After a 7-8-1 season, the Rams are ready to take a big leap forward in 2013. They probably shouldn't be planning on any big free agent deals to help them.
Sure, to schlubs like you and me, $10 million is a lot of money. For an NFL team, $10 million means something else, something less, especially when you're talking about cap space.
The St. Louis Rams have roughly $10 million in cap room for 2012. It's not much to work with, but it's better than nothing. As the team's executive VP Kevin Demoff has mentioned in a recent round of media appearances, that money is what the Rams have available this year for re-signing their own free agents, signing new free agents, draft picks, etc.
If you were hoping for another big splash in free agency, landing a premier free agent like Dwayne Bowe or someone like that, you should probably temper your expectations just a little.
Since taking over as the NFL editor at SB Nation (stop by and see us sometime!), I've been inundated with coaching rumors and general manager news this week, but have been getting a ton of questions about the Rams cap situation on Twitter and elsewhere.
As you know, we'll be getting into free agency, the draft, etc. in GREAT detail here at TST (with the help from our amazing new staff members), so consider this just a primer.
Why so little cap money?
You probably remember talk from the fall of 2011 about what great shape the Rams were in vis-a-vis the cap, with something like $30 million or so. They were, and part of the money was always there for making sure some of the cornerstone players on the roster didn't get away in free agency.
Extensions for Chris Long and James Laurinaitis were always part of that plan, and the Rams have never made that secret. Long's deal carries a cap hit of more than $14 million in 2013, which is actually pretty reasonable considering the kinds of deal top pass rushers get. Laurinaitis' new deal has a cap hit of roughly $12 million next year.
Sometimes the best free agent signings are the free agents a team doesn't let slip away.
What's the NFL salary cap in 2013?
The official cap amount isn't going to be announced for awhile, so the precise number is not set. However, we know that it will be right around $121 million, essentially flat. That's roughly a $400,000 increase over last year.
There's been some talk that the cap amount would increase in 2014, when the league's renewed television deals kick in, with an annual payout of roughly $9 billion, but there's no guarantee that any dramatic jump is coming. In fact, that matter could be the next battle ground between the NFL and the NFLPA. The union has been telling players and agents to expect a big jump that year.
But let's worry about 2014 a little further down the line.
How does this impact the Rams' free agents?
Clearly, it means making wise economic decisions and some shrewd negotiations to keep players like Danny Amendola from getting away, if the team so chooses. Franchise tag amounts increased this year. Wide receivers are expected to get a one-year deal worth more than $10 million under the tag, which pretty much rules out that option for Danny Amendola.
Can the Rams free up some cap room with cuts?
Of course, and they probably will. For instance, $4 million for No. 3 offensive tackle Wayne Hunter and $9 million for safety Quintin Mikell are probably two places where the Rams can find some money to work with this year.
As much as we all love Steven Jackson, keeping him under contract with an $8.9 million cap hit at age 30 probably isn't the best use of resources.
What about restructuring some contracts?
Easier said than done. The big one here is quarterback Sam Bradford, who has a cap hit of roughly $12.6 million this year and three more years left on his deal. His cap number jumps to $17.6 in 2014 and $16.6 in 2015. Any extension or restructure they do sign isn't going to make that money disappear. That's not how contracts work, and it would be a good way of waving off other free agents in the future.
Restructuring a deal now would commit the Rams to Bradford for time beyond his current deal. Hopefully, Bradford's career is poised for an upswing starting with some stability and a better roster in 2013, but there's no guarantee that he'll get better. A restructured deal now could saddle the Rams with more chewed up cap space in the future than would be worth a short-term gain.
A smarter move would be to see what Bradford does in 2013 with things around him hopefully improved before they consider any kind of deal making. Also worth noting is that most extensions don't happen until the player has just a year left on his contract, ask Percy Harvin or Maurice Jones-Drew how that works.