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Putting The Horse Before The Cart: Cap Space, Contract Restructuring, Free Agency And How They Will Influence The Rams Draft

In the last two months I have seen many mock drafts predicting who the Rams will draft in April. I too have done many mocks and prepared my big board. What I haven't seen, in contrast, is as much time, energy and thought devoted to figuring out what roster moves the Rams will make in the interim between the end of the season and the draft. Most of us, in essence, have placed the cart before the horse.

This post is devoted to figuring out what the Rams will do with their roster before the draft occurs. Figuring out how much cap space we have, restructuring contracts, re-signing some of our own free agents and possibly signing free agents from other teams.

Calculating available cap space

I have seen many different numbers, in many different places, suggesting what the Rams available cap space is. Anywhere from 2 million to 40 million dollars. As an accountant here in Canada, working with numbers is my specialty. I analyzed all of the contracts for 2013, what space was carrying forward, the "dead money", the expected salary cap for 2013 (121 million) and the potential cap hit for each player in 2013. The resulting cap space figure was approximately 2 million dollars. ESPN and Spotrac also confirm that the available cap space is 2 million dollars.

I have seen many suggestions as to who we should sign in free agency: TE's Jared Cook and Dustin Keller, OT's Andre Smith, Brandon Albert and Sebastian Vollmer, WR's Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings, DT Desmond Bryant, G Andy Levitre and S's William Moore, Jairus Byrd and Dashon Goldson. The price tags for signing these types of free agents run from 5-6 million per season to 11 million or more per season. Given our available cap space, the chances of signing any of them appear to be non-existent. This is without even taking into account signing our own free agents.

How do the Rams create more cap space?

There are two things the Rams can do to create more cap space: they can release players from the roster or they can restructure existing contracts.

Listed below are the players who I believe have sufficiently high enough contracts to warrant serious consideration for either a restructuring of their contract or an outright release from their contract:

Steven Jackson - 7 million - (cap hit 9 million)

Harvey Dahl - 4 million - (cap hit 4 million)

Wayne Hunter - 4 million - (cap hit 4 million)

Quintin Mikell - 6 million - (cap hit 9 million)

I have not included Sam Bradford, Kendall Langford, Chris Long, Cortland Finnegan or James Laurinaitis as possible restructuring candidates based on their contract terms and future salary cap considerations. Please note that only the players salary can be restructured to affect the salary cap. Bonuses must be counted against the salary cap and cannot be restructured to affect the salary cap. I have not included any other players that might be released. The net effect of releasing players with minimal contracts and then replacing them with minimal contract players should not have a substantial effect on cap space.

Re-signing our own free agents

Listed below are the 19 players on the Rams roster who are either UFA's, RFA's or EFA's:

Danny Amendola

Steve Smith

Joe Barksdale

Tim Barnes

Kellen Clemens

Justin Cole

Jermelle Cudjo

Craig Dahl

Bradley Fletcher

Brandon Gibson

Mario Haggan

William Hayes

Trevor Laws

Rocky McIntosh

Mike McNeill

Barry Richardson

Darian Stewart

Robert Turner

Chris Williams

Given the limitations of our available cap space, it is inevitable that we will not be able to re-sign all of our free agents. Nor is it likely that we would want to. Careful consideration will have to be given with respect to who we should/should not re-sign. Aside from Danny Amendola (and perhaps William Hayes), the remaining free agents can all be re-signed relatively cheaply.

At present the Rams have 46 players under contract for 2013.

Free agents from other teams

Earlier in this post I listed some of the higher-priced free agents that are available that the Rams might consider to fill positions of need for 2013 and beyond. In order to sign any of them, the Rams would have to make some difficult decisions regarding who they would release, re-sign or attempt a restructuring of a contract with. Perhaps the biggest consideration in signing high-priced free agents is the effect on future salary cap space. With a great draft last year (and hopefully many more to follow) we must always bear in mind that those players will become free agents in 3-4 years themselves. Re-signing our own free agents in the future (and limiting free agent signings from other teams) will be paramount to continued success and management of the salary cap. This strategy is similar to the way the Green Bay Packers conduct their affairs, with great success. Limiting free agent signings and building through the draft puts a lot of pressure on Fisher and Snead to accumulate draft picks and pick players that will remain on the roster for many years.

What should the Rams do in anticipation of the draft? - My Plan

Creating cap space- I would release Quintin Mikell, Wayne Hunter and Harvey Dahl. Then I would restructure Steven Jackson's contract that reduces his salary to 4 million. His re-signing is very important to the team. It allows the Rams to gradually transition to Pead and Richardson while providing a great power back option. Most importantly, he is critical in many ways to our success. In games where he carried the ball 18 times or more the Rams record was 6-1-1. In games where he carried the ball less than 18 times the Rams record was 1-7. Enough said. What about signing our draft picks? If structured correctly the draft picks in 2013 should cost approximately as much as the players they would replace and additional smaller cuts. The additional cap space created by these moves would be 17 million dollars. That would bring our available cap space to 19 million dollars.

Re-signing our own free agents - The following players would be re-signed:

Danny Amendola 4.0 million (3 years-12 million)

Kellen Clemens 0.7 milliom (1 year)

Jermelle Cudjo 0.7 million (1 year)

Craig Dahl 1.0 million (1 year)

William Hayes 2.1 million (3 years-6.2 million)

Barry Richardson 1.3 million (1 year)

Robert Turner 1.0 million (1 year)

Re-signing Dahl and Richardson is a measure to have experienced backups until our draft picks can ascend to the starting line-up.

The total spent on re-signing these players is 11.0 million dollars.

Major free agent signing -

Andy Levitre - G - 7.0 million - (5 years - 35.0 million)

How do these moves impact on the draft in April?

The following is my mock draft, based on the above off season moves and future planning. Please note that the Rams trade down the 22 pick in the first round and a 2014 fourth round pick for a second, third and fourth round pick in the 2013 draft.

1- Eric Fisher - OT - Central Michigan

2A - Alec Ogletree - OLB - Georgia

2B - Larry Warford - G - Kentucky

3A - Da'Rick Rogers - WR - Tennessee Tech

3B - D.J. Swearinger - FS - South Carolina

4A - Ryan Otten - TE - San Jose State

4B - Duke Williams - SS - Nevada

5 - Brandon Williams - DT - Missouri Southern State

6 - Christine Michael - RB - Texas A&M

7 - Nick Becton - T/G - Virginia Tech

The main focus of my off season plan was on two areas: the Safety position and the Offensive Line. Through free agency and the draft the offensive line gets a massive overhaul. The safety position is also addressed in depth with the additions of Williams and Swearinger in the draft. Notwithstanding that, we also add quality help at WR, TE, DT and OLB. All of our needs are addressed with this plan.

The theme of this post was "Putting the horse before the cart". In relation to this article, it means that before we can attempt to create a meaningful mock draft (if there is such a thing as a meaningful mock draft) we should look at the various aspects of the preseason that occur before the draft. Those aspects greatly influence how we mock and how the draft will transpire in April.

Please let me know your thoughts on my plan. What would you do? Please let me know what your plan would be in the comments section.

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