Every year, players that have routinely outperformed their present contracts and players that are one year away from free agency are tabbed as extension candidates. While shelling out more money can be seen in a negative light because a team is betting heavily on that player once more and tightening cap space for the future, it also can provide immediate cap relief.
A team can lower the cap hit of a player in his last remaining year of the original deal and spread that money out over his new deal. Such was the case for Jalen Ramsey in 2020. The Rams were able to lower his 2020 cap hit of $13.7 million to $6.2 million. The remaining $7.5 million he was owed in 2020 was then spread out over his new five-year extension.
With that framework in mind, I want to continue this offseason series by focusing this week on candidates for extensions on the Los Angeles Rams roster. If Snead is to put his team in a position to run it back, he will need to consider not only restructures (part 1 of this offseason series), but also extensions.
This is Week 3 of my offseason series of the Los Angeles Rams Roster Overview and last week I covered the pending free agents that the Rams must resign and must let walk. If you have not read it yet, check it out here!
There are only a few names that are eligible and worthy of a contract extension in the eyes of the L.A. front office.
Here are the top-five candidates:
- Aaron Donald
- Matthew Stafford
- Greg Gaines
- David Edwards
- Rob Havenstein
Let’s start with the first two names. Based on the reports since the Super Bowl, it is almost a guarantee that both Aaron Donald and Matt Stafford will receive new contracts. Les Snead and Sean McVay have made this public in their interviews. Now, it’s just a matter of time.
Aaron Donald is currently trying to decide between playing or retiring in 2022. He made it known during the Rams Super Bowl parade that he would return if McVay returned; along with the team retaining Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. Mathew Stafford, on the other hand, has cemented himself an elite quarterback in the NFL and Los Angeles will have to pay their franchise quarterback at some point. The time seems to be now with the salary cap rising year by year.
So what is each likely to command based on the market?
Donald would likely become the highest paid player in the NFL. With TJ Watt of Pittsburgh making an annual salary of $28 million, Donald would likely be staring at $29 or $30 million. It would be a $6.5-7.5 million increase of his current AAV salary ($22.5 million).
Stafford is subject to the ever-inflating QB market price. Stafford’s value is likely to fall somewhere between $40-45 million. However, Aaron Rodgers’s recent deal where he is set to collect $50 million annually could push Stafford’s figure even higher than $45 million.
An extension for Donald could save the Rams $10,572,000 in 2022; spreading that number over the course of his remaining years. It is my guess that Donald becomes the first ever defensive player to be paid $30 million annually.
An extension for Stafford could save the L.A. Rams $17,504,000 in 2022; spreading that number over the course of his extension years. It is my guess that Stafford will be paid 4 years $176 million; $44 million annually. I personally wouldn’t go past 3 years, but LA isn’t exactly in the position to stall negotiations.
Let’s look at the other three names on the original list. Greg Gaines, David Edwards, and Rob Havenstein. This is sometimes where team’s make or break their salary cap. An extension or overpay can likely lead to a dead cap issue if the player has reached his ceiling. However, it also has the potential for a team to get significantly ahead of the market value for a player at a position. The Rams managed to do this with Cooper Kupp before the 2020 season. His $15.7 million AAV salary looks like a bargain based on the current wide receiver market.
As for Greg Gaines, he has steadily climbed the ladder on the depth chart each year since being drafted in 2019. He started 13 games after Sebastian Joseph-Day went down; collecting 4.0 sacks in that time. He’s also just 26 years old at the start of the 2022 season and has proven to be a dual-threat at the defensive tackle position.
In a league where quarterbacks are more and more mobile, the need to have a run stuffer and pass rushing defensive tackle is important. With SJD likely to go elsewhere in free agency, the Rams would be wise to keep Gaines from hitting the open market. Gaines even received high praise from AD99 and Von Miller during the latter half of 2022 and in the playoffs. A deal for him would likely be somewhere between $6-10 million according to OTC. If Los Angeles acts quickly they can retain a keep part of their defensive line and save $1,260,000 this year.
David Edwards wouldn’t seem like the most obvious candidate for an extension. But here’s why he should be:
1) he’ll only be 25 at the start of the 2022 season.
2) He has started 46 games since being drafted (the Rams have played 55 including playoff games). He became a starter in Week 7 of 2019 and hasn’t looked back since.
3) As a 5th round draft pick he has provided tremendous value to the offensive line. Not only has he found himself starting, he gives positional flexibility with the ability to play at left tackle, left guard, and right guard.
The Rams could offer him an extension, similar to the way they kept Havenstein in 2018. A deal between $5-8 million would be his valuation. Extending Edwards would save the team $1,460,000 this year.
Rob Havenstein is the last name on the extensions list. The thinking to retain him is pretty straightforward. Havenstein actually has 3 void years attached to his deal that the Rams are on the hook for. It would seem that LA had intentions of keeping Havenstein beyond 2022. The dead money on those years isn’t significant ($4,608,000 over three years), but for a team trying to use its financial resources to the fullest and with top heavy talent, every dollar matters. For that reason; handing Havenstein an extension of 3 years would put more money towards 2023-2025; committing to his future as a Ram, but also knocking down his 2022 cap number.
His age (30) is a factor to monitor, but he has been mentored by and played with Andrew Whitworth. His 2022 extension savings would be $4,904,000 - a sizable figure.
So what’s next? Les Snead has been on the record that restructures are not exactly for everyone on the team for this offseason. Los Angeles restructured a lot of guys before 2021. Doing so again - would kick more money into 2023 and beyond. But that doesn’t rule out extensions creating cap space. If Snead, McVay, Pastoors, and Co. like the above five and can land on a mutual number with their agents, then I think all five could be seeing extensions in the coming weeks/months.
What cap relief does that provide? Extending all five guys could provide up to $35,700,000 in 2022 cap space.
Pair that number with two restructures (Kupp & Ramsey for instance) and the Rams could have an additional $20,853,750 ($56,553,750 in total). We should hear this week about Andrew Whitworth’s retirement which is an additional $16-17 million if he does walk away.
There are a lot of creative ways for LA to go with cap space in 2022. With free agency set to begin Monday at 12:00pmEST, stay tuned for my next offseason article by following Turf Show Times on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest news and articles.
How would YOU rank the top five extension candidates? Tell us in the comments!