The upcoming off-season will be a critical one for the St. Louis Rams. Many difficult personnel decisions will need to be made, especially in regards to the quarterback position, the offensive line, and pending free agents. Looming in the background is the ever-evolving salary cap situation, which will play a crucial, dramatic role in how the Rams shape their roster in 2015.
The Rams currently have 71 players in the organization: The 53-man roster, 8 players on Injured Reserve, and 10 players on the practice squad.
In addition to the players on the practice squad (who are free to sign with another team at any time), the following 18 players are eligible for free agency in 2015:
Position Player FA Status C Tim Barnes RFA G Davin Joseph UFA RT Joe Barksdale UFA OL Brandon Washington ERFA OL Mike Person UFA WR Damian Williams UFA WR Kenny Britt UFA TE Lance Kendricks UFA TE Cory Harkey ERFA RB Chase Reynolds ERFA QB Shaun Hill UFA QB Austin Davis RFA P John Hekker RFA LB Marshall McFadden ERFA LB Korey Toomer ERFA LB Will Herring UFA DT Alex Carrington UFA S Rodney McLeod RFA
Joe Barksdale, Rodney McLeod, Lance Kendricks, Austin Davis, and John Hekker highlight the list of Rams eligible for free agency in 2015. None of the 18 players will count against the Rams' salary cap after the 2014 season - and league year - concludes.
The Rams currently have 43 players under contract for 2015. The accompanying chart presents the 2015 roster and depth chart, as of November 11, 2014.
C Scott Wells Demetrius Rhaney RG Barrett Jones LG Rodger Saffold RT Jake Long LT Greg Robinson TE Alex Bayer TE Jared Cook Mason Brodine WR Brian Quick Chris Givens WR Tavon Austin Stedman Bailey RB Tre Mason Trey Watts Isaiah Pead RB Benny Cunningham Zac Stacy QB Sam Bradford PK Greg Zuerlein P LS Jake McQuaide DT Aaron Donald Kendall Langford DT Michael Brockers DE Chris Long Eugene Sims DE Robert Quinn William Hayes Ethan Westbrooks MLB James Laurinaitis OLB Alec Ogletree Daren Bates OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar CB Janoris Jenkins Brandon McGee Marcus Roberson CB Trumaine Johnson E.J. Gaines Lamarcus Joyner SS Mark Barron Cody Davis FS T.J. McDonald Maurice Alexander
Quarterback, linebacker, and the offensive line stand out as critical areas the Rams will need to address during the offseason. Given the extent of Brian Quick's shoulder injury, the wide receiver corps might also be high on the Rams' priority list.
Fisher said Quick will make full recovery but will be slow process because of the amount of damage. Mentioned labrum, rotator cuff, biceps.
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) November 10, 2014
The accompanying chart presents the Rams' top eleven salary cap hits for 2015, and includes the salary cap savings for 2015 if the player is released in the offseason:
Player 2015 Cap Hit 2015 Savings If Released Robert Quinn 16,744,110 2,689,489 Sam Bradford 16,580,000 12,985,000 Chris Long 12,500,000 7,500,000 Jake Long 10,500,000 8,000,000 Jared Cook 8,300,441 -600,882 Rodger Saffold 8,000,000 4,000,000 Kendall Langford 7,000,000 6,000,000 Greg Robinson 4,837,295 -12,576,967 Scott Wells 4,750,000 3,750,000 William Hayes 4,355,000 3,105,000 James Laurinaitis 4,275,000 2,725,000 Totals 97,841,846 37,576,640
The Rams currently have $133,450,629 in financial obligations counting against the 2015 salary cap. The 2015 league-wide salary cap is expected to increase from the current $133 million to $145-146 million.
Most of the expected increase will be eaten up by additional financial obligations incurred throughout the year:
- A season-opening reserve set aside for signing additional players during the regular season due to injuries (est. $3-4 million).
- League adjustments for earned incentives, accrued workout bonuses, and proven performance escalators (est. $1.5 million).
- Practice squad salaries (est. $1 million).
- The net cost of signing the 2015 NFL Draft class (est. $3 million).
- The cost of adding additional players to bring the roster up to the 53-man limit (est. $2.5 million).
The bottom line: The Rams will need to create a substantial amount of salary cap space if they wish to re-sign any of their eligible free agents, or those from another team. Restructuring contracts and outright releases are the primary means at the Rams' disposal for creating salary cap space.
The Financial Foursome
The Rams have four prime candidates for an outright release or contract restructuring: Sam Bradford, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, and Jake Long.
Sam Bradford will be returning to the Rams after back-to-back season-ending ACL tears. Bradford is due to earn $12.985 million in base salary next year, the last year of his rookie contract. If the Rams decide to retain Bradford, they will likely attempt to restructure his contract, converting a substantial portion of his base salary to incentives. This type of restructure allows the Rams salary cap relief and flexibility.
Scott Wells is nearing the end of his career. Wells will be 34 in January, is injury-prone, his skills are declining, and he has a large salary cap hit in 2015. All of which makes him a possible target for release.
Kendall Langford will be entering the final year of his contract in 2015. He's been supplanted in the starting line-up by rookie star Aaron Donald. Although an integral part of the defensive line rotation, Langford might have to take a cut in pay in order to remain with the Rams.
Jake Long's year ended with his second ACL tear in as many seasons. Greg Robinson has been moved to LT to replace him in the starting line-up. Robinson will likely remain there for many years to come. Injuries - and the presence of Robinson - could mean the end of Long's days as a Ram. Could the Rams restructure his contract and move him to another position on the line, if they don't re-sign Barksdale and/or Joseph?
Who will the Rams re-sign? Who will they release or restructure? Will they be active in the 2015 free agent market, one including G Mike Iupati, WR Dez Bryant, and WR Demaryius Thomas? Difficult decisions lie ahead...