2014 Salary Cap Figure Now Set: How Does It Affect The Rams?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The new league year begins in 8 days. March 11 also signifies the opening of the free agency signing period. Who will the Rams re-sign from their own free agents? Will they pursue free agents from other teams? Are Harvey Dahl, Cortland Finnegan, and Scott Wells safe from becoming cap casualties?

The last ten days were notable for the rampant speculation in NFL circles, regarding the final salary cap figure for 2014. Initially, a relatively flat increase of 2.7% was forecast (from $123 million to $126.3 million). As negotiations between the league and the NFLPA came to a head this past week, the final figure was rumoured to be around $135 million. On Friday, the NFL and NFLPA finally announced the salary cap for 2014: $133 million. This represents a $10 million (8.1%) increase over the 2013 salary cap.

Press release from the NFLPA - February 28, 2014 - confirming the salary cap figure of $133 million (link).

From NFL.com/NFL Networks' Albert Breer:

Along with the salary cap announcement, the league also revealed the franchise tag figures for 2014:

The Rams will not be using the franchise tag in 2014. Rodger Saffold would have been the only Rams player given consideration for the franchise tag. The 2014 franchise tag figure for an offensive lineman is $11.654 million, prohibitively expensive in relation to Saffold's market value.

Why the dramatic increase in the 2014 salary cap, after initial estimates indicated the continuation of a relatively flat salary cap? There are many possible reasons for the larger increase:

League revenues for 2013 may have been underestimated, causing the players' share to fall below the minimum 47% threshold. As a result, the 2014 salary cap would be adjusted, to include additional salary cap room. From the 2011 CBA:

"(a) In each League Year, the average of the current League Year’s Player Cost Amount expressed as a percentage of AR and all prior League Year Player Cost Amounts expressed as a percentage of AR for each such prior League Year (the "Overall Average") must be at least 47% (the "Guaranteed Player Cost Percentage")."

"(b) In the event that, at the end of a given League Year, the Overall Average is less than the Guaranteed Player Cost Percentage, there shall be an "Adjustment." The Adjustment shall consist of additional Room under the next Salary Cap."

The NFLPA may have negotiated an increase in the 2014 salary cap by "borrowing" from future salary cap increases. Money from the league's new television deals become part of the equation starting in 2014. The salary cap is primed to soar even higher in the next two years. Estimates indicate a salary cap exceeding $140 million for 2015, and $150 million for 2016.

In addition to the existing television contracts, CBS Sports recently entered a one-year contract with the NFL, to televise 8 Thursday night games in 2014. The New York Times reported that the one-year deal is believed to be worth at least $250 million (link). The net effect would be an estimated additional $3.7 million in salary cap space for each team in 2015. The full amount of this future increase may have been accelerated onto the 2014 salary cap.

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What do the salary cap figures mean for the Rams in 2014, and beyond?

With a $133 million salary cap, the Rams presently have $6.8 million in salary cap space, as outlined in last Thursday's Rams' salary cap update (link).

Although the current figure of $6.8 million in salary cap space appears to be substantially under the salary cap, the following must be taken into consideration, to get a clearer picture of the Rams' financial commitments for the whole of 2014:

"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." TST - Thursday, February 27, 2014

By March 11, all 32 NFL teams must be in compliance with the off season salary cap provisions. In the off season, only the top 51 cap hits and dead money count against the $133 million salary cap. The Rams - due to the increase in the cap - will not be forced to cut players or restructure contracts, to be in compliance by March 11.

The increased salary cap should have little effect on the Rams' ability to re-sign Rodger Saffold. Every team is benefiting from the increased salary cap, meaning teams in general will have more cash to spend on free agents. In relative terms, the cap increase doesn't give the Rams an advantage over other teams in contracting Saffold's services.

The $133 million salary cap increases the likelihood of the Rams being active in free agency this year, especially if Rodger Saffold is not re-signed. The large cap increase may allow the Rams to target specific needs in the secondary and the offensive line. Given the Rams' financial commitments for 2014 - and the possibility of being active in free agency - players such as Harvey Dahl, Cortland Finnegan, and Scott Wells could still become cap casualties, or subjected to renegotiated contracts.

The projected salary cap increases through 2016 bode well for the Rams' future. The Rams - as a general rule - do not like to back load contracts. The Rams could be contemplating extensions for Joe Barksdale, Robert Quinn, Sam Bradford and John Hekker in the next year. Re-signing the 2012 draft class will be a priority in 2016. The large projected increases should allow the Rams to retain all of their significant players.

The next 2-3 weeks will be an interesting time for both the Rams organization and the teams fans. Successful implementation of their off season plans will be crucial to the Rams' 2014 post-season aspirations. Notwithstanding the large salary cap increase, I'll stick to my free agency predictions made on February 20 (link).

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