For the longest time, the Los Angeles Rams have claimed they have the best punter in the NFL.
Johnny Hekker, who’s been with the Rams since 2012, is a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. He’s a Hall of Fame All-2010s team member and led the league in yards per punt in 2015.
In addition to his iron leg, Hekker has also proven time and time again that he’s one of the better passing punters in the league. The Rams frequently run trick plays on fourth down, with Hekker executing them flawlessly.
The LA Rams have had an up-and-down past decade-plus, but one thing has remained consistent: They have an elite punter.
However, that reality may not remain true for much longer.
The Los Angeles Rams restructured Johnny Hekker’s contract
To clear up extra cap space, the LA Rams’ front office decided to restructure Hekker’s contract.
According to NFL insider Field Yates, Hekker can now make $2.75 million in 2021 and 2022 and $3 million in 2023. The reworking frees up an immediate $1 million for the Rams, which the team will presumably use to finance a depth move of sorts later in the year.
Upon agreeing to the reworking, Hekker was all smiles about staying in LA for the immediate future:
“It meant a lot. It’s something that I’m definitely very thankful for. And looking back, I’m humble for the opportunity to come back,” he said. “To feel appreciated and wanted back here means a lot, especially with a talented guy like Corey [Bojorquez], being able to get him traded to a place where he’s going to have a great impact in Green Bay.”Johnny Hekker via The Rams Wire
The Rams were pressed right up against the leaguewide salary cap before this reworking, making it a necessary move. Contract reworking and restructures around this time of the year are nothing new. In fact, more and more NFL teams are turning to them as a way to manipulate their finances.
At first glance, this appears to be a minimal, low-stress move for the Rams. However, it could have dangerous implications later down the road.
Hekker can now opt out of his contract
While this move saves LA $1 million in 2021, the tricky part of the restructuring that has to be taken into account is the fact that Hekker can now opt out of his deal a year early.
Hekker is currently scheduled to make $3 million in 2023 if he chooses to stay in LA, according to Yates. However, he can now completely opt out of the deal and hunt more money in free agency.
Hekker deciding to leave in the offseason to chase a bigger contract elsewhere (which he would likely receive) would leave the Rams hung out to dry without their All-Pro punter.
The Los Angeles Rams are starting to feel the effects of a heavy payroll
Losing a punter via free agency isn’t the end of the world for the Rams, but it’s reflective of the lofty payroll the team has carried the past few seasons.
The Rams are quickly running out of money, and it’s going to cost them key players like Hekker down the road.
They might have solved a short-term issue by restructuring Hekker’s deal, but it could easily see them lose their special teams ace by the time 2023 rolls around. Hekker was initially set to make $4 million in 2023 before the restructure (per Spotrac); it’d be hard to blame him for opting out of his Rams deal and chasing a larger payday that offseason.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.