As St. Louis Rams COO explained in his interview with TST, the Rams have almost a third of their cap space tied up in a few players, high draft picks from 2008 through 2010. With so much money tied up in just a handful of players, the suggestion of restructuring some of those contracts has been floated by fans and the media. It sounds easy in theory, but the reality of it is far different. Demoff explained the reality behind restructuring in our interview.
"I know fans are always saying 'so and so should be restructured,' but you don't want to be known as a team that doesn't honor your contracts," Demoff said. "The focus should be on getting the deal right the first time rather than focusing on adjusting contracts."
With Jason Smith, Chris Long and Sam Bradford, those high picks from the 2008-2010 drafts, the Rams didn't have much choice on contracts. The numbers for those players were locked in ahead of time because of their draft slot. In those cases, even Demoff's notion of getting the right deal out of the gate is almost impossible.
"Not every deal is going to be right, some guys will be overpaid and some guys will underpaid," Demoff explained. "There aren't many contracts you look at after a few years and say 'wow, that number is that player's exact value.' That is one of the reasons that we focus on doing 3-4 year deals, especially in free agency, because it is easier to accurately forecast a player's value in that time horizon than it is six or seven years."
That ties directly into the Rams' cap strategy of not pushing player compensation down the road, setting up the potential to lose leverage and have dead money on the books that Demoff talked about in this post on Wednesday.
"Additionally, that sets you up to have to pay as you go rather than pro-rating signing bonus amounts over a longer period of time," Demoff said. "For your core players who you re-sign, you can do longer deals (5-6 years) because you have better knowledge of their abilities and a more accurate forecast of the future."
"Our goal throughout the past few years has been to reduce the dead money possibilities of all veteran contracts," Demoff continued. "We try to structure most veteran deals so we are never "upside down" on those deals, meaning the dead money that would count for cutting a player is greater than there actual salary cap number. That is usually achievable except for the most in-demand free agents."
Unfortunately, six years was the norm for first-round picks when the Rams took Smith, et al. The new NFL collective bargaining agreement eliminates those six-year deals. First-round picks now get four-year deals with fifth year options available to the team. The new CBA also lays out rules for re-negotiation of deals.
Demoff explains, "as for rookies, under the previous CBA you have to wait two seasons to re-negotiate a deal, and under the current CBA a rookie deal can't be renegotiated for 3 seasons."
Demoff reiterated the team's commitment to the draft. "Our goal is to build through the draft and then re-sign the players that are going to be the core of your team."
Asked whether or not the team has a preferred path for restructuring contracts and re-signing players, the Rams COO replied, "here is no overall team philosophy on when the right time for that is because every player's situation is different. What makes sense for a 5th rounder may not make sense for a 1st rounder."
He continued, "I'm also a firm believer that if you believe your offer is fair and just, and a player wants to shop it in free agency, that's fine. If your offer is fair and just, then you should be willing to take your chances that the market will support that viewpoint."