With the first wave of Free Agency now in the history books, it's time to look back on some noteworthy Rams-related items from the past two weeks, and take a peek at what lies ahead.
A new trend in NFL contracts
Teams with solid Cap management are changing from signing bonuses to salary, roster bonuses for veteran contracts. No proration.— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) March 17, 2015
Count the Rams among the teams solidly managing the salary cap. Last week, the Rams re-signed TE Lance Kendricks (4 years), signed Free Agent LB Akeem Ayers (2 years), signed Free Agent DT Nick Fairley (one year), and re-signed WR Kenny Britt (2 years). All 4 of the contracts included incentives and roster bonuses. None of the 4 players received signing/prorated bonuses.
The Rams prefer the pay-as-you-go approach to contract structuring. It's a sure-fire method of avoiding "cap hell" in future years. Roster bonuses afford the Rams flexibility in managing their salary cap. They can be converted to prorated bonuses if the Rams need to create additional salary cap space. Signing/prorated bonuses, once paid, can not be altered, and can create the dreaded words "dead money". When signing veterans, prorated bonuses are the equivalent of financing part of a used car purchase by credit card.
The best example of this contract trend on the Rams' roster is Robert Quinn. Quinn has a $16,744,111 salary cap hit for 2015. The salary cap hit includes a $5,555,555 base salary, $955,355 prorated bonus, and a whopping $10,233,201 roster bonus. If the Rams need to create a large amount of salary cap space, they can convert the roster bonus into a prorated bonus, creating just over $8 million in salary cap space. Why the oddly configured roster bonus numbers? Kevin Demoff and Tony Pastoors enjoy creating palindromes in many of the teams' contracts.
Grading the Rams' offseason to-date
Many media pundits are already publishing grades on the Rams' offseason to-date. I believe it's too early to be grading the Rams' offseason transactions. Much still needs to be accomplished. The Rams won't be able to address all of the holes on the offensive line solely through the upcoming draft. Joe Barksdale, Justin Blalock and Stefen Wisniewski are all still on the Rams' radar. Signing at least one of them (preferably Wisniewski) would be a step in the right direction. Who the Rams sign for the OL in the coming weeks will likely have a major impact on how they approach the upcoming draft.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, sharing his thoughts on Wisniewski (after a visit with the Free Agent):
"He’s a legitimate starter in the league. He really likes us and we liked him. He’s a really solid football player and a smart kid. We’ll see where it goes."
Re-signing Britt and Kendricks were solid moves by the Rams, especially if they can be better-utilized in the Rams' offense this coming season. Fairley and Ayers were low-risk, medium-cost signings, and add much-needed depth at DT and OLB. Both players have untapped upside/potential that Gregg Williams may be able to unleash.
The Bradford-Foles trade? Things I like about the trade: not worrying if Bradford's knee will hold up through the rigors of a full NFL season, the $11.443 million net gain in salary cap space, and the draft pick(s) compensation. Concerns? Foles is in the last year of his rookie contract, and could amount to a one year rental. The Rams have three QB's under contract for 2015, and zero for 2016. The trade really doesn't address the QB position beyond 2015, which could be a good thing (or a bad thing). Foles ended two of the last three seasons on IR, and also missed a game due to a concussion. Luckily, the injuries he has suffered are less severe in nature than those suffered by Bradford. Lets hope they were just flukes.
I'll reserve judgement on the trade (and on the Rams' offseason) until I see how Bradford and Foles perform for their new teams. Can Foles replicate his 2013 season? Will Bradford stay healthy, and play to his full potential, in his 6th season in the NFL? I wish Sam Bradford all the best. I hope he stays healthy with the Eagles throughout 2015, ensuring the Rams keep their 3rd or 4th round pick in 2016. At any rate, the Rams get to keep the 2016 conditional 3rd/4th round pick if Sam Bradford is traded by the Eagles (which has been rumored).
NFL contracts & the salary cap
Keeping track of contracts, deciphering them, and determining the Rams' available salary cap space are more difficult than one might imagine. I receive many requests for information related to the Rams' salary cap situation at this time of the year. The following example illustrates how difficult the whole process can be, the complexity of an NFL contract, and why it can take some time to figure it all out.
When first reported, Nick Fairley's contract seemed simple enough: a one-year/$5 million deal with the opportunity to earn another $2.5 million through incentives. Simple until one breaks down the numbers:
Base Salary: $2.5 million --- Roster Bonus: $1.5 million
Other Bonuses: $31,250 per game on the active roster (maximum of $500,000). Only $250,000 of the potential $500,000 counts against the salary cap at present as "Likely To Be Earned" (LTBE)(because Fairley played in only 8 games last season). Workout bonus of $500,000.
Incentives: Up to $1 million in playing time incentives. Up to $1 million for number of sacks and the Rams making the playoffs. $500,000 for making the Pro Bowl. The incentives are all classified as "Not Likely To Be Earned" (NLTBE). The Rams do not have to count them against the salary cap at present due to the classification. If they are earned, the Rams can choose to count them against their 2015 or 2016 salary cap.
Salary Cap Hit (at present): $4.75 million.
St. Louis Rams Current Roster & Depth Chart
|C||Barrett Jones||Demetrius Rhaney|
|LG||Brandon Washington||Travis Bond|
|RT||Garrett Reynolds||Steven Baker|
|TE||Lance Kendricks||Cory Harkey||Brad Smelley|
|TE||Jared Cook||Alex Bayer||Justice Cunningham||Mason Brodine|
|WR||Brian Quick||Tavon Austin||Chris Givens||Damian Williams|
|WR||Kenny Britt||Stedman Bailey||Emory Blake||Devon Wylie|
|RB||Tre Mason||Chase Reynolds||Trey Watts|
|RB||Benny Cunningham||Zac Stacy||Isaiah Pead|
|QB||Nick Foles||Austin Davis||Case Keenum|
|P||John Hekker||Michael Palardy|
|DT||Aaron Donald||Nick Fairley|
|DT||Michael Brockers||Doug Worthington|
|DE||Chris Long||William Hayes|
|DE||Robert Quinn||Eugene Sims||Ethan Westbrooks|
|MLB||James Laurinaitis||Daren Bates|
|OLB||Alec Ogletree||Marshall McFadden||Korey Toomer|
|OLB||Jo-Lonn Dunbar||Akeem Ayers|
|CB||Janoris Jenkins||Marcus Roberson||Brandon McGee|
|CB||Trumaine Johnson||E.J. Gaines||Lamarcus Joyner|
|SS||T.J. McDonald||Mark Barron||Maurice Alexander|
|FS||Rodney McLeod||Cody Davis||Christian Bryant|
2015 NFL Draft: WR or OL at No. 10?
The Rams' current starting lineup on the offensive line:
- C - Barrett Jones
- RG - Rodger Saffold
- LG - Brandon Washington
- RT - Steven Baker
- LT - Greg Robinson
Reserves: C - Demetrius Rhaney, G - Travis Bond, T/G Garrett Reynolds
The Rams' wide receiver corps:
- Kenny Britt
- Brian Quick
- Tavon Austin
- Stedman Bailey
- Chris Givens
- Damien Williams
I see only two starter-quality players on the offensive line depth chart: Rodger Saffold and Greg Robinson. Depth is clearly an issue as well. The Rams still have time to address the OL in Free Agency. Odds are though they'll be looking to select OL early and often in the upcoming NFL draft. Ideally, the Rams trade down from No. 10 (acquiring an additional 2nd round pick in the process) and select the best available offensive lineman (Ereck Flowers, La'el Collins, Brandon Scherff or T.J. Clemmings). Each of the four have their merits, and would be good fits in the Rams' offense. If the Rams do indeed trade down, they'll be doing so with the intent of closely matching BPA/value with need.
On Wednesday, the Rams signed OL Garrett Reynolds. He will provide depth at multiple positions. At least the Rams now have more offensive linemen on the roster (8) than tight ends (7). Aside from Wisniewski, Blalock, and Barksdale, the Rams are showing interest in bringing back C/G Tim Barnes:
C/G Tim Barnes not out of the picture for Rams. Team is still negotiating w/him. Parties have exchanged contracts.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) March 18, 2015
Here's the latest news on Joe Barksdale:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Don't expect anything to happen on Joe Barksdale front until the Rams RT is back from his honeymoon. Titans are showing some interest.</p>— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) <a href="https://twitter.com/jthom1/status/579004498695196672">March 20, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
In the Fisher/Snead era, the Rams have spent considerable draft capital on the wide receiver positions: Austin-1st and 2nd, Bailey-3rd, Givens-4th, Quick-2nd. Conversely, the Rams have invested very little draft capital on the offensive line: Robinson-1st, Rhaney-7th, Van Dyk-7th, Watkins-5th, Jones-4th. The dearth of draft capital spent on the offensive line is the single biggest reason why problems exist there today.
I believe the current wide receiver corps is a young, talented and deep unit. They've certainly had their share of growing pains. It takes at least 2-3 seasons for most WR's to reach their full potential. The Rams' wideout's have suffered in their development due to inadequate line play, an inconsistent running game, and backup QB's for the last 25 regular season games. Before investing any more serious draft capital at the positions, I'd like to see what the existing unit can do with a younger, upgraded offensive line, and Nick Foles at quarterback.
Addressing the offensive line early in the draft should be the priority over adding another WR. The best WR unit in the NFL doesn't do a team any good if the QB is flat on his back, or if the offense can't establish the running game.
Who truly knows what the Rams will do come draft-day? They may just surprise all of us, and go strictly BPA with the No. 10 selection. After all, that strategy netted them a Defensive Rookie Of The Year in the 2014 NFL Draft
Available Salary Cap Space
The Rams currently have close to $2 million in available salary cap space, with all 2015 financial obligations taken into consideration. I'll be continuously updating the Rams' salary cap situation (here and here) as further transactions are completed.