St. Louis Rams Odds & Sods
Thoughts and observations on the events of the past two weeks in Ramsland.
A new trend in NFL contracts
Teams with solid Cap management are changing from signing bonuses to salary, roster bonuses for veteran contracts. No proration. — Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) March 17, 2015
Count the Rams among the teams solidly managing the salary cap. Last week, the Rams re-signed TE Lance Kendricks (4 years), signed Free Agent LB Akeem Ayers (2 years), signed Free Agent DT Nick Fairley (one year), and re-signed WR Kenny Britt (2 years). All 4 of the contracts included incentives and roster bonuses. None of the 4 players received signing/prorated bonuses.
The Rams prefer the pay-as-you-go approach to contract structuring. It’s a sure-fire way to avoid “cap hell” in future years. Roster bonuses also afford the Rams flexibility in managing their salary cap. Roster bonuses can be converted to prorated bonuses if the Rams need to create salary cap space. Signing/prorated bonuses, once paid, can not be altered. Signing/prorated bonuses create the dreaded phrase “dead money”.
Grading the Rams’ offseason to-date
Many media pundits are already publishing grades on the Rams’ offseason to-date. I believe it’s too early to be grading the Rams’ offseason transactions. Much still needs to be accomplished. The Rams won’t be able to address all of the holes on the offensive line solely through the upcoming draft. Joe Barksdale, Justin Blalock and Stefen Wisniewski are all still on the Rams’ radar. Signing at least one of them (preferably Wisniewski) would be a step in the right direction.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll, sharing his thoughts on Wisniewski (after a visit with the Free Agent):
“He’s a legitimate starter in the league. He really likes us and we liked him. He’s a really solid football player and a smart kid.”
Re-signing Britt and Kendricks were solid moves by the Rams, especially if they can be better-utilized in the Rams’ offense this coming season. Fairley and Ayers were low-risk, medium-cost signings, and add much-needed depth at DT and OLB. Both players have untapped upside/potential that Gregg Williams may be able to unleash.
The Bradford-Foles trade? Things I like about it: not worrying if Bradford’s knee will hold up through the rigors of a full NFL season, the $11.443 million net gain in salary cap space, and the draft pick compensation. What I don’t like about it: Bradford (when healthy) is the more talented QB, Foles ending two of the last three seasons on IR, and the trade may not offer a long-term solution for the Rams at the QB position (Foles is in the last year of his rookie contract). The Rams have three QB’s under contract for 2015, and none for 2016.
I’ll reserve judgement on the trade (and on the Rams’ offseason) until I see how Bradford and Foles perform for their new teams. Can Foles replicate his 2013 season? Will Bradford stay healthy, and play to his full potential, in his 6th season in the NFL? I wish Sam Bradford all the best. I hope he stays healthy throughout 2015, ensuring the Rams get to keep their 3rd or 4th round pick in 2016. At any rate, the Rams get to keep the 2016 conditional pick if Sam Bradford is traded by the Eagles.
NFL contracts & the salary cap
Keeping track of contracts, deciphering them, and determining the Rams’ available salary cap space are more difficult than one might imagine. I receive many requests for information related to the Rams’ salary cap situation at this time of the year. The following example illustrates how difficult the whole process can be, and why it can take some time to figure it all out.
When first reported, Nick Fairley’s contract seemed simple enough: a one-year/$5 million deal with the opportunity to earn another $2.5 million through incentives. Simple until one breaks down the numbers:
Base Salary: $2.5 million — Roster Bonus: $1.5 million
Other Bonuses: $31,250 per game on the active roster (maximum of $500,000). Only $250,000 of the potential $500,000 counts against the salary cap at present as “Likely To Be Earned” (LTBE)(because Fairley played in only 8 games last season). Workout bonus of $500,000.
Incentives: Up to $1 million in playing time incentives. Up to $1 million for number of sacks and the Rams making the playoffs. $500,000 for making the Pro Bowl. The incentives are all classified as “Not Likely To Be Earned” (NLTBE). The Rams do not have to count them against the salary cap at present due to the classification. If they are earned, the Rams can choose to count them against their 2015 or 2016 salary cap.
Salary Cap Hit (at present): $4.75 million.
2015 NFL Draft: WR or OL at No. 10?
The Rams’ current starting lineup on the offensive line:
- C – Barrett Jones
- RG – Rodger Saffold
- LG – Brandon Washington
- RT – Steven Baker
- LT – Greg Robinson
Reserves: C – Demetrius Rhaney, G – Travis Bond, OL Garrett Reynolds
The Rams’ wide receiver corps:
- Kenny Britt
- Brian Quick
- Tavon Austin
- Stedman Bailey
- Chris Givens
- Damien Williams
I see only two starter-quality players on the offensive line depth chart: Rodger Saffold and Greg Robinson. Depth is clearly an issue as well. The Rams still have time to address the OL in Free Agency. Odds are though they’ll be looking to select OL early and often in the upcoming NFL draft. Ideally, the Rams trade down from No. 10 (acquiring an additional 2nd round pick in the process) and select the best available offensive lineman (Ereck Flowers, La’el Collins, Brandon Scherff or T.J. Clemmings). Each of the four have their merits, and would be good fits in the Rams’ offense.
In the Fisher/Snead era, the Rams have spent considerable draft capital on the wide receiver positions: Austin-1st and 2nd, Bailey-3rd, Givens-4th, Quick-2nd. Conversely, the Rams have invested very little draft capital on the offensive line: Robinson-1st, Rhaney-7th, Van Dyk-7th, Watkins-5th, Jones-4th. The dearth of draft capital spent on the offensive line is the single biggest reason why problems exist there today.
I believe the current wide receiver corps is a young, talented and deep unit. They’ve certainly had their share of growing pains. It takes 2-3 seasons for most WR’s to reach their full potential. The Rams’ wideout’s have suffered in their development due to inadequate line play, an inconsistent running game, and backup QB’s for the last 25 regular season games. Before investing any more serious draft capital at the positions, I’d like to see what the existing unit can do with a younger, upgraded offensive line, and Nick Foles at quarterback.
Addressing the offensive line early in the draft should be the priority over adding another WR. The best WR unit in the NFL doesn’t do a team any good if the QB is flat on his back, or if the offense can’t establish the running game.
Who truly knows what the Rams will do come draft-day? They may just surprise all of us, and go strictly BPA with the No. 10 selection. After all, that strategy netted them a Defensive Rookie Of The Year in the 2014 NFL Draft.