We finally get our first participant from the NFC West with our look at the St Louis Rams
Best Contract: Jake Long
The Rams have a different way of handling contracts than many other teams in the NFL. They are more creative and certainly much more quirky with the contracts than others. Most of their contracts maintain a great deal of flexibility, but at the same time there are a number of high guaranteed and high contract value players which make it more difficult to come up with a best contract.
The one contract that the team signed that I felt was very good value was that of Jake Long. For a time he and Joe Thomas looked to be neck and neck for who would be the highest paid tackle in the NFL before injuries began to take their toll on his body. When he hit free agency in 2013 it was very difficult to project what kind of contract he should receive from a team.
The Rams, who desperately needed a tackle, stepped up and offered Long a four year deal at $8.5 million a season with only $8 million paid in the season of signing and $12 million fully guaranteed. The contract contained various vesting guarantees that more or less allowed the Rams to evaluate his health before making a decision about whether to release him or offer him a contract that is more in line with his play and expected per game contribution.
The fact that Long was injured at the end of the 2013 season, showed the possible strength of the contract. In order to earn a full $16 million from the Rams, Long needed to be on the roster the final day of the 2013 League Year. If released the Rams would have saved $4 million in cash. The fact that he played so well before injury made it a moot point as the Rams need him and quite frankly the price is a bargain.
The $12 million guaranteed was less than Will Beatty’s signing bonus with the Giants that was signed in the same offseason. His $16 million two year salary is less than both Beatty’s and Sam Baker’s, whose contract was also signed prior to Long’s contract in St. Louis. The Rams would again have an out in year three with just $2.5 million in dead money and a $4 million guarantee not vesting until the 5th day of the 2015 League Year. By comparison the other players would cost the team over $7.5 million in cap charges if released.
The Rams had a very tight salary cap situation in 2013, to the point where they had to restructure $200,000 of Chris Long’s contract in the final weeks of the season just to remain cap compliant, but still came out on this contract without locking so much dead money into any season of the contract that they would feel a pinch moving on. Overall it’s a contract with very favorable conditions on a very high upside talent.
Worst Contract: Jared Cook
I’m not sure if the Rams have open vault policy for former Tennessee Titans, but Jared Cook more or less robbed the team in 2013. The Rams tend to overprice certain players in exchange for some contract flexibilities, but in Cooks case he received the overpricing with no sacrifice in the contract structure.
At $7 million a season, Cook is the most overpaid Tight End in the NFL. His average performance was around 550 yards a season leading into this contract. He had started just 11 games in four years and never scored more than four touchdowns in a single season. Maybe the Rams graded him on the Marcedes Lewis salary scale, but at least Lewis had that former draft status and a long career as a starter to fall back on.
Like the Lewis contract with the Jaguars, Cook’s contract is a minefield of guarantees. Cook received $19 million in guarantees in the contract, guarantees which extend all the way out into the 3rd contract year. He had the most fully guaranteed salary of anyone at the position until Dennis Pitta matched him this season. It is unlikely that they could find a trade partner to take Cook after two seasons. His salary that year is $7 million (or the same as Jimmy Graham’s franchise tag) of which $5 million is guaranteed. That more or less means the Rams are stuck with paying him $21 million over three seasons.
Last year Cook would go on to gain 671 yards and score 5 touchdowns in 13 starts for the Rams. His average salary rates just below that of players like Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Vernon Davis. His guarantee per year is right at the top of the NFL among tight ends. There is really no easy way to spin this one. He is a $4-$5 million a year player making $7 million from the Rams. Over the next two years he needs to gain close to 1,000 yards per season to make this contract look reasonable.
2013’s Best and Worst Rams Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Jake Long (See above)
2013 Worst Contract: Jared Cook (See above)
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.