The deal was set. The day that NFL free agency began, March 18, the word came down that veteran defensive end Michael Brockers was going to leave the Rams and become a Baltimore Raven. The deal was three years for $30 million with a reported $21 million guaranteed, pending a physical.
And then it wasn’t. Nine days later, the Ravens’ team website confirmed that the team would not sign Brockers, and the sticking point turned out to be (a) the ankle that Brockers had injured in the Rams’ final regular-season game in 2019, and (b) that physical, which was conducted by a physician in Brockers’ hometown of Houston rather than by the Ravens’ doctors, at the very moment that COVID-19 had pretty much halted everything. The Ravens looked at those X-rays and MRI, ran them past a third doctor, and were dubious enough about the findings to back out of the deal.
Advantage, Rams. Brockers quickly re-signed with the only NFL team he has known, for three years and $31.5 million. That enabled him to be part of the league’s No. 1 defense, one that will have to play a big role if the Rams are to get past Green Bay in the divisional round on Saturday in expected frigid conditions.
“I had someone hit me up the other day and say, ‘Man, you could have been in Baltimore right now,’” Brockers said on a Zoom conference the other day.
“For me, I’m living it, living a dream, especially being with this team. … It’s a blessing to be here. For how everything went down, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is the team I’m supposed to win it with.”
Brockers’ 51 tackles (20 solo) are a career-low, although he’s been in on more stops than Aaron Donald (45, 27 solo) and is tied with Kenny Young for eighth on the team. He has five sacks for a unit that has 53 this season (13.5 by Donald), tops in the league using the NFL’s measure of sacks per pass play.
But there’s much more to Brockers’ presence than mere numbers.
“When you just think about the energy, the charisma, the presence and the leadership that he provides, he has been so instrumental,” head coach Sean McVay said this week. “It’s not just the production. … He’s got this warm, engaging personality, but he locks in on the field. Guys look to him to see, ‘All right, what does it look like to be a pro’s pro with how you approach meetings, how you approach practice?’ (He) has that perfect balance of urgency and enjoyment.”
Those qualities were missed two weeks ago, when Brockers was on the COVID list and was unavailable for the regular-season finale against Arizona. They were welcome attributes last week, in preparation for the wild-card round against Seattle, and the guess is that Brockers has been just as upbeat this week as the Rams’ defense prepares to face Aaron Rodgers and the league’s fifth-ranked offense.
“It’s something that you can never quantify. You have to see it to know it,” defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said. “When Brock got to that game (last week), what it did for our locker room and then when he got on that field, you just have to see it to know it and to believe it.
“It means so much to our team and to me personally, when you come into a team as a first-time defensive coordinator who no one’s ever heard of, (and) to have a guy like that accept you and believe in you and then to perform the way he hast this year. … I’m a huge Michael Brockers fan.”
Given Brockers’ brush with COVID – “It’s nerve-wracking because you’re not sure what to expect; I almost feel like I made myself sick just knowing,” he said – we will not describe his laugh as infectious. But you get the idea.
“They tell me about my laugh all the time,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Man, that laugh, you can’t mistake that.’
“I still love the game. I think that’s (why) I’m having so much fun with it. … If you enjoy getting better and enjoy winning, that’s what it’s all about. And at the same time, you got to enjoy what you do. You got to laugh. You got to have fun because you don’t want to be miserable. Once you get in here and you’re miserable every morning, it’s kind of like you don’t want to be here. So it’s all up to you as far as how you show up every day, how your attitude is.”
It has to be fun, of course, to be part of a unit that’s rolling along the way the Rams’ defense has: first in the league in total defense (281.9 yards per game) and passing defense (190.7) during the regular season, third in rushing defense (91.3) and first in scoring defense (18.9 ppg). Last Saturday they held Seattle below its regular-season marks in total offense (278 yards compared to 369.5) and passing (142 compared to 246.3) in a 30-20 victory, and did so with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald sidelined for the entire fourth quarter.
When Donald is playing, as he is expected to in Green Bay, everyone else is that much better.
“You know the offense is looking at him and looking for him and they’re worried about him,” Brockers said. “For the most part, having him in the game is almost like a decoy.”
Now, that’s fun.
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