As of today, the St. Louis Rams are the only team in the NFL over the salary cap. So much for a team that many used to criticize because they were reluctant to spend money on free agent contracts. GM Billy Devaney added a dozen free agents this year, and he may not be done given the need at cornerback. All those moves and the existing contracts already on the books conspired to put the Rams more than $822,000 over the NFL's $120 million salary cap. That's mostly chump change in the world of NFL contracts, but it will require some further adjustments to the payroll.
Remember, the bulk of the Rams' cap hit comes from the contracts of their last three draft picks, a pricey haul of two second-overall picks and one first-overall pick spanning 2008-2010. Sam Bradford is due a hefty $18 million bonus this year, by far the biggest cap hit. Chris Long and Jason Smith are also due big payments against the cap.
I've been asked a couple times about the possibility of restructuring those deals, and can answer that pretty succinctly: no way. The most likely contract to be restructured is Chris Long, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 season. Long wouldn't find it very advantageous to restructure this year, with the defense likely to improve over last season. Another season like his last, and Long can earn substantially more money. He could also get hit with the franchise tag in 2013, and restructuring his deal is more realistic after this season. Jason Smith hasn't lived up to his contract, but the Rams have no leverage to seek a restructure. And Bradford is only in his second season, and become much more affordable after this year.
Make no mistake, this cap situation will require action, and savings are likely to come at the expense of some veterans on the roster. Look no further than crowded roster spots where a rookie or otherwise cheaper player can replace a veteran with a more expensive contract.
Linebacker is an obvious spot, and the Rams have already released David Vobora in order to free up some cap space. Na'il Diggs is due $1.25 million in salary and competing for a final roster spot with Ben Leber, Brady Poppinga and Zac Diles, among others. James Butler already agreed to a restructured contract, worth a cap hit near a million. He could be a candidate for release if youngsters like Darian Stewart or rookie Jermale Hines can make a case for a spot. Some of the million dollar backups on the offensive line could be vulnerable too.