According to a report from Jay Glazer (who has been Mr. Scoop lately, nailing the big trade news on Friday night), the NFL and the NFLPA have set a 2012 salary cap number of $120.6 million. They are expected to announce that number on Monday, 24 hours before free agency begins.
The reason this year's cap number is so late is because the two sides were scrambling to push it up. Apparently, they needed a better ratchet, because that represents an increase over last year's cap of about $300,000, not even enough for one rookie minimum salary.
We shall leave the machinations of the cap to folks smarter than us, but we can start to get a sense of the St. Louis Rams' salary cap situation with free agency just a few days away.
Rams COO Kevin Demoff told TST in February that the Rams were counting on about $10 million in cap space. That number hardly positions them for a free agent spending spree, but that may not be what the Rams want, not this year anyway, with the future of the organization pinned to a boatload of picks they just picked up from Washington.
Of course, they can create cap room through a couple different routes.
Cuts are the most obvious, and those were likely to happen anyway with a new coaching staff in town. Potential casualties include:
Ron Bartell: The veteran cornerback and holdover from the last two administrations at Rams Park is due $6.2 million in salary this season, the last year of his contract. He is also coming off a pretty severe neck injury, the kind that has ended the career of other players.
Fred Robbins: Robbins was a Spagnuolo player, and he turns 35 prior to the start of the season. A nominal starter, Spagnuolo limited his reps last season. Limited reps for a guy scheduled to make $3.75 million in the last year of his deal with the team makes him a prime target for release.
Brandon Gibson: Gibson is due $1 million in salary thanks to reaching some escalator clauses in his deal, the deal given to him by the Eagles.
Justin Bannan: This is unlikely to happen just because the Rams need help in the middle of their defensive line. Bannan is a solid run stopper, but if Fisher think they can find help somewhere else, Bannan's $2.75 million salary this year could be a target.
Jason Brown: The Rams made Brown the league's highest paid center in 2009. He's due $5 million in salary this year and $6.2 million next year. He has a cap hit of $7.2 million this year. Cutting him would save the Rams $2.8 million, but it would also leave them even thinner along the offensive line. Reworking his deal might be the best option and hoping the new coaching staff can light a fire under him.
The Rams lack many easy and obvious cuts to make, at least in terms of clearing up salary space. Their roster is comprised mostly of younger, later-round or UDFA players and they lost a big ground of free agents after 2011. The bulk of the Rams' cap space is tied up in Steven Jackson and a small group of players still working under the archaic massive rookie contracts top draft choices got in the last CBA.
Steven Jackson: I doubt SJ is going anywhere, not with the new regime's stated preference for running the football. You do have to wonder if he might take a reworked deal. Jackson is due $7 million this season and next on the contract he signed in 2008. They would probably just be smarter to leave Jackson's deal as is and reevaluate his future with the team before the 2013 season, when he turns 30.
Sam Bradford: The Rams' quarterback carries a huge cap hit, almost $16 million, but do not look for a restructure, not this year, anyway. The new CBA does not allow teams to restructure rookie contracts before three years. Bradford may well get a restructured deal in 2013, but, hopefully, he won't need one as his play lives up to the numbers.
Jason Smith: Smith, according to reports, will have to settled for a restructured, incentive-laden deal or get cut. Cutting Smith and his $13.2 million cap hit would only save the Rams $3.2 million against the cap. However, that is probably better than the fallacy of holding onto draft picks that will never meet their potential.
Chris Long: This is the last year of Long's rookie contract. He has a $18.3 million cap figure this year. You can obviously forget about cutting Long. However, re-signing Long would be a very wise move that could also free up a ton of cap space. Remember, a new deal for Long would be very expensive, eating into the Rams $40 million or so in cap space next year. With the sixth pick in the draft, the Rams could grab a top pass rusher. Would they do that and let Long walk next year?
Keep in mind that restructuring contracts is not as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to rookie contracts.