St. Louis Rams’ Likely Cap Casualties and Restructures for 2014
St. Louis Rams Have To Create Cap Space Moving Forward
The St. Louis Rams are putting together the pieces needed to be successful in the NFL, but they are critically close to the cap for such a young team in need of help. They made some key moves signing foundational pieces of the roster to long-term deals in recent years. Now they are facing the troubles of singing young talent to such big contracts as we move toward the 2014 season.
The start of restructuring has to begin under center where Sam Bradford looks to return in 2014 after taking steps forward in 2013 only to see his season end early. While many complain that Bradford isn't the elite passer that they thought St. Louis drafted No. 1 overall he is still a legitimate QB that would start for almost any team. With the additions made to the offense in recent years the Rams have a chance to bring an explosive offense next season. The offensive line will have to be retooled with many members heading to free agency after the season. Not only that, but the Rams will have to search for a backup if they don't re-sign Kellen Clemens. Clemens' play this season has earned him a roster spot somewhere even if it isn't with St. Louis.
Bradford is set to earn $17.61 million next season which is going to kill any of St. Louis' chances to sign a big name or a key piece this offseason. Restructuring his contract would greatly lighten the load and make GM Les Snead's job a lot easier for a few seasons. Even if you have not bought into Bradford being a QB that can lead St. Louis to a Super Bowl he is going to be there for at least two more seasons. Finding a way to reduce his cap hit over the next few years is going to be a key to increase the overall talent of the roster.
Chris Long Deserves His Contract, But Restructuring Would Help His Team
Chris Long has been a workhorse at DE since coming into the league. While he may not be a freak athlete like his counterpart Robert Quinn he more than makes up for it with grit and football IQ. He provides constant pressure on QBs and is a solid defender against the run for a team that only recently figured out how to slow down opposing running backs. His cap number for 2014 is $14.7 million. He outworks just about anyone on the team and may not have the best numbers to show for it, but he deserves the contract St. Louis gave him.
With that being said, Snead has to consider the problems with paying a DE that much money when he will have to certainly pay up for Robert Quinn sooner rather than later. Quinn's gaudy numbers are going to speak volumes over Long's intangibles. If Long can come to terms with St. Louis to lessen his cap hit per year to sacrifice some money and allow the team to hang onto or sign other pieces that make the team better as a whole it would only help his already great relationship with Rams fan base. St. Louis fans of all sports love having their seemingly blue-collar players represent the city whether it is in Cardinal red or the Rams' blue and gold.
James Laurinaitis - $10.4 Million Is Too Much
James Laurinaitis was brought here to solidify the linebacking corps, and he has done that with the help of Alec Ogletree and future FA Jo-Lonn Dunbar. St. Louis made a move to keep him around for five more seasons last year. The problem is that Laurinaitis will be making $10.4 million in 2014, and that number doesn't get smaller as the years go on. He is one of the better middle linebackers in the NFL when it comes to defending the pass and is a key part of the Rams' run defense.
Still that is a huge salary for a MLB that isn't revered as the best in the business. Honestly though, if the Rams weren't up against the wall in cap space it wouldn't be an issue at all to pay such an integral part of the defense that much. Laurinaitis is another one of those guys whose job is safe, but if he would be willing to restructure his current deal it would go a long way to helping fix the current issues on defense. Mostly it would allow the Rams to go after help in the secondary this offseason and possibly allow them to re-sign Dunbar who has had great success under HC Jeff Fisher.
Kendall Langford Is The 2nd Best DT On The Team
Kendall Langford was part of the Rams' attempt to restructure and solidify the defense. He will be earning $6 million next season as the team's No. 2 DT. Michael Brockers' play this season has gone well under the radar. He has made huge strides as a pass rusher and run stopper in his second year. Langford is still a solid DT, but he disappears against the better guards and centers in the league. St. Louis could look to move him, let him go, or possibly try to restructure the current deal. He would be expendable if they could find a replacement in the draft. There aren't a ton of potential DTs that could step in right away in this draft though. The Rams do have some rotational players in Eugene Sims, Michael Conrath, and William Hayes that would be serviceable but not an improvement over Langford.
Cortland Finnegan Isn't Earning His Money
Let's be honest about this one. Cortland Finnegan has been a let down after Week 5 of last season. He started off last season en fuego for a Rams defense that was forcing a ton of turnovers. The shine has worn off of Finnegan this season as he opened the season about as poorly as a corner could, especially after signing a five-year $50 million contract. He was brought in to give a physical presence and help change the attitude in St. Louis.
He hasn't been on the field much, and his time should be up unless Fisher thinks that Finnegan can step up next year. Even with that $10 million is a huge investment in what is your potential No. 3 corner behind the younger, more talented likes of Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. Finnegan had better be willing to restructure his contract for a lot less money or start looking for another job.
Scott Wells Will Be A Salary Cap Victim
When St. Louis brought Scott Wells in he was one of the best centers in the league. Since then he has experienced injuries that have forced him off of the field. He is scheduled to earn $6.5 million next season with Tim Barnes going into free agency and Barrett Jones waiting in the wings. St. Louis could easily bring Barnes back on an affordable deal for three years. Jones was a highly regarded player in college, but an injury kept him off of the field for much of the season. He has the potential to fill in anywhere on the line. St. Louis seems to like his intellect at center, and that is where he wants to be at.
Wells looks to be an affordable loss when you have two young players that can replace him at center. Barnes will continue to get his chances at center for the next two games. If Barnes proves he is capable then Wells could certainly be on his way out of St. Louis. There will be other options in free agency for St. Louis if they let Wells go, but then again they would have to be able to afford a top line center while battling against other teams in need of help.
Harvey Dahl Could Be Searching For A New Home
Harvey Dahl has been a solid run blocker for his career serving as a road grader. His pass blocking skills are still solid, but recent injuries have cost him time and the $4 million he is set to make next year could make him expendable. If the Rams let Dahl and Wells go they are freeing up just over $10 million that could be spent on bring Rodger Saffold back to St. Louis at either RT or RG. Dahl is a passionate player, and you have to love his willingness to protect his QB like he did after Bradford went down. Dahl is still an aging lineman that is battling injuries so that makes his contract a bit pricy.
Saffold is certainly going to make good money this offseason no matter where he signs. Part of the equation when looking at Saffold is where he wants to play next season. He could have his choice of LT, RT, or RG. I believe that he could be one of the top guards in the league if he so chooses. At either tackle position he will be slightly above league average, and his injury history at the tackle position doesn't help him there either. Having Saffold at guard improves the Rams' line with Joe Barksdale at RT where he has been a solid performer since taking over.