For the first time since the Rams selected him with the 14th pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, Michael Brockers was untethered.
“In limbo,” he said.
Brockers had spent his entire eight-year NFL career with the Rams, but as an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season he was regarded as too pricey for a team already bearing the weight of massive contracts. Brockers explored the market, agreed to a lucrative three-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens last month and was set to begin a new chapter in his career.
Restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, have prevented NFL players from traveling for physicals, so questions about Brockers’ left ankle could not be answered sufficiently for the Ravens.
Circumstances made that deal fall through and led Brockers to re-sign with the Rams, landing the defensive lineman where he had hoped to be all along.
“When the opportunity arose and the opportunity to go to the Rams came back, it was like heaven,” Brockers said Monday from his hometown of Houston during a video conference with reporters.
Brockers, 29, returns to a franchise that is attempting to rebound from a 9-7 season. Coach Sean McVay hired three new coordinators, including Brandon Staley, 37, to oversee the defense.
Brockers will continue to be the longest-tenured defensive player for a unit that includes two-time NFL defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams lost linebacker Cory Littleton, edge rusher Dante Fowler, slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and safety Marqui Christian. They also cut linebacker Clay Matthews but added edge rusher Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson.
By re-signing Brockers, the Rams retained a lineup mainstay and a leader and mentor to younger players.
“When things didn't continue to work out with the Ravens, we were able to pounce on that opportunity,” McVay said. “I think there was a mutual excitement about getting a chance to reconnect.”
On March 16, Brockers appeared to be leading the exodus of Rams defensive players when he agreed to a $30-million contract with the Ravens that included $21 million in guarantees.
But Brockers had suffered a left ankle injury in the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals. He was examined by a doctor and had an MRI exam in Texas, but the Ravens had questions that apparently could not be answered without an in-person visit.
“It was all fine and dandy until the physical,” Brockers said. “Getting an outsourced physical for a team where, you know, their doctors don't really get to look at you, don’t get to put you through some tests that, you know, might skew different images that they might have gotten.”
To help fill the hole left by Brockers’ impending departure, the Rams agreed to terms with Robinson. But they worked out an incentive-laden deal with Brockers that could be worth as much as $31 million.
“Michael’s meant a lot to us here with the Rams, and [we] felt like, 'OK, is there a way that we can actually bring him back?’ ” general manager Les Snead said. “And now we’re better off on the defensive line than when we started per se. And when I say defensive line, interior defensive line.”
Donald had expressed frustration when the Rams initially let Brockers go, but McVay joked Monday that he was back in Donald’s good graces.
“Aaron finally was talking to me again once we got Michael back,” McVay said. “He was a little upset with me, I think, for a couple days.”
Brockers said he felt “great,” that he was getting physical therapy, and that he and his wife and three children were dealing with confinement caused by the pandemic.
“We have construction paper all over the place … and a little Crayola scissors all over the place, so we'll be doing a lot to just, you know, get our mind off of everything outside and get together and have some family time inside,” he said.
Brockers is looking forward to continuing his career with the only NFL team he has known. Young players who have played as backups will step up and help fill the void left by those who signed elsewhere, he said. And he intends to keep the same joyful attitude he has brought to work for eight seasons.
“We're the 1% of the 1% of the 1%,” he said. “So for me, man, this is a blessing. This is a chance to, you know, one-in-a-lifetime chance, so you know I'm enjoying it as I go through it.”
He will continue to play alongside Donald, a teammate since 2014.
“Our story is, you know, it's not done yet,” he said. “We feel like we still have some things to prove and finish.”