I: RG Kevin Dotson
While the rule of thumb for offensive linemen during the season is to avoid headlines, the LA Rams right guard broke that rule, and for good reason. He continued to show up among the highest-graded NFL offensive linemen week after week. The problem for the Rams lies in the fact that he did not take the field for the team until Week 4, and the Rams' offensive line did not gain traction until injuries subsided in Week 11 and beyond.
Dotson was not on the Rams roster through much of training camp. He trained with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but lost his starting job and was looking at a 2023 season with him playing an obscure backup role for the Steelers offensive line. At least until the LA Rams liberated him with a pair of stock swaps with the Steelers. So now that the season has expired, what will the Rams next move be?
Option IV: Extend Him
It's no secret that Kevin Dotson outplayed his contract for the LA Rams. After all, starting as an interior offensive lineman in the NFL is certainly worth more than the $2.3 million that the Rams paid him. But Dotson was not just any ole offensive lineman. His 85.2 grade for 2023 from Pro Football Focus was the highest grade awarded to an LA Rams offensive lineman this year.
The thing is, Dotson's FMC to return for the LA Rams is huge. We looked up the projected cost of extending Dotson, and the estimated range of a new contract falls from $12.0 to 19 million per year for up to a four-year contract. The LA Rams did not extend Roger Saffold when his contract lapsed. The Rams did not extend Austin Corbett when his contract lapsed. The Rams did not even extend David Edwards last season when his contract lapsed.
Yes, Kevin Dotson could be the exception. But what compels anyone to think that he will be?
Option III: Free Agency
The problem with tapping the 2024 NFL Free Agency market for a replacement for Kevin Dotson is two-fold. The immediate and most obvious challenge is the cost. If the Rams won't pay to retain Dotson, why would the team pay for his replacement, not knowing whether that player can even be as effective as he was?
While there is generally a price point for some NFL veterans to sign on a contract, the other and perhaps less obvious reason for the Rams not to shop in the free agency market is the unintended impact that signing a free agent can have on any potentially awarded compensatory picks. If the Rams do part ways with Dotson, you can bet that this team has already factored in the projected compensatory pick into their future roster plans.
Option II: Promote replacement
It's tough to believe that IOL Logan Bruss will be entering his third season with the LA Rams. It is equally difficult to believe that the Rams will lose Tremayne Anchrum Jr. to free agency as his contract expires at the end of this season. But the Rams have a number of players who could give serious competition for a starting role at an offensive guard position in 2024. Keep in mind that Joe Noteboom started in that role in 2023. Logans Bruss was drafted specifically to compete for that role in 2022.
But one player who rose from the ranks in 2023 who has a legitimate shot at a starting role is reserve offensive lineman Mike McAllister. McAllister showed up out of nowhere and played rather well for the Rams in a limited role in preseason games for the team. But when he was on the field, he had a junk yard dog mentality, always on the move, and always looking for the next defender to engage.
The Rams have multiple options for right guard on the roser.
Option I: Draft his replacement
The LA Rams could enter the 2024 NFL Draft with offensive guard among the team's priorities, and that could be how the draft board falls to them. But with the Rams queued to make the 19th pick in any round of that draft, the timing seems just a bit off to land a quality offensive guard. The Rams pick too soon in Round 1 to land an elite interior offensive lineman, yet pick too late in subsequent rounds to expect a high value offensive lineman will still be on the board.
The LA Rams were able to nair the 2023 NFL Draft selection of IOL Steve Avila because the team picked 36th overall, and had the fifth-overall pick on Day 2. That allowed the Rams front office to have the pick of the litter. I don't believe that the Rams are especially good at the draft if the players sought with that pick are simply not there. The Rams did do an excellent job in the 2023 draft, but much of that success was due to the fact that the Rams had so many open spots in the roster.
Can lightning strike twice for the Rams at IOL? You decide.
Best Strategy: Promote his replacement
In summary, the LA Rams have three starting offensive linemen whose contracts are either lapsed or voided for the offseason. Before fans start spending sacks of cash to improve the team via the 2024 NFL Free Agency market, the Rams have to give adequate attention to their own players whose contracts expire. Should the Rams extend these three players? Or should the Rams roll the dice on new faces.
Whatever you decide, keep one thing in mind. Taking a chance on a new offensive line configuration is not just taking a chance on improving the group. It could just as easily backfire, and set the team's progress back as well.