Considering how the 2019 and 2020 seasons went for Rams offensive lineman Brian Allen – and perhaps the early stages of the 2021 offseason went – getting a multi-year contract might have seemed improbable.
In 2019, there was the season-ending knee injury in Week 10 against the Steelers. In 2020, getting COVID-19 early in the year, then not playing in a single game as he continued to rehab his knee. In 2021, beginning the offseason program as backup center before becoming the starter during training camp a few months later – heading into a contract year, no less.
Put simply, a period of nearly two years that would be enough to cast doubt on being retained long-term.
"Just thinking back to 2019, that was – I talk about being in a dark place, and the place really is not knowing you're going to be playing football," Allen said during a video conference with reporters Monday. "You're hurt, you have a year left on your deal, and then you kind of get in that area of, 'OK, I'm free agent who hasn't played, or I'm a starter who plays in year four,' those things kind of set up this. In my mind, going into last year, I obviously wanted to be the starter last year but it went further than that. And I'd be lying to say that it wasn't in the back of my head that I wanted to have a great year to continue my football career."
Allen did and was rewarded with a three-year contract by the Rams, avoiding unrestricted free agency.
The commitment brings back an important part of Los Angeles' offensive success in 2021.
Beyond being durable and starting 20 of 21 regular season and playoff games during the Rams' Super Bowl LVI-winning campaign, Allen quickly established a strong rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford that helped Stafford put together one of the most productive seasons for a signal-caller in franchise history – 41 passing touchdowns tied Kurt Warner's record, 4,886 passing yards set a new record – and the Rams rank ninth in total offense and eighth in scoring offense during the regular season.
"What I saw from him was a competitor," Stafford said during a video conference with reporters Monday. "He started training camp as the number two center with corporate plan center and you know, a different rotation going on and he battled his way into that starting lineup. He earned it and then he kept it throughout the year. He has great command of what we're trying to do and understanding of how we can go out there and get it done. He's a really physical player. He takes pride in trying to dominate people. I think of the snaps he had against Tampa early in the season against (defensive tackle) Vita Vea, who is as dominant of an inside player as there is in our league, and just his physicality, his finished both on the the first level and the second level is something that I think guys in that room really feed off of."
Even with that strong performance in 2021, Allen admitted free agency was more stressful than he thought it would be. It was his first time going through that process, after all, so he didn't know what to expect.
After the deal was signed and he was back in L.A. like he wanted to be, though, he was relieved and excited.
"Once free agency started, I really just want to get back there," Allen said. "So, glad it's over. Glad I am committed to playing football with the guys for three more years, and being somewhere where I have some familiarity and just people that I love being around and love going to work with."