NFL

As Andrew Whitworth retires, Rams ready to give punter Johnny Hekker the boot

Championship confetti finally fell on Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, 40, before he retired. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He stood at a lectern and surveyed the room as his wife and four children, coaches, teammates and members of community organizations flanked reporters Tuesday at the Rams’ facility in Thousand Oaks.

And then Andrew Whitworth, the Rams’ left tackle for the last five seasons and a pillar of the Super Bowl championship team, choked up several times as he looked back on an NFL career that spanned 16 seasons and explained why he was retiring.

“The warrior wants to go again, but the body just doesn’t,” he said, adding, “It’s just time.”

Whitworth, 40, enjoyed a seemingly timeless career.

He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. He is one of only five NFL offensive linemen to play into their 40s and the oldest to start at left tackle.

Whitworth played 11 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals before signing with the Rams as a free agent in March 2017, two months after the Rams made Sean McVay, then 30 years old, the youngest coach in NFL history.

“He changed the trajectory of this organization when he got here,” McVay said. “There’s nobody that has had a bigger impact than Andrew Whitworth on establishing the foundation, the culture of ‘We Not Me,’ being a part of something bigger than yourself.”

Said Rams owner Stan Kroenke in a statement: “Andrew Whitworth epitomizes the best of people. His hard work to perform at the highest levels on the field is only surpassed by his commitment to making his communities better. Andrew is at the heart of our success in Los Angeles these past five years, both for how he wraps his arms around this region and how he lifts up our entire organization.”

Whitworth is not the only veteran leaving the Rams.

The team plans to release punter Johnny Hekker, a four-time first-team All-Pro who was the longest-tenured Rams player, a person with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday. Hekker’s release will come after the start of the NFL’s new league year, said the person who requested anonymity because the move will not become official until Wednesday.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker jogs back to the locker room after a game in October.

Punter Johnny Hekker started his Rams career in St. Louis. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Whitworth was due to carry a salary cap number of $17.6 million in the final year of a contract that included $12 million in guarantees and lucrative incentives, according to overthecap.com. Hekker, a 10-year veteran, was due to carry a cap number of $3.2 million.

The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Whitworth finished his career in February by helping the Rams defeat the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. A few days before the game, he was named the winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, presented annually to a player for his outstanding achievement on the field and in the community.

Whitworth, a Louisiana native, played at Louisiana State before the Bengals selected him in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft with the 55th overall pick.

“I gave my heart and soul to that place,” he said of Cincinnati. “I know we made a lot of difference in that community. I know we created a culture that was about winning.

“We may not have found a way to win a playoff game or win a championship, but we won a lot of freakin’ games.”

After signing with the Rams, Whitworth said his goal was to help change the culture. He was captain for teams that went to the playoffs four times in five seasons and finished with a Super Bowl victory.

“Winning is important — I think culture’s important,” he said, fighting back tears. “But I think the most important thing that I would hope guys remember me [by] would be that they believe in themselves. And that I believe in them.

“And that nothin’, absolutely nothin’, is not attainable if they chase it, and they want it, and they believe in it.”

Whitworth said he would miss the routine of studying pass rushers and defenses and talking with teammates about what it takes to win.

“I’m mainly going to miss the locker room, and the coaches and trainers and the support staff,” he said, “Just the daily living life of chasing these dreams.”

Now it is time to chase other things, he said.

“I feel like I’m at a time in my life where maybe chasing the best dad I can be, the best husband, best friend, are things to me that are important,” he said. “And then finding a way to … fall in love with football all over again.”

Whitworth said he and his family are looking forward to continuing their community work, and what comes next.

“Everything is going to be under consideration for me and my future,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to put limitations on anything.”

Etc.

The Rams gave an original-round tender to kicker Matt Gay, a restricted free agent who was drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, NFL.com reported. The tender is worth $2.54 million. If another team signs Gay to an offer sheet and the Rams opt not to match it, the Rams would receive a fifth-round pick as compensation. … Outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, a Ram since 2018, agreed to terms with the Houston Texans, according to NFL.com. … The Rams received five 2022 NFL draft compensatory picks for losing four free agents and Brad Holmes, who became the Detroit Lions’ general manager, after the 2020 season. The picks: third round, No. 104 overall; fourth round (No. 142); sixth round (Nos. 211, 212 and 218).

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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