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How the Los Angeles Rams can free up cap space moving forward

The options are laid out. Let’s see the potential opportunities the Rams have moving forward.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

After a putrid showing on Monday Night Football, there’s not much left to do but look forward for the Los Angeles Rams. The season isn’t over and the team is still over .500 as they sit at 6-5, but the playoffs are basically out of reach at this point due to a strong NFC West and NFC conference.

Moving forward, the Rams will need to look in the mirror and make adjustments. Expectations entering 2019 were sky high after the team represented the NFC in the Super Bowl just last season. This season needs to be considered a major letdown and disappointment, but not all hope is lost. One thing to note: with all the major extensions and trades performed over the past few seasons by General Manager Les Snead, the Rams will have a severe lack of cap space and less than a full compliment of draft picks in the immediate future and beyond, so creativity will need to be at the forefront when re-stocking the tool shed.

Heading into the 2020 offseason, here is the projected draft pick haul for the Rams:

LA Rams’ 2020 NFL Draft order with comp pick projections

Rd # Rd# Pick
Rd # Rd# Pick
2 TBD TBD Rams pick
3 TBD TBD Rams pick
3 (c) TBD TBD Rams pick (projected)
4 TBD TBD Rams pick
6 TBD TBD Rams pick
7 TBD TBD Rams pick

As you can see, there isn’t much to work with in the 2020 NFL Draft as of today. Looking further down the line, the Rams won’t have a full draft class until 2022 when they’ll finally have a 1st-round draft pick again.

Here are the players scheduled to be upcoming free agents:

2020 LA Rams Free Agents

Player POS Type Outcome
Player POS Type Outcome
Malcolm Brown RB UFA Re-signed, 2-yr $3.25m
Blake Countess DB UFA Waived
Jared Goff QB UFA Optioned
Tyler Higbee TE UFA Re-signed, 4 yr $31m
Troy Hill CB UFA Re-signed, 2-yr $8.25m
Marcus Peters CB UFA Traded
Aqib Talib CB UFA Traded
Austin Blythe OL UFA
Blake Bortles QB UFA
Michael Brockers DL UFA
Marqui Christian DB UFA
Dante Fowler, Jr. EDGE UFA
Bryce Hager ILB UFA
Cory Littleton LB UFA
Mike Thomas WR UFA
Andrew Whitworth LT UFA
Greg Zuerlein K UFA
Morgan Fox DE RFA
Jojo Natson KR/PR RFA
Adonis Alexander CB ERFA
Josh Carraway OLB ERFA
Kendall Blanton TE ERFA
Chandler Brewer OL ERFA
Josh Carraway LB ERFA
Marquise Copeland DL ERFA
Donte Deayon CB ERFA
Greg Dortch WR ERFA
Landis Durham LB ERFA
Dominique Hatfield CB ERFA
Jeff Holland OLB ERFA
Jeremiah Kolone OL ERFA
Johnny Mundt TE ERFA
Jachai Polite EDGE ERFA
Coleman Shelton OL ERFA
Nate Trewyn OL ERFA
Nsimba Webster WR ERFA
Ethan Wolf TE ERFA
John Wolford QB ERFA

As you can see, there are six starters slated to hit free agency in March, but not only that, there are several key role players who could be on the move.

The Rams are going to be cash-strapped moving towards the offseason, which is why we should take a look at the biggest money deals that could create space for the Rams to work with. There are some stipulations to note obviously:

1) Generally all of these deals do contain dead money
2) Some of these options are related to being traded, not released. On the table, click the arrow option and select “Trade (Pre-June 1)” to see the figures and pricing in the event of a trade

Trading QB Jared Goff:

In 2020 (after this season), Goff’s cap hit is scheduled to cost $36.01m, or an estimated 18% of the entire cap. His long-term extension was signed in September and a trade seems incredibly far-fetched, but Goff has certainly regressed as a player and now the Rams are more cash-strapped than ever. Believing in the QB is one thing, but Goff’s deal essentially opens up the most cap space of all the new deals. If traded, the removal of Goff would save $16.042m in cap space, but they would also be charged with a $20m dead money hit. Goff is obviously not likely to be traded, especially not this soon after just recently signing an extension, but I believe there is a legitimate discussion to be had surrounding his ability and whether the Rams are better off with or without him (especially at his price tag).

Trading WR Brandin Cooks:

Of all the guys on this list, the money makes Cooks the least likely to be traded. Cooks’ cap hit in 2020 is scheduled to be $16.8m, which would take up roughly 8.4% of the entire salary cap. The dead money on his deal if he were traded would be $17.8m, while the savings would actually net a negative figure in -$1m. It’s not likely the Rams are willing to eat dead money and get rid of a good player for cheap, though it isn’t impossible either. The concussion history could also make it very hard for teams to be interested in Cooks, given his large contract.

Trading RB Todd Gurley:

Gurley’s deal is less costly than the aforementioned Cooks, but like the receiver, Gurley’s health could play a big role in the potential compensation or willingness to do a deal from another team’s perspective. Gurley’s cap hit is scheduled to be $17.25m in 2020, good for 8.6% of the salary cap. If traded, the Rams would eat $12.6m in dead money but would save $4.65m on the cap ultimately. This is one deal the Rams absolutely need to look into, and it isn’t because of Gurley specifically, but his health, lack of usage, and position simply make it a wise decision.

Trading RT Rob Havenstein:

Big Hav — like Goff — has regressed in a major way this season as he went from one of the best right tackles in football to a liability. Hav’s deal is much easier to trade as he accounts for only a $7.8m cap hit in 2020, good for 3.9% of the total salary cap. The dead money in the event of a trade would only amount to $2.4m and the savings would amount to $5.4m. The development of third-round rookie RT Bobby Evans could force Hav out the door, or the lack of development could very well keep the right tackle cemented in his starting role. Time will tell.

Trading TE Tyler Higbee:

Arguably, the silliest extension the front office of the Rams dolled out is the Higbee extension. It made absolutely no sense at the time and looks even worse now. Higbee is scheduled to cost $8.625m on the cap in 2020, good for 4.3% of the total salary cap. As a second-string tight end, that figure is simply way too high. The Rams could trade Higbee, which would result in only $2.4m of dead cap and $6.225m of savings. This deal feels like one that absolutely should happen over the summer, but the Rams will need to find a team willing to take on a bad contract for an under-performing player.

Extending CB Jalen Ramsey:

I see two options as it pertains to Ramsey. The first is obviously a long-term extension, which is by far the most likely option. The second is to trade him in the offseason, recoup most of the compensation paid, and move on like they planned on doing with EDGE Khalil Mack when the Oakland Raiders shopped him. Now, like I said, the first option is very likely. Ideally, extending Ramsey would secure a stud cornerback for many years, but not only that, it would actually also lower his price tag in 2020 which currently stands at $13.70m, or 6.9% of the cap. An extension would help create a bit of cap space in the immediate future, and the Rams are desperate for some cap relief, making this option the most likely. In the event of an unlikely trade, the Rams would be left with 0 dead money and would save all $13.70m.

Releasing S Eric Weddle

Weddle has been a welcomed and consistent option on the backend for the Rams since signing in free agency in 2019. Weddle originally signed a 2-year $11.502m deal. His cap hit for 2020 is scheduled to be $4.750m, or 2.4% of the total salary cap. The cost to release Weddle would be $500k in dead money, but it would free $4.250m on the cap. The Rams are also deep at safety which makes this move possible, but it isn’t a sure thing as Weddle has played well in his first season in L.A.

Releasing EDGE Clay Matthews

Like Weddle, Matthews was added in free agency as a low-priced veteran option to help improve the defense. And again, like Weddle, Matthews has performed well and hasn’t shown much of a drop-off in his play. Matthews will cost $5.75m in cap in 2020, or 2.9% of the entire salary cap. If the Rams choose to cut Matthews, the move would cost them $2m in dead money but would save $3.75m in cap space.

Ultimately, these are the moves that the Rams could look into when trying to free up cap space. The main reason for it being a discussion is because they’re slated to have only $26m in cap space in 2020 per OverTheCap, yet have a lot of talent that could be departing in free agency.

The best thing the Rams can do is admit a mistake and make the move. They’ve been open to doing so with guys like CB’s Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, ILB Alec Ogletree, and others. Now, that’s not suggesting that they need to blow up the team entirely and start from scratch, no. They’re a talented team and have a great coaching staff, they’re not far off from getting things fixed and getting back on track. But, they’ve dolled out far too many long-term and pricey extensions for guys who haven’t given them a great return on investment. Majority of those guys are up above, and that’s likely why they made the list (not all).

The 2020 offseason is sure to be an exciting one as the Rams have some flexibility and plenty of options to discuss. The plan isn’t known, but one thing is for certain: Les Snead is never afraid to make a move.