Since Sean McVay took over in 2017, the Los Angeles Rams embraced their Hollywood locale and became a place to find stars. These stars primarily came through trade but Les Snead and Stan Kroenke aren’t afraid to spend top dollar.
Now, before discussing the best Rams free agent pick-up under McVay it’s worth remembering what the Rams situation was when McVay landed at LAX. When it comes to the Rams, history is authored by the losers because the narrative is that McVay’s success was born on third base, while Kyle Shanahan’s success was born in a cave with a box of scraps. That is absolutely not the case. Jared Goff is all of a sudden a number one overall pick who gave McVay a leg up, Aaron Donald was just one member of a top-tier defense, Todd Gurley was already the second coming of Emmitt Smith, etc.
Go look up the opening-day roster for the 2017 Rams. In hindsight, it might seem impressive but at the time NO ONE had them winning the NFC West. Dispelling the full “McVay is a hack” narrative is an issue for a different column (cough assignment desk cough)
BUT it’s important to remember that the pursuit of stars and the “F— DEM PICKS” era was born out of the foundation McVay built and did so with his best free-agent acquisition as a cornerstone and that is future Hall of Fame tackle Andrew Whitworth.
The Top Rams Free Agent Signing Of The McVay Era
That’s right, Andrew Whitworth is the single most important free-agent player pickup in McVay’s time in LA. Robert Woods is a close second and the one most lean towards because his impact shows up more directly in highlights, but Whitworth is more important. Woods’ deal was absolutely mocked by many because no one knew who the hell he was when he signed a 5 year $35 million deal. Whitworth’s was seen as a good pick up mostly for Whitworth who signed a three-year $33.75 ($15 million guaranteed deal) which was the highest of his career to that point.
He was 35 at the time and this was seen as him getting one last payday after it was clear his Bengals teams weren’t winning a title. In hindsight, this deal seems like a no-brainer and the Rams got a steal but in the moment it appeared that Whitworth was in the twilight of his career. So, they weren’t exactly signing prime Orlando Pace. The thing is, he was exactly the kind of player and person a young team with an even younger head coach needed. He was a three-time Pro Bowler who had playoff experience. But more importantly, he was a big part of why McVay’s “WE NOT ME” mantra was able to take hold.
Prior to Whitworth, the Rams’ search for a quality left tackle was comparable to the pursuit of the Flying Hellfish fortune. There are many a-draft pick and free agency signings i.e. Jason Smith, Greg Robinson, Adam Goldberg, Joe Barksdale, etc. Not exactly names that are regarded highly if at all. The Rams line finally had a grown-up at tackle and that allowed the rest of their line to fall into place and that allowed the new offense to make a leap right out of the gate.
Whitworth not only shaped the Rams on the field but off the field, he and his wife made themselves an indelible part of the LA community. Remember, the Rams had only moved back a year prior and because they were gone from LA for twenty-five years they had no actual cultural footprint. The Whitworths changed that immediately through their philanthropy.
When there were wildfires, he and his wife were there to help families in need and when there was a shooting near the training facility in Thousand Oaks, Whitworth donated his game check to the victims’ families. Morally, that’s obviously the right thing to do of course but for fans, these actions (and yes his play on the field) helped endear the team to LA quicker than many thought possible. He would later become a Walter Payton Man of the Year.
He’s also a big reason why the Rams were able to take on as many stars as they have throughout the McVay tenure as he, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald are the key voices in the locker room that made sure that the culture didn’t suffer even with outsized personalities such as Odell Beckham, Jalen Ramsey, and Ndamukong Suh were added to the alchemy.
He was also a great mentor to the younger linemen and this was seen when he was on IR in 2020 after tearing his PCL. He made sure to coach up Joe Noteboom while doing his rehab. He bled blue and yellow all the way to a Super Bowl and even at 40 years old (the oldest offensive lineman to play in and win a Super Bowl) he remained a key cog in everything they did. The McVay tenure needed veteran leadership if it was to succeed and Andrew Whitworth was the perfect player at the perfect time. Without him, it’s likely that the success McVay has experienced never happens.