In 13-plus NFL seasons, Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth has played in 206 games and lined up against every team in the league.
On Sunday at Wembley Stadium, Whitworth, 37, for the first time will play against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that drafted him the second round in 2006. Whitworth played 11 seasons for the Bengals — earning Pro Bowl recognition four times — before the Rams made him a cornerstone free-agent signing before the 2017 season.
Whitworth said he had a great experience playing for the Bengals.
“I had the opportunity to play with a lot of awesome guys, a lot of teammates that I care about,” Whitworth said. “Some are still there, some aren’t.
“I still care a lot about them. I care a lot about the organization.”
The Rams enter Sunday’s game coming off a 37-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, a victory that ended a three-game losing streak and improved their record to 4-3.
The Bengals are 0-7 under first-year coach Zac Taylor, a member of the Rams staff for two seasons before the Bengals hired him after the Super Bowl.
Whitworth’s legacy on the field and in the Cincinnati community lives on, Taylor said.
“He was a great leader here for a number of years and people reflect fondly on his career and the way he affected people,” Taylor said. “There’s no doubt about it. In the community, I go to a restaurant and people bring up Whit.
“You can obviously tell that he and his wife had an impact on this community and I know this community means a lot to him as well.”
The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Whitworth might have spent his entire career with the Bengals if they had made him a competitive offer after the 2016 season. The Rams signed Whitworth to a three-year, $33.75-million deal that included $15 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com.
“I don’t think there’s anything really to look back for me with animosity,” Whitworth said of Bengals’ decision. “It was more a situation where some in the building thought I was done, and some in the building didn’t. And you know what? It is what it is.”
Whitworth immediately improved a Rams line that protected quarterback Jared Goff and cleared the way for running back Todd Gurley to earn the NFL offensive player of the year award in 2017. The Rams, under first-year coach Sean McVay, won the NFC West and lost to the Falcons in a wild-card playoff game.
In 2018, after six playoff losses with the Bengals and one with the Rams, Whitworth finally experienced a postseason victory — and more — as the Rams advanced to the Super Bowl.
After the season, the Rams lost two key pieces of the line when they let center John Sullivan and left guard Rodger Saffold leave as free agents.
Second-year pros Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom replaced Sullivan and Saffold, respectively, on a unit that struggled to play well consistently through most of the first half of this season. Noteboom suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago and has been replaced by rookie David Edwards.
Edwards played well against the Falcons, and he said afterward that Whitworth had given him support and confidence.
Whitworth is a counsel for the Rams’ 33-year-old head coach as well.
“His leadership has been invaluable, and in a lot of instances, I’ve learned from him,” McVay said. “He’s been a great sounding board for me.
“As a guy that has played so long, he’s got such great wisdom and he’s also has a great perspective on things. I think that has been invaluable, really, for our team.”
Following the Rams’ Super Bowl defeat by the New England Patriots, speculation immediately began about Whitworth’s future.
Would he retire? Would he be back in 2019?
The scenario is expected to be repeated at the end of this season, the final year of Whitworth’s contract.
Whitworth said players go through “waves” every season. Physically, they might “feel like crap” in late October and mid-November, suddenly feel a resurgence in December, and then feel bad again in January or February.
Decisions about the future, therefore, should not be made until players distance themselves from the season and evaluate how they feel mentally and physically, Whitworth said.
“That’s a much better place to make that decision,” he said, adding, “It’s kind of one of those things: ‘Wait till it’s all over and then we’ll see.’”