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What will happen with the Rams 2022 salary cap when they finally start to make moves?

A rundown of the situation today, as well as next year

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New Orleans Saints v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The LA Rams have not officially addressed getting under the 2021 salary cap by Wednesday’s deadline, but it would be fair to make some assumptions about how Les Snead will eventually put the team below their $186.3 million threshold for next season. There have been many salary cap primers and explainers posted online in the last few weeks, and the part that should interest you the most is “restructures.”

This is what you should know, if you dare not read anything else about restructures:

  • This is not a renegotiation. This is not costing the player any money. In fact, in most cases it is good for the player because it means more cash upfront. No player would get released if he didn’t restructure.
  • Teams convert salary (bi-weekly paychecks) into a signing bonus (lump sum) and then spread that bonus over the course of the rest of the contract, thereby lowering the current year’s cap hit. This increases future cap hits by the prorated bonus amount.
  • Often, teams can restructure without even getting the player’s permission.
  • Teams typically only restructure their really good players.

In the Rams case, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey represent their two best players on defense and both have extraordinary 2021 cap hits:

  • Donald’s $27.8 million cap hit is the largest of any non-quarterback, and only six quarterbacks (including Jared Goff) are set to make more than him next season.
  • Ramsey’s $22.5 million cap hit is the largest of any cornerback, safety, or inside linebacker. Only Donald, Fletcher Cox, Khalil Mack, Frank Clark, and Demarcus Lawrence are set to make more on the defensive side of the ball. Ramsey will also make more than any non-QB offensive player except for Julio Jones.

If the Rams restructure Donald to the full extent, they’ll convert $18.9 million in base salary into a signing bonus and lower his cap hit to $13.715 million.

If the Rams restructure Ramsey to the full extent, they’ll convert $16.5 million in base salary and lower his 2021 cap hit to $9.2 million.

These two moves would free up $28.9 million in 2021 cap space and immediately put Los Angeles to within striking distance of the number they need to be at, even though the Rams would still need to continue finding places to save more money after that as a way to add new players and retain some of their own.

Let’s say that the Rams also feel confident that Cooper Kupp is the receiver they definitely want to tie themselves to beyond 2021, and convert $9.51 million of his base salary into a signing bonus. This would save another $8.6 million and take LA out of the red: $184.8 million in 2021 liabilities against a $186.3 million cap ($182.5 million + what the Rams rolled over from 2020).

So then, what just happened to LA’s future salary cap figures?

If Snead restructures these three contracts, it would officially give the Rams $192.2 million in 2022 liabilities. We don’t know what the 2022 NFL salary cap will be, but right now is projecting it at $203 million based on reports that it will begin to rebound next year after the NFL’s TV deals are finalized and the world has started to recover from the pandemic a little bit more. (Hopefully.)

If that were the case, and the Rams didn’t roll any savings over, then they’d only have $10.7 million in cap room for 2022.

Donald’s 2022 cap hit would now be $26.9 million. Ramsey’s would be $23.3 million. And Kupp’s would be $20 million.

If the Rams do not restructure Kupp, then he’d have a $16 million cap hit in 2022, with $13 million saved, if released and only $3 million in dead money. If they do restructure Kupp, then it’s a $20 million cap hit and $11 million in dead money and $9 million saved, if released. Restructuring helps a team now, but reduces its options in the future.

And we know that doesn’t stop Les Snead from doing anything because he believes that eventually the Rams will find a way out.

Next year’s way out would include considerable savings from some other key areas:

  • If Andrew Whitworth is retired or otherwise gone by 2022, that’s $10.5 million in savings.
  • Matt Stafford’s $23 million cap hit could be reduced by signing an extension.
  • If Robert Woods is released or traded, that’s $13.1 million in savings. If the team opted to restructure Woods, and not Kupp, you could basically just reverse the names in this article. They have similar deals.
  • If Michael Brockers is released, $9 million in savings.
  • If A’Shawn Robinson is released, $6.5 million in savings. It is presumed that both of these defensive linemen are being considered for renegotiations (not just restructures) or releases right now.
  • If Tyler Higbee is released, $5.6 million in savings.
  • If Rob Havenstein is released, $7.25 million in savings.

Next year, the Rams should have plenty of avenues towards cap space, they just need to find some cheaper gems capable of starting over the next two seasons to replace those players. But the money should be there and LA doesn’t appear to have any major priorities in terms of 2022 free agents: Joseph Noteboom, Austin Corbett, Micah Kiser, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Kenny Young, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, John Wolford, Troy Reeder, Nsimba Webster, and Matt Gay are the notable players set to enter the market next year.

Whatever moves Snead does decide on this week, it shouldn’t have a devastating impact on what he can do next year.