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Johnny Hekker thought he might get the boot before Rams put money on veteran punter

Rams punter Johnny Hekker watches his kick.
During the preseason, punter Johnny Hekker could see his Rams career flashing before his eyes before the team decided to stick with the veteran.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Johnny Hekker acknowledged feeling conflicted.

As he sat at home and watched the Rams’ final preseason game against the Denver Broncos last week, Hekker saw Corey Bojorquez boom several punts, including one downed at the one-yard line and another that bounced out of bounds at the one.

Hekker, 31, could not play because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He was pleased for the 24-year-old Bojorquez, but sensed his nine-year tenure with the Rams might be over.

“When I saw his success, I was very happy for him but on the other hand I saw a little bit of writing on the wall, that could be the team might go with this guy and I could be having to find a new home here pretty soon,” Hekker said Thursday after he was removed from the COVID-19 list.

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Hekker, however, agreed to restructure what had been the NFL’s largest contract for a punter, and on Tuesday the Rams traded Bojorquez and a 2023 seventh-round draft pick to the Green Bay Packers for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick.

Hekker’s contract was not the only financial consideration in play, general manager Les Snead said. Bojorquez would be a free agent after this season.

General manager Les Snead likes the roster the Rams have assembled but admits that doesn’t matter much until the players hit the field.

“There was an element of, if he continued punting like this, Corey might be one of the highest-paid punters in a year,” Snead said Wednesday, “and we might not be able to handle that.”

Hekker, a four-time All-Pro and the Rams’ longest-tenured player, is looking forward to preparing for his 10th season with the team that signed him as a free agent from Oregon State in 2012.

After averaging a career-low 45.6 yards per punt in 2020, Hekker was ready to challenge himself. But when the Rams signed Bojorquez in April it became a competition.

Hekker played in the first preseason game against the Chargers. But on the day of the second game against the Las Vegas Raiders he tested positive for COVID-19.

“There were no symptoms that got out of hand, nothing felt like we were in real danger,” he said. “Just had some body aches, little coughs and no taste and smell but other than that we’re really thankful and just glad to be on the other side now and looking forward to just having a great season.”

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Hekker said he leaned on his faith and close friends during a time of uncertainty and watched the streaming series “Ted Lasso” to put his mind in a positive place.

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.

As with Bojorquez, who credited Hekker for guidance and teaching him to effectively execute a “banana punt,” Hekker said he benefited from competing against and exchanging information with Bojorquez.

“I’m humbled for the opportunity to come back, to feel appreciated and wanted back here,” he said. “To be able to come back and be in this locker room with all those guys I’ve cultivated relationships with, it means so much.”

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Hekker said he returns with a renewed sense of purpose.

“To be a good leader, be a good punter and just have a ton of fun doing it,” he said.

Etc.

Outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (neck/shoulder) and offensive tackle Tremayne Anchrum (knee) were placed on the reserve/injured list. They will be sidelined at least three games. ... Outside linebacker Chris Garrett was placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.


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