Johnny Hekker

Rams Rework Johnny Hekker’s Contract

The Rams have restructured the contract of punter Johnny Hekker, as Field Yates of ESPN.com reports (Twitter link).

Los Angeles had been the most cap-strapped team in the league, and remain so even after reworking Hekker’s contract. By converting $1.21MM of Hekker’s 2018 base salary into a signing bonus, the Rams created $968K in cap space. However, the move only barely brings Los Angeles into cap compliance, as the club now has just ~$337K worth of cap room, per Joel Corry of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).

In order to reduce Hekker’s 2018 cap charge, the Rams used a simple restructure. Hekker will now earn the veteran’s minimum base salary during the upcoming campaign, and his cap number will increase by $242K from 2019-22. It’s a negligible sum for most teams, but the Rams don’t have any room to spare after making expensive additions such as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and wide receiver Brandin Cooks over the past month.

Hekker, 28, is considered the best punter in the NFL, as he’s been named first-team All-Pro in four of the past five seasons. In 2018, Hekker ranked second with a net punting average of 44.3 yards, while Los Angeles finished third in points created via its punt team, per Football Outsiders.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Extend Johnny Hekker

The Rams have signed punter Johnny Hekker to a record extension that will tie him to the team for the next six seasons, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports (on Twitter). It’s a two-year deal featuring $10MM in guarantees, the most ever for a punter.

Johnny Hekker

Hekker was already under Rams control through 2020 on the six-year, $18MM extension he inked in 2014. That deal still stands as a record pact for a punter and included $7.38MM in guarantees. Combining that accord and his new contract, Hekker stands to rake in $21MM through 2022, according to Schefter (Twitter link).

The 27-year-old Hekker has been resoundingly successful since the Rams pulled him off the scrapheap as an undrafted free agent from Oregon State in 2012. The seventh-year man has racked up three Pro Bowl bids and first-team All-Pro nods apiece, including in each of the previous two seasons, and was a second-team All-Pro in 2014. Hekker led the NFL in average yards per punt (47.9) two years ago and paced the league in net yardage per attempt (46.0) last season, when Football Outsiders ranked him as the game’s premier punter.

While the Rams cruised to a 46-9 rout over the Colts on Sunday, they still had to deploy Hekker five times in their season opener. He averaged 43.6 yards per boot on those kicks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Rams Sign Johnny Hekker To Extension

The Rams have locked up All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker for the next several seasons, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, who reports (via Twitter) that the two sides have agreed to a new six-year, $18MM extension. The deal, which includes $9MM in guaranteed money, keeps Hekker under team control through the 2020 season.

Hekker, who had been in the final year of his rookie contract, would’ve been eligible for restricted free agency this offseason. Since he went undrafted out of Oregon State, the 24-year-old only has three years of experience under his belt, rather than four. Through his first three seasons, Hekker earned minimum base salaries and a signing bonus of just $10K, so the new contract represents a significant raise.

Hekker earns that raise after ranking second overall among punters last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ advanced grades (subscription required), and leading the league with 44.3 net yards per punt. A year later, that net average has dipped slightly to 42.1 yards, but that still puts the Rams punter among the top five in the NFL, and PFF ranks him third overall.

Although there are plenty of punters and kickers whose contracts exceed the $18MM total and $3MM annual average value on Hekker’s new deal, the $9MM guarantee is a league-high for either position. Previously, the largest guarantees on current pacts belonged to Sebastian Janikowski ($8MM) and Dustin Colquitt ($7.9MM).

NFC West Notes: 49ers, Finley, Rams

The 49ers have had some wildly successful draft classes in recent years, and Sports On Earth’s Dan Pompei has a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the team’s 2014 draft. The author explains the strategy and thinking that went into each selection.

The team’s first-round pick, safety Jimmie Ward, wasn’t necessarily expected to be an early pick. While some teams focused on his injury and size, the 49ers focused on a strategy used by former Jets’ duo Bill Parcels and Dick Haley. General manager Trent Baalke said he learned that there are “few players who can perform at a high level regardless of system.” As a result, a coach should draft a player who fits nicely into their scheme.

I learned that a long time ago,” said Baalke. “Coach Parcells was the guy I looked at and learned the most from, he and Dick Haley. That was always the question with them, how do they fit what we are going to ask him to do? For us, it’s critical.

The author has other interesting insight, including the team’s selection of basketball player Bruce Ellington and trade for Steve Johnson.

Let’s take a look at some more notes from the NFC West…