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How Much Salary Cap Space Do The Rams Actually Have Left For Spending In Free Agency?

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The NFL feeding frenzy (known as Free Agency) opens on March 9. What does the Rams' financial/salary cap position look like heading into the new league year?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Over a week ago, I published a complete salary cap update, one where the Rams had $60,508,832 in Available Salary Cap Space at that point in time. With an estimated $10 million in additional financial obligations to be incurred in 2016, the Actual Salary Cap Space figure was reduced to $50,508,832. That's where the Rams stood as of last week.

Things change very quickly in the salary cap world, especially at this time of the year. Many financial transactions have occurred in the interim, impacting both the Rams' salary cap and my ongoing salary cap calculations:

  • In a transaction that was little noticed (or reported), Rams SS Tim McDonald Jr. qualified for a "Proven Performance Escalator" (courtesy of the CBA). His base salary for 2016 has been increased from $730,047 to $1,671,000 (the lowest RFA tender amount), reducing the Rams' salary cap space by $940,953.
  • Accrued Workout Bonuses are adjustments charged by the league on the first day of the new league year, reducing a teams' available salary cap space. These bonuses will reduce the Rams' available salary cap space by $506,600 on March 9. From the 2011 CBA:

    "...all players will earn $175 a day for each day they participate in 2013. That per day number changes every other year, with the next increase slated for 2015. The NFL charges each team at the start of the 2015 league year a cap fee of $506,600 for minimum workouts on top of the contracted bonuses, so any reported cap space number between now and the start of the regular season needs to be reduced by $506,600. At the end of the workout period teams have their salary cap credited for money that was not earned."

  • The league-wide salary cap was announced last week and came in at $155.27 million. My projection was $155 million. The increase over and above my projection added an additional $270,000 to my Rams' salary cap space calculations.
  • Last Tuesday, the Rams used their Franchise Tag on CB Trumaine Johnson. The tags' salary cap hit of $13.952M is immediately counted against the Rams' salary cap. Because only the top 51 salary cap hits count against the Rams' offseason salary cap, Johnson's signing bumps a $450,000 contract out of the top 51. The net effect of his signing is a reduction of $13,502,000 in salary cap space. This figure could be reduced before July 15 if the Rams manage to conclude a long-term deal with Johnson.
  • The league also announced salary cap space carry forwards from 2015 to 2016. The Rams had $2,178,544 in unused salary cap space from 2015 available for carry forward to 2016. They chose to use $1,245,023  of the carry forward to pay for incentives earned in 2015, but not yet accounted for on their salary cap. The net effect was an increase of $933,521 in the Rams' overall team salary cap (from $155,270,000 to $156,203,521), but in reality was an actual reduction of $1,245,023 in available salary cap space . It also resulted (along with other adjustments due to the announcements) in a $2M reduction in my estimated additional financial obligations for 2016:
Consideration (Estimated) Cost ($)
Net League Adjustments ($1.245M - February) 0
Net Cost Of Signing Rookie Draft Class 3,000,000
Season-Opening Reserve 2,800,000
Roster From 51 Players To 53 In September 1,000,000
Practice Squad Salaries 1,200,000
Total Cost 8,000,000

What does all of this mean? As of this writing, the Rams now have $44,584,256 in available salary cap space (down from $60,508,832 last week) and $36,584,256 in actual salary cap space once all additional financial obligations for 2016 are taken into account (down from $50,508,832 last week).

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The following 27 Rams players are currently eligible for Free Agency on March 9. ERFA's (Exclusive Rights Free Agents) have two or less accrued years in the league (the Rams have total control over these players). RFA's (Restricted Free Agents) have three accrued years in the league. UFA's (Unrestricted Free Agents) have 4 or more accrued years in the league. Each type of Free Agent designation is accompanied by a certain level of team control. Included in the chart is an estimate of what each player can expect to earn (average per year) in their next contract.

Position Player FA Status Avg. Per Year
QB Case Keenum RFA 3,635,000
RB Benny Cunningham RFA 1,670,000
RB Chase Reynolds RFA 1,000,000
RB Malcolm Brown ERFA 450,000
TE Cory Harkey UFA 2,000,000
WR Brian Quick UFA 1,400,000
WR Wes Welker UFA 800,000
WR Nick Toon ERFA 600,000
C Tim Barnes UFA 800,000
OT Isaiah Battle ERFA 525,000
OL Eric Kush ERFA 675,000
OL Brian Folkerts RFA 700,000
K Greg Zuerlein UFA 2,750,000
DT Nick Fairley UFA 4,750,000
DT Doug Worthington ERFA 600,000
DT Louis Trinca-Pasat ERFA 525,000
DE Eugene Sims UFA 2,000,000
DE William Hayes UFA 6,000,000
DE Matt Longacre ERFA 525,000
OLB Daren Bates RFA 850,000
CB Janoris Jenkins UFA 10,000,000
CB Eric Patterson ERFA 525,000
CB Troy Hill ERFA 525,000
SS Mark Barron UFA 4,500,000
FS Rodney McLeod UFA 3,635,000
FS Christian Bryant ERFA 525,000
FS Cody Davis RFA 875,000
27 Players Projected Total 52,840,000

The Rams will likely tender all 10 of their Exclusive Rights Free Agents at the league minimums. These players have little choice but to sign the tenders, or be out of football for 2016. I've already included their tenders in all salary cap calculations.

The Rams also have 6 Restricted Free Agents. Although they may re-sign all 6 at some point, I expect the Rams will only tender QB Case Keenum (1st Round) and RB Benny Cunningham (Original Round - UDFA) at this time. The restricted free agent tender values were announced last week.

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Can the Rams create more salary cap space if needed in the coming weeks?

The answer is not likely. The team released the three players they wanted to release (with big contracts) in Jared Cook, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis. All indications are the Rams will not make any more significant cuts that could meaningfully impact the salary cap. In addition, there's not a lot of wiggle room to restructure existing contracts on the team to create salary cap space. The only contract of significance that can be restructured is Trumaine Johnson's franchise tag (if he signs long-term before July 15). But that eventuality could take some time before finalized.

Luckily for the Rams, sound salary cap management has given them a measure of flexibility heading into Free Agency this year. The Rams (as a general rule) believe in "paying up front", minimizing pro-rated signing bonuses and avoiding back-loading of contracts. As a result, the Rams are the third-least future-leveraged team in the NFL. It affords the Rams the luxury of signing players and staggering some aspects of their contracts over 2016 AND 2017.

The Rams' salary cap situation looks very healthy for 2017. If Nick Foles, Lance Kendricks and Rodger Saffold don't perform up to expectations in 2016, all three would likely become salary cap casualties, gaining the Rams close to $21 million in cap relief. The league-wide salary cap could go up to over $170 million next year (a $15M increase). Plus the Rams will only have four key potential Free Agents (assuming they sign Trumaine Johnson to a long-term contract before July 15, 2016): Tavon Austin, Alec Ogletree, Tim McDonald Jr. and Michael Brockers. There will be plenty of salary cap space available to get these deals done.

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The Rams will likely need all the salary cap space they can get their hands on this year. The accompanying chart presents the Rams' roster & depth chart as of 4pm, Wednesday, March 9 if NONE of their remaining 27 Free Agents are re-signed:

C Demetrius Rhaney
RG Jamon Brown Cody Wichmann
LG Rodger Saffold Garrett Reynolds David Arkin
RT Rob Havenstein Andrew Donnal
LT Greg Robinson Darrell Williams
TE Lance Kendricks Justice Cunningham
WR Tavon Austin Stedman Bailey Kain Colter
WR Kenny Britt Isiah Ferguson
WR Bradley Marquez Deon Long
RB Tre Mason Trey Watts
RB Todd Gurley Zach Laskey
QB Nick Foles Sean Mannion
PK
P John Hekker
LS Jake McQuaide
DT Aaron Donald
DT Michael Brockers
DE Ethan Westbrooks
DE Robert Quinn
MLB Alec Ogletree Bryce Hager
OLB Zack Hodges Matthew Wells
OLB Akeem Ayers Cameron Lynch
CB E.J. Gaines Marcus Roberson
CB Trumaine Johnson Lamarcus Joyner
SS Tim McDonald Jr.
FS Maurice Alexander
43 Players Total