Estimated 2015 Cap Space: -$125,000 ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 56
Pro Bowlers: 2
Unrestricted Free Agents: 8(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 10
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Right tackle Joe Barksdale has been a good find for the Rams and should help hold down an important position for the next few years. The going rate for young players at the position with upside is right around $6 million a season and with Austin Howard receiving $6M from Oakland last year I would think that is his asking price. The Rams could opt to let him try free agency and keep their fingers crossed there is limited interest, which would drive the price down for them ala Sebastian Vollmer with New England…the Rams need a quarterback so keeping Shaun Hill, at least as a backup option, for around $2 million a season would seem to be a smart move…Kenny Britt fills a void and certainly had his moments last season. Britt is inconsistent and a question mark will always surround him, but he should have a place in the organization. I can’t see him earning more than a low tier veteran contract, at least in base value, which could make him a value signing.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Davin Joseph’s best days are behind him and the team should be able to find a better player with more upside next year to play guard…I like the idea of keeping Lance Kendricks, but with Jared Cook on the team I don’t believe he will want to re-sign with the Rams unless it was for a price that is above his expected contribution level. There could be a change that he takes the Martellus Bennett path and signs a low cost one year deal like Bennett did with the Giants a few years back…Alex Carrington registered one tackle in 2014. That tackle earned him $1.5 million. The Rams should not pay him a penny for another one.
Contracts to Modify
My first inclination is to release QB Sam Bradford outright, but knowing how poor the Rams QB situation is I have to give more consideration towards keeping him and hoping I can get anything out of him next season. The injuries and inconsistencies have likely made him the worst value in the NFL- Bradford has earned over $61 million while passing for just 7,553 yards in the last four seasons. Whenever anyone complains about the rookie wage scale now in place the counter has become “Sam Bradford” and any argument ends. Bradford’s deal should have been redone last season but the Rams hoped he would stay healthy off the 14 td/4 int start to his 2013 season.
I’ve said last season the Rams should look at the Chad Pennington model from 2006 as a starting point for Bradford and that still holds, though with a lower cost. Essentially you are making a contract that pays the player a fraction of his salary with the potential to earn some/most of it back in incentives. For Bradford this needs to be almost all performance incentives. It’s not an easy negotiation because they have to determine what his worth is on the open market, but with Mark Sanchez receiving just a base value of $2.25 million with the ability to earn $4 million total, I would say you have some very solid baseline numbers to work off of. Bradford will earn $12.985 million if his contract is untouched so they should easily save $8 million with him….
If the team needs cap room expect a portion of Chris Long’s $7 million base salary to be converted to a signing bonus…DE Robert Quinn has a large roster bonus that the team should and likely will allow to remain intact to maintain their future flexibility.
Players to Consider Releasing
Jake Long was given an opportunity to remain healthy and he simply can not do it. Long was a tremendous talent and plays well but his body can’t hold up and the Rams would be better off finding a long term solution. While some might argue about renegotiating to a team friendly deal, unless he takes something close to the minimum I just can’t see the point. He doesn’t have the upside anymore to make it worth holding onto him and you know at some point he is going to go down. They already have Greg Robinson to potentially put in his place. Cutting Long will save $8 million in cap space essentially eliminating the Rams salary cap crunch…Kendall Langford’s importance to the team has diminished and he has gone from a 800 snap a year starter to a 500 snap a year reserve. His $7 million cap hit is the 7th highest on the team and they can save $6 million by cutting him.
The Rams of the first of our teams that we have previewed that technically sit over the salary cap, though once adjustments are made to offset Cortland Finnegan’s salary guarantee they should be right at the limit. Even that number is misleading, though, because over $27 million is tied up in Bradford and J. Long and neither will be playing anywhere near that figure, so we are probably at an effective cap space of $16-20 million by the time they get done trimming the roster. That’s middle of the road in terms of money.
Right now the Rams are stuck in a groundhog day scenario with a story that seems to play out the same way every season. Come in with expectations, start sort of slow, face some major adversity with injuries, spark a mid season 0.500 streak, upset a few big teams, put up a fight down the stretch, lose some tough games to good teams and end up with 6 or 7 wins. Expectations come back and the cycle begins again. They need to find a way to break that streak.
Part of it is the QB position, but part of it also seems to be learning to eliminate inconsistency and how to win those tight games that too often become acceptable moral victories. Fixing that probably won’t come from a draft or big name free agent acquisitions. Part of it comes from experience and this team should now have enough veterans to begin to provide the leadership. But some of it comes from outside and I think when it comes to free agency the Rams should be targeting some low/mid-cost veteran players that come from winning organizations. They already have many players in place but I think that would help improve the development of those players and maybe help with that leadership aspect.
The Rams will certainly be linked to a number of QB’s throughout the offseason- Sanchez, Jay Cutler, RGIII, etc… and its their biggest need but my guess is they will wind up focusing on the draft. They can probably find another runner in the offseason whether a Frank Gore type as a part timer or a younger player with more upside in free agency rather than the draft.
The Rams were quiet last year in free agency but in the past they have had their moments targeting some bigger priced players and I would not be stunned if they jumped in on a wide receiver or a cornerback this year. I would guess if Michael Roos still wants to play he would be worth a look as a low cost left tackle if Long is released. A player like Roos can play for a season and tutor Robinson, giving the Rams the ability to play Rodger Saffold at right guard while Robinson plays left guard for the year. Though Roos was injured last season he had only missed one game in the prior nine years.
I would expect most of their improvements to come from the draft. In a perfect world they could use, besides a quarterback, a cornerbackor two, center/guard, and wide receiver in those first four rounds of the draft. There is a foundation in place with the Rams but they need to find that right mix and keep a quarterback healthy to take that next step and get out of the 6 and 7 win rut they are currently in.