The more days that pass in the NFL free agency period, the more quality players that sign to different franchises. The Los Angeles Rams haven’t exactly been active as their only signing was veteran FS Eric Weddle, and that was completed before the legal tampering period even began. The Rams were allowed to do this because Weddle was released by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Rams are clearly limited, that much is clear. According to Over The Cap, the Rams currently only possess $8.7m in cap space, and $5-6m of that will need to be set aside for the 2019 NFL Draft.
So how are they not capitalizing?
Well, the NFL has loopholes that can be risky if not used properly, but also present a major advantage for teams looking to win immediately: the ability to restructure contracts. Essentially what that means is you’re taking the cap hit from a player this year, turning it into a signing bonus, and spreading that cap hit throughout the remaining years of the players contract. It creates immediate relief in cap space, though it obviously adds a specific amount every year the rest of the way. Danny Heifetz of the Ringer did a great job breaking down the possibility of restructuring contracts, here’s a tidbit from the piece:
For example, a team could take a player’s 2018 salary, which would count against the 2018 cap, and convert that figure into a signing bonus. The real, actual cash is paid to the player right away, but the cap hit of that money is spread across the remaining years of the player’s contract. The team gets short-term flexibility by punting most of the cap hit down the road, and the player gets the same amount of money but receives it up front rather than in installments throughout the year. It’s a win for the player, and when done right, a win for the team.
As you can see, there’s an actual benefit to the player as well: he receives his money up-front as opposed to waiting for it by way of installments throughout the year.
Per Over The Cap, the Rams have two major restructure candidates: DT Aaron Donald and WR Brandin Cooks. The Rams could save $6.7m in cap space by restructuring Donald’s contract, and $7.7m in cap space by restructuring Cooks’ contract.
So what gives?
Shouldn’t a team looking to capitalize on a Super Bowl window that’s currently open be taking advantage of loopholes like this? The Philadelphia Eagles — who are in a very similar situation as the Rams — have already restructured contracts such as RT Lane Johnson. They also re-did deals on LT Jason Peters, LG Isaac Seumalo, and C Jason Kelce. Moves like these allowed them to trade for WR DeSean Jackson, sign DT Malik Jackson, and re-sign DE Brandon Graham, even though they entered the off-season with only $2m in cap space.
The Rams should surely look into re-structuring Donald’s deal because the hits added for the remainder of his contract would barely equate to $1.34m. Donald is as safe as a player gets in the league, so you can expect him to remain on the team throughout the duration of his contract. Even the Chicago Bears restructured DE Khalil Mack’s contract a few days ago for cap relief. The difference in the cap savings of $7m could be the difference in adding a key contributor like OLB Justin Houston or ILB Zach Brown.
For a team looking to return to a Super Bowl, the time to take risks is now. The Rams should explore all options at improving, and deal with the potential repercussions down the line.