The Rams and veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth both got what they desired.
Whitworth did not want to end his 14-year NFL career. The Rams, with no one to succeed the 38-year-old at one of football’s most important positions, needed the sage Whitworth to return.
Whitworth this week signed a front-loaded three-year contract, and is on track to once again line up as quarterback Jared Goff’s blindside protector.
“That was kind of the goal all along,” Whitworth said Thursday of his decision to stay with the team that signed him as a free agent in 2017. “I wanted to stay here and play, and once I decided for sure and got the OK from the family and everybody else that we were going to play football again — there’s no other place I’d want to be than here.”
Whitworth made his comments during a video conference with reporters.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection struggled at times in 2019, but he has been a cornerstone for Rams coach Sean McVay, who said in February that he was confident the franchise and Whitworth would come to terms on a new deal.
Whitworth’s contract could be worth as much as $30 million, though he is guaranteed only $12 million and will earn about $6.7 million this season, according to overthecap.com.
The Rams let several defensive players leave as free agents, but they re-signed Whitworth and offensive lineman Austin Blythe, a fifth-year pro. Blythe said this week that he was looking forward to lining up again with Whitworth.
“He’s going to play until he’s 45, I swear,” Blythe deadpanned. “His leadership is something that can’t go unsaid. Obviously, he’s a great football player. He’s been that way for the last 14 years.
“He’s just going to be a great presence in the locker room.”
Whitworth chuckled when asked if he would play until 45, saying it would remain a year-to-year decision.
“For veteran players, it’s really more of, ‘Can you make it through an offseason of really building your body up and all of the training and really intensity it takes to get to the football season?’ ” he said.
Whitworth long has been a fitness aficionado. During the offseason, he trains annually at altitude in Colorado. But with the COVID-19 outbreak limiting travel, and NFL practice facilities closed, he turned his garage at his Westlake home into a workout facility. The project, he said, became a family activity, his wife Melissa and their children chipping in as he built weight racks and assembled other equipment.
“The only problem is she wants to know what we’re going to do with all of it when things go back to normal,” Whitworth joked. “So I’ve got to figure that one out. But other than that we’re good.”
Whitworth is accustomed to adjusting to unforeseen scenarios. In 2005, he was a senior at Louisiana State when Hurricane Katrina displaced more than a million people.
“Our whole campus was turned into a triage,” he said. “It was quite a scary thing.”
Whitworth has spent part of the offseason continuing the kind of charity work that made him the Rams’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. In March, Whitworth and Goff each donated $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to help feed families in need.
Mentoring young players such as Goff has been rewarding, Whitworth said, acknowledging he also must improve his on-field performance. Last season, Whitworth was penalized for holding a career-worst nine times, according to profootballreference.com.
“A lot of penalties — a lot I would still argue with,” he said, “But you know what? ... It’s a thing of, hey, all right … although I may not see them as a hold, what can I can do differently, maybe, and have a plan for what they’re seeing as holding that I don’t agree with? The reality is all that matters is just what they see and so how can I make that play look different.”
Last season, Whitworth was part of a line that went through several permutations. Left guard Joe Noteboom and center Brian Allen suffered season-ending knee injuries. Right tackle Rob Havenstein also was affected by injuries.
Rookies Bobby Evans and David Edwards became starters, as did second-year pro Austin Corbett, who had been acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.
“There’s a lot to build off of,” Whitworth said. “We have a lot of young guys that will step in and play well and that are going to grow up and mature. I look forward to us having a fantastic rebound.”
The Rams will try to bounce back without star running back Todd Gurley. The three-time Pro Bowl selection was cut, and he subsequently agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons.
Gurley was a great player and teammate, Whitworth said.
“When you lose a guy like that, regardless of the circumstances, it’s just tough,” he said.
Running back Darrell Henderson showed flashes as a rookie of being “lightning in a bottle,” Whitworth said. And running back Malcolm Brown also returns.
Whitworth is looking forward to helping the Rams as they begin a new era at SoFi Stadium.
“I see myself as part of this franchise and something I’ve poured myself into,” he said, “and I have a lot left to pour into.”