In 2024, the Los Angeles Rams will be paying over $100 million in cap space... to just three players on the roster. I know these are strange new times, but I don’t know if a team has ever done something like that before.
By way of being talented enough to win the Super Bowl in 2021-2022, the Rams put themselves in the gratefully difficult position of figuring out how to keep the team together and “run it back.” This included overtures to retain Von Miller for many millions of dollars that fell short and the signing of Allen Robinson to a salary that puts him only a hair behind 2021 Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp.
Los Angeles general manager Les Snead also inked Matthew Stafford to a new four-year, $160 million contract and hanging onto Joseph Noteboom for three years and $40 million. Consider this: In 2011, Mark Sanchez was the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback at $17.2 million. And in 2024, Joseph Noteboom’s salary cap hit will be $17 million if the Rams don’t touch the contract he signed in 2022.
What a difference a decade makes.
Though much discussion was had about how the Rams could “get under the salary cap to keep the gang together and run it back, no problem,” we didn’t spend much time talking about what that means for the future Rams. And it’s not that the L.A. Rams are in trouble in the future, it just means that we have to be careful when comparing actual numbers to misleading numbers.
When the Rams restructured the contract of Leonard Floyd this year, the team did not save any money. They saved 2022 salary cap space and they essentially guaranteed Floyd’s 2023 contract by turning his upcoming base salary into a signing bonus. If the Rams had done nothing to Floyd’s contract, the team would have more options with his contract next season.
When a team restructures a player, it is essentially the same as signing him to a brand new contract, only the parameters of that contract are changed; most free agent deals start with a $1 million base salary or a very low base salary, even if that player is making a $30 million base salary the following season like Davante Adams. By moving Floyd’s contract back another year, it gives L.A. slightly fewer options with signing players and keeping other players rather than making them cap casualties.
Would the Rams have traded Robert Woods if they had an extra $5 million of cap space in 2022?
Looking down the line to 2024, you will see that the Rams have “$72 million in cap space” or so, which looks compelling and bountiful. “That’s a lot!” It’s actually not a lot and what’s more telling is that L.A.’s “effective cap space” is much lower than that: $46.6 million. Only the Eagles and Browns have less.
I am not a salary cap expert. I have only spent copious amounts of time on websites like Overthecap.com and had many conversations with salary cap experts over the years, and that leaves me open for error and misinterpretation. I do believe it is accurate to say that Snead’s interesting contract decisions have setup the Rams in a unique position in 2024.
In a new video for Turf Show Times, you can see me go over LA’s 2022, 2023, and 2024 cap situations:
A $49.5 million cap hit for Matthew Stafford. A $26.25 million cap hit for Aaron Donald. A $26.7 million cap hit for Jalen Ramsey. The combined total: $102.45 million.
Stafford is set to be the third-highest paid quarterback of 2024, while Donald and Ramsey will be the highest-paid players at their positions. If the OvertheCap $256 million salary cap estimate turns out to be correct, that would leave $153.55 million for the other 50 players and practice squad members.
By comparison, the NFL salary cap in 2016 was $155.27 million.
In the time since the Rams drafted Jared Goff, the NFL has seen the salary cap go up by roughly $45 million. New TV deals and increasing popularity as perhaps the last of a dying breed (“appointment television”), the salary cap could end up being over $250 million in 2024. An increase of $100 million from 2016 and in L.A.’s case, that entire difference is set to go to Stafford, Ramsey, and Donald.
Then the Rams have a $22.5 million cap hit for Leonard Floyd, an $18.55 million hit for Allen Robinson, and a $17 million cap hit for Noteboom. If those contracts stayed the same, it would account for $160.5 million split between six Rams.
Of course, at least one of these contracts is bound to change between now and 2024. However, the more times that Snead restructures, the harder it becomes to have cap casualty options and if the Rams want to lower Floyd’s 2023 cap hit ($22 million) by restructuring, it will make it harder to avoid paying him $22.5 million in 2024.
Same deal if the Rams want to restructure Ramsey’s $17 million base salary in 2023. Meanwhile, Donald may want more money and more of L.A.’s salary cap to even continue playing through 2024 ... and he would deserve it. Donald should be making twice as much as the next defensive tackle, if we were even being close to fair.
It just means that the Rams will need to hit on their draft picks in order to fill key roles with rookie contract players, and to have the right coaches and leadership in place to help that happen. That’s what makes Sean McVay so valuable to the L.A. Rams and his contract doesn’t count against the salary cap at all. McVay is likely leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table every year by not going into broadcasting, so it’s up to the Rams to figure out how to keep that from happening in the near future.
The Rams aren’t going to get away from Stafford’s cap hit in 2024 and they likely won’t even be considering it. What they can do is restructure his contract to lower the cap hit, but do that too many times and you could find yourself in the same situation as Matt Ryan and the 2022 Falcons who traded him to the Colts if you do that.
L.A. could restructure Ramsey in 2024, when he’s 30, but that probably ties the team to him when he’s 31. Or they eat a lot of dead money, which they may have to anyway. Consider a player like Stephon Gilmore, who was 29 when he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. He has since left the Patriots and had one season with the Panthers, and he’s still a free agent today at 31.
There are always ways to lower your cap hit today, but not always ways to do that without sacrificing your cap in the future. The Rams have almost already used up most of their 2024 cap and even if that’s “two years away” it has to be taken into consideration with every decision that goes into “running it back” in 2022.