Rams 2021 free agency preview: Austin Blythe’s future uncertain

The Rams’ offensive line made major improvements in 2020 after a year of struggles the season prior. Austin Blythe was a big reason for that, proving to be an upgrade over Brian Allen in the middle of the line.

That came after the Rams gave Blythe a one-year deal last offseason, keeping him in place between the two guards. Blythe will be a free agent for the second straight year, however, and after taking a one-year deal, he’s probably played his way into a long-term extension.

Can the Rams afford to give him another contract or will they let him walk in free agency?

2020 stats

(AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Analysis

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Blythe has bounced between guard and center in the last few years. He was a solid guard in 2018 before dropping off in 2019 and eventually shifting to center in relief of the injured Brian Allen. He retained the starting center job last season and played every single snap on offense. He wasn’t necessarily one of the best centers in the league this past year, but he also improved significantly over his 2019 season. Considering he only made $3.9 million in 2020, the Rams benefited from re-signing him last offseason. Where Blythe struggled was against powerful defensive tackles. He was bull-rushed by opposing defenders too often, which caused the pocket to collapse and led to tackles for loss in the running game. But there were more positives than there were negatives in Blythe’s game last season. As a durable and reliable interior offensive lineman who can play multiple spots, he brings plenty of value – and the Rams were smart to re-sign him a year ago.

Positional need: High

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams would most likely prefer to retain Blythe on a long-term deal and keep the cohesiveness on the offensive line. Blythe was a major upgrade over Brian Allen and the need for a quality center is high. Allen shouldn’t be relied upon to take over the starting job if Blythe leaves in free agency, and there isn’t another viable starter on the roster – outside of potentially moving Austin Corbett from guard, which would be a bad idea. If Blythe leaves, the Rams will need to find a new center either in the draft or in free agency. And while it might not be the most glamorous position, it is an important one.

Story continues

Prediction: Signs 3-year, $26 million deal elsewhere

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Blythe signed a one-year, $3.9 million extension with the Rams last offseason, which kept him around for 2020. It was a smart move and an affordable one, but keeping him around for the long haul will be a challenge. The price tag for centers is rising and if a team views Blythe as one of the 10 best players at his position – which isn’t as crazy as it sounds – he could make close to $10 million per year. Currently, Chase Roullier is the 10th-highest paid center in football at $10.125 million per year. The lower salary cap could keep Blythe below that threshold, but he still might be too expensive for the Rams to retain. I think he’ll sign with another team this offseason and the Rams will turn to the draft for his replacement.

Other free agency previews

OLB Leonard Floyd

S John Johnson

CB Troy Hill

WR Josh Reynolds

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Published: 2021-02-20 15:42:31

Tags: #Rams #free #agency #preview #Austin #Blythes #future #uncertain

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