The Los Angeles Rams may be on the verge of signing 3x NFL All-Pro DL Aaron Donald to a very large contract extension.
Many fans have suggested paying Donald so much is a mistake, is due to the fear of losing other players. That suggestion is something Rams VP/COO Kevin Demoff himself alluded to in a recent interview.
It’s time to debunk that myth once and for all.
According to Spotrac, the Rams are currently on track to have over $44m in cap space in 2019. However, the total cap has exceeded projections by at least $5m and in some years as much as $8m in each of the last several years, the total cap . So it's entirely possible the Rams are looking at more than $50m in cap space next season.
Here's where it gets interesting.
In 2020, the Rams are expected to have well over $90m in cap space (over $87m if projection is accurate).
Here are the players who have contracts expiring the next two offseasons:
2019 LA Rams Free Agents
|Brandin Cooks||WR||UFA||Re-signed, 5-yr, $80m|
|Todd Gurley||RB||UFA (option)||Re-signed, 4-yr, $60m|
|Marcus Peters||CB||UFA (option)||Optioned|
2020 LA Rams Free Agents
|Malcolm Brown||RB||UFA||Re-signed, 2-yr $3.25m|
|Tyler Higbee||TE||UFA||Re-signed, 4 yr $31m|
|Troy Hill||CB||UFA||Re-signed, 2-yr $8.25m|
|Dante Fowler, Jr.||EDGE||UFA|
Here are the players whose contract is up after this season or after next season that may require a $10m average per year deal or more to re-sign:
- DT Michael Brockers (free agent in 2020)
- CB Marcus Peters (2020)
- S Lamarcus Joyner (2019)
- OG Rodger Saffold (2019)
And the players in the next wave that should command less than $10m APY;
- OT Rob Havenstein (2019)
- OG Jamon Brown (2019)
- TE Tyler Higbee (2020)
- LB Mark Barron (2020)
You might notice DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Aqib Talib and OT Andrew Whitworth aren’t listed in either group. This is due to either declining play (Suh is not the pass rusher he once was) or age.
Here’s how it would break down for the players listed:
Joyner is playing out of his mind right now and is without question one of the top eight free safeties in the NFL right today. He may very well command something in the neighborhood of four years $50m. I’d think it would take about $12.25m APY contract.
Saffold is secretly one of the premier guards in this league. Unfortunately for him, it took a while to stay healthy and become what he is today. He will be 31-years old next June with a long history of injuries, so giving him a long, multi-year deal (think five years) doesn't seem feasible. Even on the open market, his value may be watered down. However, three years for $33m seems plausible. At $11m APY, this would make him one of the highest paid at his position and still be reasonable.
So of the two heavy hitters that's $23m of what should be well over $50m in 2019. The Rams would have something in the neighborhood of $27 million left.
Neither Havenstein nor Brown have proven to be top 10 at their respective positions. Brown being suspended for the first two games this year certainly doesn't help his case for getting big money. So he may very well only command $5-6m a year. While Havenstein doesn't have any off-field issues, he's only been solid through three seasons with a very ugly and injury-riddled season sandwiched in between the solid parts. Anything more than $6-8m a year would be a shock, and highly unlikely.
New York Giants 2018 free agent acquisition OG Patrick Omameh would be a good comparison for Brown. He’s an overall a solid player who landed a three-year, $15m deal in March. I think Brown can snag four years for $23m, a little more than Omameh.
The five-year, $36m deal OT Chris Hubbard got from the Cleveland Browns is about what I would expect for Havenstein in his best-case scenario.
So between Brown and Havenstein, that's another $13m at the most bringing the total per year cap usage for Rams free agents in 2019 to $36m. Set aside about $8m for the 2019 NFL Draft class and the Rams would have about $9m in available cap space.
And that's without releasing a cap casualty like Barron after 2018. Barron could be cut to save $7m. He carries a cap of $9 million but $2m is dead money.
The best part of all this is the straightforward explanation.
The Rams can easily set contracts to release certain bonuses and have different hits further out in the future. Theoretically, $9m is the lowest they would have available. They could very well sign these players and have $20m in cap space remaining (again, before releasing cap casualties).
Basically they would do exactly what they did this offseason by passing out cash like it’s tax season (I guess technically free agency is during tax season...). RB Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $60m extension that doesn't even go active until the season in which he turns 26-years old because he will play 2019 under the fifth-year option. So yes, teams can set things up so that money isn't used until big cap years arrive for them.
I could continue on to 2020 but with almost $100m expected to be available it’s unnecessary. Even after signing players in 2019, the Rams cap should still be about $65-70 million in 2020.
I often times like to use the Seattle Seahawks as an example when discussing this. Two years ago was the conclusion of back-to-back offseasons where the world saw them pull off the re-signing of QB Russell Wilson, CB Richard Sherman, LB Bobby Wagner, FS Earl Thomas, and SS Kam Chancellor. Those were all major contracts that made them top five if not top overall paid players at their respected positions. Aside from that, they still managed to give top ten money for DE Michael Bennett, LB K.J. Wright, and WR Doug Baldwin. They successfully extended eight players who either received top ten money for their position or highest paid overall. And still didn't end up in cap hell.
Their team fell apart due to injuries. Not being cap strapped.
So in the words of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers...
The Rams are in prime position to re-sign a lot of their players. The thing to remember is they were never going to re-sign them all. No team ever does. This is merely a scenario showing they can. However, of the eight players listed above, realistically speaking we may only see 4-6 brought back, regardless. And re-signing Aaron Donald to a historic deal wouldn’t change that.
My question to you is, which of the eight players are you ok with allowing to walk?