It's been all quiet on the Rams front over the last 8 weeks. The roster has remained static, and very little has transpired in the way of contract negotiations with existing players on the team. Over the next 2 weeks the Rams will be setting up their roster for both salary cap compliance and free agency. Don't let the prevailing quietness fool you. It's just the calm before the storm.
St. Louis Rams' Current Roster
St. Louis Rams 2014 Individual Cap Hits And Available Salary Cap Space
|Player||Position||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Roster Bonus||Cap Figure|
|Top 51 Contracts||96,216,209||20,693,537||8,639,216||125,548,962|
|67 Players On Roster|
|53 Players With 2014 Contracts|
|14 Players Pending Free Agents|
|Dead Money||12 Players||133,805|
|Off Season Total Cap Hits|
|Top 51 Contracts||125,548,962|
|2014 Total Cap Hits||125,682,767|
|Off Season Team Salary Cap|
|2014 Unadjusted Salary Cap||(Projected)||133,000,000|
|2014 Available Salary Cap Rollover||172,529|
|2014 Accrued Workout Bonuses||504,000|
|2014 Prior Year Adjustments||172,529|
|2014 Adjusted Team Salary Cap||132,496,000|
|Available Cap Space||6,813,233|
2014 Adjusted Team Salary Cap - $132,496,000
2014 Total Cap Hits - $125,682,767
Available Salary Cap Space - $6,813,233
Terminology And Calculations
Available Salary Cap Space - The amount of money the Rams have remaining to spend on player contract obligations, without exceeding the salary cap. The calculation to determine the available salary cap space is: the dollar amount of the adjusted salary cap, less the total dollar value of current active contracts (cap hits) less any "dead money".
Dead Money - The amount of money counting as cap hits in the current year, for players that are no longer with the team. These amounts consist of guaranteed money/bonuses/prorated amounts outstanding for 2014 (in some cases beyond 2014). The Rams have drastically improved their dead money situation over the last two years, and are presently carrying less than $134,000 in dead money on the books.
Salary Cap Figure (Hit) - Any contractual obligation counting against the salary cap in a particular year. It's the sum of a players base salary, signing and/or other bonuses, and any incentives/escalators deemed to be earned.
Available Cap Rollover - The amount of the preceding years available cap space not used in that year. The amount carried forward by the Rams from 2013 to 2014 is $172,529. Salary cap provisions allow for the carry forward to be added to salary cap space for the current year.
The Salary Cap - The maximum amount a team can have in total cap hits without incurring penalties imposed by the NFL. These penalties can be financial in nature and/or include the loss of draft picks.
Signing vs Other Bonuses - A signing bonus can be defined in its literal sense. The signing bonus can be spread out - prorated for cap purposes - evenly over the life of a contract. Other bonuses include roster, incentive, option, etc. bonuses that occur in different years of a contract, and in varying amounts.
Top 51 Contracts - There are three sets of salary cap rules prevalent in any league year. During the regular season, all contract obligations - and dead money - count against the salary cap. After the regular season - but before the start of the new league year in March - teams are not required to be compliant with the salary cap. On March 11 - the beginning of the new league year - teams must be compliant with the league off season salary cap provisions. In the off season, only the top 51 cap hits - plus dead money - count against the salary cap. This remains in effect until September, just before the start of the regular season.
Accrued Workout Bonuses - Are adjustments charged by the league, reducing a teams available salary cap space. These bonuses will reduce the Rams' salary cap space by $504,000 on March 11. From the 2011 CBA:
"...all players will earn $175 a day for each day they participate in 2013. That per day number changes every other year, with the next increase slated for 2015. The NFL charges each team at the start of the 2014 league year a cap fee of $504,000 for minimum workouts on top of the contracted bonuses, so any reported cap space number between now and the start of the regular season needs to be reduced by $504,000. At the end of the workout period teams have their salary cap credited for money that was not earned."
Prior Year Adjustments - The league adjusts/charges a teams current year salary cap for player incentives earned in the previous year.
Unadjusted Salary Cap - The base salary cap amount ($133 million in 2014) for each of the 32 NFL teams. The accompanying chart - courtesy of James Brady, SB Nation - presents the growth of the NFL salary cap since 2005:
NFL's salary cap now projected to rise to about $130 million, up 5 percent from $123 million last year, per league sources. More $ for all.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 20, 2014
According to a source, the projection for the 2014 salary cap is now at $132 million.— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) February 22, 2014
"The cap could be a "few million" higher than $132 million. If this means $3 million more than reported, the cap could be as high as $135 million. That would amount to an 9.75 percent increase over last year, the biggest spike by far since the 2011 labor deal was negotiated." February 25, 2014
From the Washington Post, February 26:
"The league and the players’ union are working to set the final salary cap figure and the person familiar with the deliberations said it is "looking in [the] range of $133 [million]." According to that person, the final cap figure should be determined in a "matter of days."
As @ProFootballTalk said, the cap is expected to be set at $133M. Negotiated b/w the league and union. Official number could come tomorrow.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 28, 2014
Adjusted Team Salary Cap - The actual salary cap (after adjustments) for a particular team in the current league year. Each team will have a different figure for cap purposes. For 2014, the Rams' Adjusted Team Salary Cap equals the base salary cap ($133 million), plus the carry forward from 2013 ($172,529), less the prior year ($172,529) and accrued workout bonus ($504,000) adjustments.
Roster Detail - Currently, there are 67 players on the Rams' off season roster. 53 of them are under contract for 2014. The remaining 14 are eligible for free agency at 4 pm, March 11 (the beginning of the new league year). Contracts run concurrently with the league year. None of the 14 players count against the 2014 team salary cap, unless they are re-signed by the Rams. The accompanying chart lists the Rams' 14 eligible free agents:
Player Position FA Type Rodger Saffold OL UFA Jo-Lonn Dunbar OLB UFA Chris Williams OL UFA Darian Stewart S UFA Shelley Smith OG UFA Kellen Clemens QB UFA Matt Giordano S UFA Will Witherspoon OLB UFA Brady Quinn QB UFA Mike McNeill TE RFA Austin Davis QB RFA Tim Barnes C ERFA Quinton Pointer DB ERFA Justin Veltung WR ERFA
Methodology - To derive salary cap figures and information, two main sources are used: the NFLPA and the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. The NFLPA only publishes team salary cap details in the form of team totals. Once the totals are established, I then compile information for individual contracts, ensuring they collectively add up to match the NFLPA totals. At last count, 83 sources have been used to compile data on the Rams' individual contracts.
Additional Costs Affecting Salary Cap Space
The Rams have additional financial commitments during the year to consider, as noted in an earlier off season primer article:
"The Rams WILL have to create $10-$11 million in salary cap space - irrespective of free agency signings/re-signings - at some point before the regular season begins. This amount covers the net cost of signing the incoming rookie class, creates an adequate reserve for contingencies during the regular season, pays the practice squad, and provides a cushion for salary cap adjustments - earned incentives, workout bonuses, escalators, etc. - made by the league."
The Rams' $6.8 million in available salary cap space noted above is a notional amount, and can be misleading if not put into proper context. The additional financial commitments that arise throughout the year - if presently taken into account - put the Rams into an estimated deficit of $3.7 million in effective salary cap space overall. The additional costs are estimated as follows:
Signing the 2014 rookie class
Currently, the Rams have 13 selections in the 2014 NFL Draft: their original 7 picks, a 1st round selection from Washington, a 7th round pick from Indianapolis for the Josh Gordy trade, and an estimated 6th and 3 7th round compensatory selections. If their picks remain static throughout the draft, the net cost of signing them will be $5.7 million (the actual total of cap hits less the cap hits of the players they will replace on the roster). I will re-calculate the net cost of signing the rookies after the 2014 NFL Draft is completed.
The practice squad cost the Rams $816,000 ($6,000/per week/per player) in 2013. I've estimated a cost of $857,000 for 2014, which represents a 5% increase.
Cap space reserve
The Rams must start the regular season with a sizable reserve of cap space, for contingencies during the regular season. The most common reason for having the reserve is replacing players who are on injured reserve. Their contracts still count against the cap, as do the contracts of their replacements. The Rams started the 2013 regular season with close to $3 million in reserve. Expect the Rams to have approximately the same amount in reserve for 2014.
Additional costs will include a minimum of $840,000, to account for all contractual obligations counting against the salary cap in September - only 51 contracts count in the off season for a 53-man roster - plus an estimated $100,000 for any remaining league adjustments.
The total estimated additional costs affecting salary cap space for 2014: $10.5 million.
How Can The Rams Create Additional Salary Cap Space?
The Rams can create salary cap space in a number of ways:
Renegotiate existing contracts - Renegotiating an existing contract usually involves the player taking a cut in pay. In some circumstances - like Harvey Dahl's in 2013 - the pay cut is accompanied by the inclusion of incentives, which allow the player to earn back a portion/all of the reduced base salary. This type of renegotiated contract could come into play in 2014, if the Rams decide to retain Cortland Finnegan.
Extend existing contracts - An extended contract adds years/money to an existing contract. It allows a team to renegotiate the final year of a contract with terms and amounts that are more cap-friendly. The Rams are unlikely to extend any contracts before the new league year begins.
Release players with larger contracts - The Rams can choose to create salary cap space by releasing players currently on the roster, who are under contract for 2014. Harvey Dahl ($4 million in cap savings), Scott Wells ($4.5 million in cap savings), and Cortland Finnegan (up to $7 million in cap savings) are among the prime candidates for release.
Restructure existing contracts - Most contract restructures are done on a friendly basis, with the player losing no money in the transaction. Chris Long's contract was restructured twice in 2013. Long lost no money in the restructures. The Rams converted base salary amounts to prorated bonuses, allowing them salary cap relief at critical points of the year. The conversion of base salary to a prorated bonus is a common method used by teams to create salary cap space. If the Rams need to create additional salary cap space in this manner, James Laurinaitis' contract is ideal for this type of transaction. He has a high base salary in 2014, little dead money on the books, and 4 years left on his contract for prorating base salary. The accompanying chart presents his existing contract, followed by a restructured contract, where $6 million in base salary is converted to a prorated bonus. The salary cap savings would be $4.5 million in 2014.
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit Dead Money 2014 10,000,000 400,000 10,400,000 10,200,000 2015 3,625,000 400,000 4,025,000 800,000 2016 5,775,000 400,000 6,175,000 400,000 2017 6,100,000 0 2,000,000 8,100,000 0
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Roster Bonus Total Cap Hit Dead Money 2014 4,000,000 1,900,000 5,900,000 10,200,000 2015 3,625,000 1,900,000 5,525,000 5,300,000 2016 5,775,000 1,900,000 7,675,000 3,400,000 2017 6,100,000 1,500,000 2,000,000 9,600,000 1,500,000
Joel Corry - co-founder of Premier Sports Management and a writer for the National Football Post - agrees with the assessment of Laurinaitis' contract:
"He could be the most appealing option because the five-year, $41.5 million contract extension he signed one day before the 2012 regular season opener only contains $400,000 of annual bonus proration and $4.025 million, $6.175 million and $8.1 million cap numbers in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Converting $9.72 million of Laurinaitis’ $10 million base salary will create $6,952,500 of cap room. His 2014 cap number would become $3,447,500."
How much salary cap space will the Rams need to create? It will depend on four circumstances: who they re-sign from their own free agents, who they sign as free agents from other teams, the actual NFL salary cap figure, plus the final total of the additional operating costs mentioned earlier. The Rams will likely be creating between $7 million to $12 million of salary cap space in 2014. This will necessitate roster cuts ("cap casualties"), and/or contract modifications.
The best-managed teams all have the "Holy Trinity" of a football operation working together in a cohesive manner: coaching, scouting/evaluation, and salary cap/contract management. The next few weeks are important ones for the Rams organization. The weeks ahead will bring some clarity to the remainder of the off season, particularly the draft. The storm clouds are brewing.
Off Season Primer Series
Note: On Friday the NFLPA/NFL announced the 2014 salary cap: $133 million. My figures in this article have been updated to reflect the final cap figure.
The NFL has notified clubs that the salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million.
The NFL has notified clubs that the salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 28, 2014