It’s been quite some time since the NFL had an expansion team and it’s unlikely that it happens anytime soon. While teams like the Los Angeles Rams have moved cities, the league hasn’t added any new franchises and seems set on 32.
The NHL just had an expansion draft on Wednesday after adding the Seattle Kraken. We did this same exercise in 2017 when the Las Vegas Golden Knights joined the NHL. The Draft Network’s Carter Donnick posed the question, what if the NFL did hold an expansion draft and what would it look like?
If an NFL expansion draft was happening and your team was allowed to protect 7 offensive players and 8 defensive players, who would they be?
(Rookies are exempt)
— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) July 18, 2021
I thought it would be cool to take this and see who I would protect if I were the Los Angeles Rams general manager. Again, I can protect seven offensive players, eight defensive players which includes a kicker or punter, and all rookies are exempt. Here’s who I would protect in a hypothetical expansion draft.
DE Aaron Donald
There is no chance that the Los Angeles Rams allow any franchise outside of their own to ever roster Aaron Donald. He’s the defending Defensive Player of the Year, is a three-time defensive player of the year winner, and is arguably the best defensive player of all-time. Nice try new expansion team, but Aaron Donald is off the list!
QB Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford is another obvious choice. Protecting Stafford isn’t a very difficult decision like Donald. Not only did the Rams give up a lot to acquire Stafford, he’s the only true starting quarterback on the roster. It’s not as if the Rams are dealing with a Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater situation. The new expansion team could go after John Wolford as a potential backup with starting experience, but the Rams will be fine with that.
CB Jalen Ramsey
Another very obvious choice here. Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. Not only do the Los Angeles Rams have a lot invested in Ramsey, he’s also the second best defensive player on their team and a crucial piece in the secondary. Ramsey does have a big contract, but there’s no way that the Rams would take the risk in losing their star cornerback.
WR Cooper Kupp
The decisions up to this point have not been very difficult. Cooper Kupp is a large part of the Rams offense. He may not bring everything that some of the top receivers in the NFL can, but he’s a top-25 player at the position. The Rams value Kupp as a piece of their offense and they wouldn’t risk losing him.
S Jordan Fuller
‘After Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey is when it might start getting a little more difficult on defense. Jordan Fuller might be the third defensive player that I protect. He showed a lot of promise last season and after losing John Johnson III in free agency, Fuller is going to play a large role in the secondary. Fuller is arguably the best safety on the Los Angeles Rams roster and won’t be going anywhere.
WR Robert Woods
If the Rams made Robert Woods available, it would be an opportunity to get out of his contract. However, while we’ve seen Woods’ name get brought up in trade rumors, it’s unlikely that the Rams would actually ever make him available. Woods plays a crucial leadership role on the Rams offense and Sean McVay values that. Woods won’t be going anywhere.
EDGE Leonard Floyd
The Los Angeles Rams just gave Leonard Floyd a large contract. There’s a chance that an expansion team wouldn’t want to take on a contract like that for someone like Floyd. After all, Floyd is someone who was seen as a first-round bust in Chicago before joining the Rams. However, the Rams can’t afford to risk losing Floyd. Behind him, the team is very thin at the edge rusher position. Protecting Floyd is a must.
RB Darrell Henderson
This answer has undoubtedly changed with the circumstances of this week. The Rams lost Cam Akers for the season due to a torn Achilles. This is an area where the Rams could “play chicken” with the expansion team. Yes, not protecting Akers is risky from the Rams’ point of view. After his rookie season, he’s a young, promising running back in the NFL. However, selecting a player that just tore his Achilles, let alone a running back, is a huge risk for the expansion team.
The Rams need Henderson as behind him they have Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais. They can’t afford to lose the third year running back.
DL Sebastian Joseph-Day
Sebastian Joseph-Day has turned into quite the productive player for the Rams. He’s an elite run defender who can take his game to the next level by adding pass-rushing ability. After trading away Michael Brockers, the Rams can’t lose another productive defensive lineman. The Rams like Joseph-Day and won’t risk him being selected by an expansion team.
G David Edwards
David Edwards has turned into one of the more promising young guards in the NFL. He may not be recognized that way by the rest of the NFL, but at just 24 years old, the Los Angeles Rams have a young, productive guard for the future. Last season, Edwards was the 21st rated guard according to Pro Football Focus which ranked fourth among the 2019 draft class. Heading into year three, he’ll be looking to solidify himself and take that next step.
EDGE Terrell Lewis
Protecting Lewis might seem strange, but this also has to do with the fact that the Rams simply can’t afford to lose a promising player in their edge group. There’s no question that Lewis has dealt with his share of injuries. There’s a chance that he never plays in a full-time role with the Rams. However, there’s also no doubt that he has a lot of talent and a high ceiling. In the oft-chance that Lewis does get 100% healthy and can play a large role, the Rams can’t risk losing him.
TE Tyler Higbee
This also has a lot to do with the Rams’ current depth chart situation at tight end. While Jacob Harris has shown some promise in OTA’s, the Rams can’t bank on him producing as a rookie. In some metrics, Higbee is a top-10 tight end and he’s the most experienced tight end on the roster. If the Rams were to lose him, at least for this year, they’d be in a pretty rough spot. He arguably the best tight end in franchise history. With 300 yards this season, Higbee will be the team’s all-time leader in yards at the tight end position.
CB Darious Williams
I was on the fence on protecting Darious Williams which is why he’s so far down the list. With just one year on his deal, the Rams are going to struggle paying Williams if he has another productive season. However, behind Williams, the Rams don’t have a lot at the cornerback position. Robert Rochell is just a rookie and not many have confidence in David Long. The Rams can’t afford to lose Williams this offseason.
LT Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth is another player that I was on the fence protecting. However, I don’t believe that the Los Angeles Rams would make him available. The veteran left tackle has voiced that this could be his last season. The Rams wouldn’t put Whitworth in a bad spot by making him available and risk him playing for another team. He’s still a premier left tackle and with the 17th most expensive contract for a left tackle, he’s very affordable. The Rams are paying Whitworth $5.6M this year. Even if it’s his last season, an expansion team might look to take Whitworth as a short-term solution.
K Matt Gay
There are some other defensive players that the Rams could protect. However, the last player that I’m protecting is Matt Gay. The Rams went through last season with a nightmare of a kicking situation. While Gay may not be the best kicker in the NFL, it’s unlikely that the Rams would want to go through what they went through last year once again.
The three biggest surprises on this list are Rob Havenstein, Austin Corbett, and Cam Akers. It would not be surprising if an expansion team took one of those from the Rams. However, in Havenstein’s case, a team could take Havenstein or Bobby Evans, not both. Havenstein also has the 10th largest average year salary among right tackles despite not being a top-10 right tackle. Is that a contract that an expansion team would want to take on?
Austin Corbett is complicated. It was either him or David Edwards. With Corbett being on the final year of his rookie contract, I sided with Edwards. However, I could see the two players being interchanged.
Lastly, I already explained Akers, but his Achilles tear makes him a large risk. He wouldnt be available to play this season and there’s no guarantee that he’s effective when he does come back. My guess is that he would not get selected.
Johnny Hekker and Micah Kiser might be the final two surprises. Hekker is the highest-paid punter and it’s not relatively close. It’s unlikely that an expansion team would use that much salary on a punter. The Rams linebackers might be the weakest group in the NFL. Therefore, I see Kiser as someone who is safe despite not being protected.
Final Results – Offense
These are the final seven players that I decided to protect on offense. Stafford, Kupp, and Woods are no-brainers. There’s little chance that the Los Angeles Rams would make these players available. Edwards is a promising, young offensive lineman. Henderson and Higbee have a lot to do with the current depth chart situation at their positions. Lastly, the Rams respect Whitworth too much to make him available.
Final Results – Defense (K/P)
Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are obvious choices. The Rams would never make them available and will hope to allow them to finish their careers with the Rams. Fuller is a promising young safety and leads an inexperienced safety group. Floyd, Lewis, and Williams have a lot to do with the current depth chart situation at their positions, but Floyd and Williams are productive starters. Sebasian Joseph-Day is a player that’s just starting to come into his own that the Rams wouldn’t make available. Lastly, with how the kicker situation panned out last year, Matt Gay makes sense to keep.