Free agent Michael Brockers to step out of Aaron Donald's shadow

In eight seasons with the Rams', six playing next to Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers has 229 tackles, 23 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Over the past several seasons, it became a weekly refrain inside the Los Angeles Rams locker room.

"All right, all right, all right," defensive lineman Michael Brockers would jokingly mutter as approached his locker. "I know ya'll here for Aaron."

To reach his belongings, Brockers would maneuver through reporters and television cameras overflowing from the adjacent stall where star defensive tackle Aaron Donald would speak. It rarely failed that Donald, upon hearing Brockers' commentary, would peer over the crowd toward his longtime friend and teammate to share an embarrassed grin.

Brockers appeared to take the slight inconvenience that came with being teammates with arguably one of the best athletes in the game in stride. He had grown accustomed to the attention Donald commanded, given his status as a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

But with free agency approaching, the attention turns to Brockers, who after eight seasons with the Rams -- including six seasons playing next to Donald -- appears destined to sign elsewhere.

"It's kind of a new territory for me," Brockers said in December about his pending free agency. "Last time, it was like a fifth-year option and we kind of took care of it then, now it's kind of -- I'm available to test the market."

Last month, Brockers sat alongside his wife, Faith, as he recorded a goodbye video for Uninterrupted.

"Being a Ram and being in the NFL, it was a great experience," Brockers said in the video. "No matter what happens next, I was honored to be a Ram."

The Rams are projected to have $19 million in salary cap space, according to Overthecap.com, but have a host of free agents whom they need to make long-term decisions about, including left tackle Andrew Whitworth, offensive lineman Austin Blythe, pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr., linebacker Cory Littleton and kicker Greg Zuerlein.

Rams coach Sean McVay said at the combine the team was interested in re-signing Whitworth. Last week, Rams general manager Les Snead said on a team podcast they were negotiating a return with Blythe.

It appears increasingly likely Brockers, who is coming off a three-year, $33.3 million extension, won't fit into the budget. While the 29-year-old is expected to draw plenty of attention when he tests the market, the experience also will be accompanied by some uncertainty.

Playing next to Donald, who has a league-high 33 sacks over the past two seasons, has caused Brockers to question his own value.

"That messes with me a little bit," Brockers said. "When you play against one of the greatest 3-techniques that have ever played this game you have a skewed view on what's good and what's not, because you have to see a guy who has double-digit sacks every year and you have a guy like me, who is a good player, but doesn't have as many sacks.

"So, it's kind of like, what's my worth, what's my worth in this league?"

According to one NFC scout, Brockers' skill set will be in high demand.

"He's one of the best versus the run the way he's able to anchor versus a double team," the scout said. "He has great strength at the point of attack, he's always penetrating gaps and he's durable."

Donald called Brockers one of the best at stopping the run.

"He's been that way since I've been in the league watching him and playing with him," Donald said. "He don't got the sack numbers, but as far as production when it comes to stopping the run and doing his job, he's been great at it."

The Rams selected Brockers from LSU with the 14th overall pick in 2012. In eight seasons, which included a switch from a 4-3 to 3-4 defensive scheme, he has 229 tackles, 23 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

The longest-tenured player on the Rams' defense, Brockers has missed five games in his career and developed into a cornerstone of the locker room.

"I can't say enough about what a great job I think he's done as a leader," McVay said. "He's a vocal guy, he's got a great personality, a great demeanor."

Before he departed the locker room at the end of the season, Brockers acknowledged the business side of the NFL, and that the Rams might move on. He also said he was excited to see who was interested in him.

And if there's a chance he return to the Rams? Brockers said he's open to that, too.

"I don't know what respect I have around the league," he said.

Soon enough, he'll find out.