The NFL salary cap is a mysterious phenomenon. Some teams just seem charmed with the ability to manage it masterfully while others are plagued by the ramifications of mismanagement for what seems like eternity. For a team that has struggled as much as the St. Louis Rams over the past decade, one would think that at least the salary cap would be in good shape having not signed any big name free agents for quite some time. Ha, think again.
What is weighing the Rams down on the salary cap front is the fact that they have had so many top 10 draft choices over that same time period. Perhaps the biggest detriment is still lingering from the previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA) where there was no rookie wage scale in place. For a three year period in 2008, 2009, and 2010 the Rams had either the first or second overall selections. Those choices resulted in Chris Long, Jason Smith, and Sam Bradford respectively, but each got paid a tremendous amount of money without playing a single down in the NFL.
Long’s just signed a long-term extension this past season while Smith is no longer with the team. Bradford is still under his rookie contract and is set to count $13.25 million against the cap in 2013.
What is even more staggering about the Rams current situation is that they have 10 contracts set to make up approximately $85 million of the $123 million cap in 2013. The team could make some moves to try and reduce that number with cuts or renegotiation, but Bradford’s enormous cap number remains the unavoidable piece of the cap puzzle.
According to Rams Executive VP of Football Operations and COO Kevin Demoff: “When we did the RG III trade a year ago, we looked out and said, ‘In 2014, we will have 12 players who were first or second round picks under the new rookie wage scale.’ 12 of our best players will make less than $25 million combined in 2014, which meant on the remainder of our team, we could overpay a few guys in free agency, we could make a few mistakes here or there and we would have a pretty good nucleus. We have all stopped looking at where you spend. It is, ‘How do you accumulate the best players regardless of position?'”
This is the new philosophy of team building in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Rams, their ineptitude during a three year span at the end of the old CBA is still costing them dearly under the current salary cap. While they continue to fight their way out of the financial restraints that the old system put on the team, it’s hard not to wonder how this disproportionate system wasn’t repaired sooner.