The St. Louis Rams have to start thinking about 2015, specifically Robert Quinn's fifth season. Quinn has a team option on his contract for a fifth year in 2015. GM Les Snead has to decide my May 3, 2014, to pick up Quinn's option year. Easy decision, right? Maybe not.
Teams can have a fifth-year option for first-round picks under the terms of the new CBA. That option has to be exercised after the third year of the player's contract, which was 2013 for Quinn. If the team does pick up the option, the player's salary becomes guaranteed for injury that year. That makes it somewhat risky to pick it up before the May 3 deadline in case the player suffers a career-ending injury or something else that could keep him out for two seasons during a workout or something like that. The player's salary becomes fully guaranteed if they're on the roster at the start of the 2015 league year.
So what exactly would the player's salary be for the fifth year? It depends. For top 10 picks, it's equivalent to the transition tender, an average of the 10 highest salaries, for that position. For players picked after the 10th spot, it's an average of the third through 25th highest salaries for that position in the player's fourth year.
We're a couple months away from free agency, so salaries are about to get rearranged, especially with guys like Greg Hardy and Jared Allen scheduled to walk. Right now, based on the average annual salaries for 4-3 defensive ends, Quinn's fifth year salary would be worth around $6.8 million, but you can probably expect that number to be a little higher once the 2014 salaries go into place.
Say it ends up around $7 million. That's not a bad number at all, based on the Rams current projections for 2015. In fact, it would make Quinn just the sixth-highest cap hit for the team that year. That's also looking at an incomplete roster for 2015 because it doesn't factor in the players scheduled for free agency this year or next.
The Rams identified 2014 as a big year for the franchise, the year the team took the leap from rebuilding project to playoff contender. The offseason is shaping up to be even more pivotal to the team's future with serious contract decisions looming.
I mentioned in this morning's mock draft piece -- that had the Rams taking Clowney -- about the situation on the defensive line. The Rams could release Chris Long in 2015, saving $8.5 million, and still have Quinn and Clowney at relative bargains. I'm not saying that's what they should do; I'm just saying that all this could figure into the decision making process come draft day and beyond.
There's another possibility here: extending Quinn. With three years of service, the team could do that. There are several different ways to work a deal in terms of spreading out the cap hit. It would also allow them to lock him in at 2014 prices rather than 2015 or 2016 prices (the cost for premium pass rushers continues to rise). However, that could erase two years of relatively small salaries and cap hits for Quinn, which could be a real problem considering how little cap space they have for 2014.
Sam Bradford's albatross of a contract is still on the books for 2015, and cap hits for Chris Long and Jake Long top eight figures that year. If the salary cap continues to grow ever so slightly like it has been (new TV deals kick in that year, but the league borrowed against that to increase the cap already), resource allocation will be the Rams' first hurdle toward fielding a contender for 2014 and beyond.