in 2024. The question now is: Will the Rams lure him back to play on the Rams roster this season?

Option IV: Extend Him

While it may not be a sexy or headliner option, there are solid reasons why the Rams should give extending Coleman Shelton a long hard look. Early in this assessment, it's impossible to deny that the guy has been anything less than incredibly productive for the Rams offensive line. Over the past three seasons, whenever a running back rushed for 100+ yards in a game, Coleman Shelton was the center. That's not a coincidence.

Perhaps a more subtle yet compelling reason is how little you heard about Coleman Shelton in 2023. Believe me, you don't want to hear about an offensive lineman during the season, as that invariably is bad news. Pro Football Focus graded Shelton's 2023 performance as a respectable 64.5, and his postseason as an impressive 74.4. Best of all, he is known, is durable, and really fits the Rams offensive line playing style under OL Coach Ryan Wendell.

Option III: Free Agency

One of the first ideas that pop up whenever the debate begins over what to do with a projected vacancy in the LA Rams roster is to shop the Free Agency market. And if it were that simple, the LA Rams would gladly take that approach to fill almost all roster needs. But like any free market, it is subject to the laws of supply vs. demand. How many NFL cernters will willingly hit free agency? Are they better quality than Shelton? If so, what are their salary demands? The thing is, with so many NFL players represented by a handful of agencies, NFL GMs quickly learn that there is little opportunity to negotiate between two players to drive the price down.

In the NFL, you often either pay the price, or wait out the market and let the players who are left with no teams to play for come to sign on a more team-friendly contract.

Option II: Promote replacement

In any contract negotiation, to negotiate effectively you must have viable alternative options. It's only when the other side believes that you are willing to walk away from the negotiating table that the real give and take process begins. For the LA Rams, that alternative option for starting center comes in the form of former starter Brian Allen. Allen has the capability of performing as a solid offensive lineman, and as long as his health remains, he could work out. But Allen's history with the Rams has been laced with injuries.

In 2022, Brian Allen could only start in seven out of 17 games. That has been his track record with the Rams, so if he is their Plan B, the Rams will need a strong backup behind him.

Option I: Draft his replacement

The LA Rams could view the 2024 NFL Draft as a source of a new center, and in some ways, that could make some sense. After all, with left guard Steve Avila only now entering his second NFL season, a young center could go a long way in the future. But does that make sense this season?

I am not convinced that it does. In my draft needs for 2024, the Rams face more urgent needs at backup QB, left tackle, defensive back, edge rusher, wide receiver, and even tight end. For all intents and purposes, the Rams realistically could not aim at a center in the 2024 NFL Draft until late in Day 3. At that point, the rookie prospect will not be NFL ready to play by the start of the season.

Best strategy: Extension of 3 years, $15 million (APY $5 million)