Rams keep Johnny Hekker after reworking contract, trade Corey Bojorquez to Packers
Throughout his career, punter Johnny Hekker has reworked his contract numerous times to create salary-cap space that enabled the Rams to keep or sign other high-priced players.
On Tuesday, the four-time All-Pro restructured his deal to ensure he would remain with the Rams for a 10th season.
With teams trimming rosters to 53 players, the Rams ended their most high-profile position battle by trading punter Corey Bojorquez to the Green Bay Packers and keeping Hekker.
Terms of the trade were not disclosed, but the Rams sent Bojorquez and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick to Green Bay in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick, according to a person with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly.
Hekker, 31, is the Rams’ longest-tenured player and has been the NFL’s highest-paid punter. He was scheduled to carry a salary-cap number of $4.9 million this season, according to overthecap.com.
The Rams bolstered their running back corps by acquiring Sony Michel from the New England Patriots in a trade. The Rams love his big-game experience.
“What Johnny’s done here … long before I got here, is something that doesn’t go lost on me, doesn’t go lost on us,” coach Sean McVay said after practice. “And I am confident that he’s going to be the productive player he’s been throughout the course of his career.”
Hekker has been on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Aug. 21. In last Saturday’s preseason finale at Denver, Bojorquez had a punt that traveled 67 yards, a 48-yard kick that was downed at the one-yard line and a 71-yard kick that bounced out of bounds at the one.
After the game, Bojorquez, 24, said he signed with a Rams in April so he could learn from Hekker. He praised the veteran for teaching him the “banana punt” that was downed at the one against the Broncos. He also indicated he was not worried about the Rams’ impending decision about his future.
“I just kind of go with the flow,” he said.
Said McVay: “Corey did an amazing job of maximizing the upside and the interest from teams out there.”
The Rams are anticipating a bounce-back season by Hekker. Last year he averaged a career-low 45.6 yards per punt.
Hekker attended practice Tuesday for the first time in 10 days. He kicked during warmups but did not participate in the workout, according to the Rams.
McVay said he was not concerned that Hekker’s experience with COVID-19 would adversely affect his ability to perform.
Rams new running back Sony Michel was surprised by the trade, and now it’s a matter of learning the playbook before the Sept. 12 opener against Chicago.
In addition to the trade, the Rams cut 19 players, many of whom are expected to return as practice squad players if they clear waivers.
Among those released were linebacker Micah Kiser, a 2018 fifth-round pick. Kiser started nine games last season and ranked among the team’s top tacklers before he suffered a knee injury.
The Rams kept four inside linebackers: Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard and rookie Ernest Jones.
“One of the most difficult decisions we had to make,” McVay said of cutting Kiser.
The Rams had not planned to carry three quarterbacks, but Bryce Perkins forced their hand by performing well during preseason games.
The Rams would have preferred to carry starter Matthew Stafford and backup John Wolford on the roster and Perkins on the practice squad. However, they deemed the risk of putting Perkins on waivers and having him claimed by another team as too great.
“If you told me a few weeks ago, ‘Did you envision keeping three quarterbacks?’ I would have told you no,” McVay said. “I think that’s a real credit to Bryce Perkins.”
Among the players cut were rookie defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV, a fifth-round pick from Northwestern. Among the surprising players kept was former Northwestern and Notre Dame receiver Ben Skowronek, a seventh-round pick who has been sidelined because of a forearm injury.
The Rams know they need DeSean Jackson’s speed to stretch defenses this season, so they have strategically rested the veteran to make sure he’s healthy for the season opener.
The roster will remain in flux before the Sept. 12 season opener against the Chicago Bears. The Rams will scan other teams’ cut lists for possible waiver claims and free-agent signings that could bolster their chances of winning the NFC West and returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2018 season.
McVay said outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, who has been nursing a neck/shoulder injury, and perhaps offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum (knee) would be placed on the short-term injured list, which would make them unavailable for three games.
Offensive lineman Coleman Shelton was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Running back Xavier Jones was waived after suffering an Achilles injury against the Broncos.
Rams’ 53-man roster
The team by position after cutting the roster to the mandated 53:
Quarterbacks (3): Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins.
Running backs (3): Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk.
Wide receivers (6): Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek.
Tight ends (4): Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Brycen Hopkins, Jacob Harris.
Offensive linemen (9) : Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards, Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, Rob Havenstein, Joe Noteboom, Bobby Evans, Alaric Jackson, Tremayne Anchrum.
Defensive line (7) : Aaron Donald, Sebastian Joseph-Day, A’Shawn Robinson, Bobby Brown III, Greg Gaines, Michael Hoecht, Jonah Williams.
Inside linebackers (4): Kenny Young, Troy Reeder, Travin Howard, Ernest Jones.
Outside linebackers (5): Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, Obo Okoronkwo, Chris Garrett.
Cornerbacks (4): Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long, Robert Rochell.
Safeties (6): Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, Terrell Burgess, J.R Reed, JuJu Hughes.
Specialists (2): Kicker Matt Gay, long-snapper Matt Orzech.
Reserve/COVID-19 list (1): Punter Johnny Hekker.
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