The Los Angeles Rams may have more attention on their payroll than any other team in the NFL. The good news about that is that the Rams have a lot of players who have been worthy of high contract values in the past and the roster is quite talented. The bad news is that they are running out of space, have notable free agents to retain, and not every player looks as worthy of those high value deals as they did at the time.
I am not a salary cap expert by any means, but together we can break down the situation a little bit and make it clear how things could do during free agency and beyond. All figures from OvertheCap.com unless otherwise stated.
Projected Salary Cap: $208,056,625
Total Liabilities: $187,964,6502
Projected Cap Space: $20,092,123
Top-5 biggest cap hits for 2020:
The Rams have five players projected to make over $8 million against the cap next season, and all five of them are at $13.7 million or above. Los Angeles would save $0 by releasing any of them other than Jalen Ramsey, who is going into his fifth-year option and has a 0% chance of being released.
Of the five, only Ramsey and Aaron Donald give you no pause as to their futures and being worth the price the Rams are about to pay. Todd Gurley and his knee are set to make $17.25 million against the cap. Brandin Cooks and his concussions are at $16.8 million. Both players are coming off of disappointing seasons, but perhaps that only gives them more room to improve in 2020; both are under 27 years old and have played at All-Pro levels before.
Per OTC, the Rams could save over $4 million by successfully trading Gurley. Because running backs are relatively cheap, that means that the team wouldn’t have to replace him with a $4 million player, so there’s a good chunk of savings there if something did happen. There would be no such savings with Cooks, but OTC does say that $16 million could be saved if Jared Goff was dealt.
I don’t think anyone actually expects or wants that to happen. A replacement quarterback of any value is going to cost more than $16 million and Goff, 25, gives them the best chance next season to return to the playoffs probably.
The team could also sign Ramsey to a contract extension and lower his 2020 cap hit considerably. The Miami Dolphins signed corner Xavien Howard to a five-year, $75 million contract last May and his first-year cap hit was $10.3 million with a $1.2 million base salary. Ramsey’s cap hit could come down by at least $3-4 million if extended.
The team could also of course restructure any of the other four players listed, though Aaron Donald would only be doing so as a favor and probably gets some sort of incentive by doing so.
Where could the Rams get savings?
The players who carry the most projected cap savings who do not seem like integral parts of the future, or who may just be casualties of circumstance, include:
- Clay Matthews: $5.75 cap hit, $3.75 in savings if released
- Eric Weddle: $4.75 cap hit, $4.25 in savings
- Nickell Robey-Coleman: $4.5 cap hit, $4 in savings
- Troy Hill: $4.475 cap hit, $3.975 in savings
- Malcolm Brown: $1.15 cap hit, $1.1 in savings
Those are the players I’d identify as the most obvious.
Matthews had eight sacks last season but seven of those came in the first six games of the year. He had one sack in his final seven contests, plus the defense is changing after Wade Phillips was replaced by Brandon Staley as defensive coordinator. Matthews will be 34, while Weddle will be 35.
Robey-Coleman made three starts and played in at least 50% of the snaps on all but four occasions. His $4 million in savings is not insignificant however and a comparable player at that position may cost considerably less. Hill made nine starts and was more regularly out there when he was active.
Releasing Brown would save $1.1 million, but a replacement may cost $400,000 or so as a rookie, so you must take that into account. Another thing to take into account is that the Rams may have $20 in cap room now, but they don’t have $20 million to spend on free agents and their own players. Some of that money must be allocated to rookies, practice squad, and injured reserve. It may be closer to $15 million for that reason.
LA has a lot of notable names here. It’s going to hurt to lose some of these players, but it does seem inevitable.
Dante Fowler, Jr, OLB
A former top prospect, a pass rusher, and a guy who is finally developing outside of Jacksonville. That all totals to a very expensive contract for Fowler in two months, maybe in the Trey Flowers range ($90 million over 5 years, $56m guaranteed, first year cap hit of $6.4m, second-year hit at $16.7).
Cory Littleton, ILB
The only reason that Littleton made the Pro Bowl last year and not this year might just boil down to the team around him not doing as well. There’s no apparent drop-off to his talent or skill or value and that may put him in the C.J. Mosley range for middle linebackers ($85 million over five years, $43 guaranteed, first year hit at $13m, second year at $17.5). His “worst case” might be an AAV of $14.25, which is what Myles Jack and Deion Jones got. He should be able to top both of those players though.
Andrew Whitworth, OT
A confusing situation if only because Whitworth is breaking new ground on age, kind of. He’s 38, turning 39 in December of next season. Does he want to play again? Does he want to move teams again? Does he want to take a team friendly deal? Talk is cheap, but we won’t how find cheap Whitworth actually is until March maybe. He made $16.7 million last season.
Michael Brockers, DT
The Rams have the most expensive interior defensive lineman in the NFL, and it’s not even close. Brockers himself made $10.75 million last season. Is he going to take a paycut to stay in LA? Is another team ready to make him an offer of that caliber? Because his play hasn’t dropped off.
Greg Zuerlein, K
Every team needs a kicker and for the most part, Zuerlein is as good as they come. He is coming off of his worst season since his rookie campaign, but he was 5-of-7 from beyond 50, a consistent strength of his. Justin Tucker is the highest paid kicker at $5 million per season. Zuerlein made $2.25 million AAV on his previous deal. He likely wants to make at least $4 million per year, and that’s where potential $4 million savings on a release or a trade could come in handy. Replacing him with a free agent or rookie is a risk.
Austin Blythe, iOL
Things didn’t seem the same for Blythe in 2019 as they were in 2018, but any starting offensive lineman under 30 is going to draw a lot of interest. He’s kind of a hard one to project, but Mark Glowinski’s three-year, $16.2 million deal with the Colts seems like an interesting starting point?
Also: Blake Bortles, Bryce Hager, Morgan Fox, Donte Deayon, Jojo Natson, Marqui Christian, Mike Thomas, Josh Carraway (Exclusive Rights Free Agent), Johnny Mundt (ERFA), and Coleman Shelton (ERFA)
And that’s your LA Rams cap situation! Kind of!