Los Angeles Rams: Does Johnny Hekker Have Competition at Punter?

Does Johnny Hekker Have Competition at Punter?

by Blaine Grisak
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Johnny Hekker has been a member of the Los Angeles Rams since the days in St. Louis. It would be hard to fathom the Rams without him. After all, #PuntersArePeopleToo.

Heading into his tenth year with the Rams, Hekker has become a special teams ace. While he’s been a four-time first team All-Pro, Hekker has also been a bit of a swiss army knife for the Rams. Early in his career, Hekker was a main reason the Rams were such a threat to run fake punts.

Hekker’s 82.4 career passer rating ranks ninth all-time for the Los Angeles Rams which is higher than Sam Bradford, Jim Everett, Vince Ferragamo, Norm Van Brocklin, and Roman Gabriel. His average yards per attempt as a passer also ranks fourth in franchise history.

Undrafted in 2012, Hekker holds the record for longest punt in a Super Bowl and made it on the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade team.

With those numbers, one might completely write off any sort of competition. Johnny Hekker is good. It’s hard to say that Hekker’s level of play has even dropped off a lot. He still ranked third in punts placed inside the 20 and his return rate of 33.8% was the ninth lowest mark.

Hekker’s average punt of 45.6 yards was the lowest of his career and his net yards per punt ranked 24th last season. While Johnny Hekker is still relatively good. Hekker’s issue isn’t necessarily his level of play. A team can do a lot worse at punter than Johnny Hekker.

The issue is, Johnny Hekker’s contract.

Hekker’s cap-hit for 2021 and beyond is significantly higher than other punters in the NFL. The Rams punter has a cap hit of $4.9M. That’s $1.7M higher than Brett Kern’s $3.2M.  That’s double what the Seahawks are paying Michael Dickson. It’s also five times more than last year’s first-team punter Jake Bailey.

To say it doesn’t make sense to pay a punter almost $5M is an understatement. Hekker will make $4.7M for the last two years of his contract. Considering Hekker’s contract was signed in 2019 and is still the highest contract three years later, that’s not very good value.

The Rams are a team with limited cap space. Imagine what they could do with $4M more dollars. That’s a lot of money for a position that teams generally don’t pay a lot of money.

Does it make sense to cut Hekker at this point in the offseason? If they cut him, it would only save a little over $2M, but it would save even more money down the line.

While the contract is a dilemma, the Los Angeles Rams also have the issue of Corey Bojorquez. Bojorquez isn’t just a typical camp leg. He’s just 24 years old and spent the last three years with the Buffalo Bills. He also wasn’t bad with the Bills.

Bojorquez’s net of 44 yards per punt last season ranked fifth in the NFL. He also led the NFL in yards per punt at 50.8 and had the longest punt last year at 72 yards. This is a player that has a very strong leg.

Where Bojorquez may not be as good as Hekker is at pinning the ball inside the 20 and unreturned punts. The former Bills punter landed just 19 punts inside the 20 last season which was 13 fewer than Hekker and ranked 23rd. To add to that, his seven touchbacks tied for the league most. Last season, 39% of Bojorquez’s punts were returned also ranked just 19th.

However, for a cap hit of just $1.02M and at just 24 years old, Bojorquez is giving the Rams a lot to think about. The Rams punted the ball four times on Saturday against the Chargers. Hekker punted the ball twice and Bojorquez punted the ball twice.

In those punts, Hekker had a higher average of 45.5 yards per punt. However, Hekker also had one touchback. Meanwhile, Bojorquez only averaged 43 yards per punt, but his 52 yard punt led the Rams and he also pinned one punt inside the 20.

It seems unfathomable that the Rams would ever cut Johnny Hekker. Prior to training camp, Hekker was quoted saying, “When push comes to shove, they have to make the best decisions for this roster and there’s no running around the financial aspect of it.”

Just last week, Hekker said, “Every day is a competition. If you’re not competing during training camp, you’re not in the right headspace and you’re not going to progress and be your best when September rolls around. Corey’s a very, very talented punter. He led the NFL in yards per punt last season. He’s been just building on that foundation that he had last season. He’s pushed me every day to be better.”

It seems unfathomable that the Los Angeles Rams would cut Johnny Hekker. However, it doesn’t seem totally out of the realm of possibility and Hekker is aware of that. To put it like this, the Rams just cut Austin MacGinnis, freeing up a space at kicker, officially giving Matt Gay the job. Contrarily, the Rams didn’t cut Corey Bojorquez.

Would the Rams actually cut Johnny Hekker? It still seems unlikely. Hekker is a known commodity at someone that the Rams are familiar with. He’s also a very important leader on the special teams unit. However, with a new special teams coach, it’s clear that Corey Bojorquez is giving the Rams a lot to think about.

 

 

 

 

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