LA Rams must overcome dead cap burden to make 2020 NFL Playoffs

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

LA Rams must overcome the trend of teams with significant dead cap money in order to make the 2020 NFL playoffs

When the LA Rams entered the 2020 offseason, the team faced a no-win situation. The team ended the season at a 9-7 record, after finishing 13-3 in the previous season. The drop of four games from the win to the loss column was merely a symptom and not the problem.  Instead, the Rams issue was the financial burden of too much salary in too few hands. Complicating the problem exponentially, those hands became unproductive for the team.  So the team was faced with a difficult decision, bite the bullet, or pray for a miracle.  So the team bit down hard.

That meant that the team cut veteran running back Todd Gurley outright, and traded away wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Both moves made significant positive impacts for the Rams projected 2021 salary cap but at the expense of the 2020 salary cap.  You see, one of the ways around the annual salary cap constraints is to pay players up front with various categories of bonuses. Those bonuses are spread out over the life of the contract, giving NFL teams some cap relief. But when that player is cut or traded, all monies paid out that have not yet been reflected in the salary cap are immediately recognized. That money is considered “dead cap” money, as it impacts the cap but originated from players no longer on the roster.

Pay me now or pay me later

Of course, the Rams as any NLF team eventually recognize the same amount paid to any given player. It’s simply a matter of timing. That timing, however, carries consequences. We know that the SoFi Stadium project timing could not have been worse.  Not only did the estimated cost more than double, but the stadium is opening at a time when mass attendance at events will be virtually impossible.

The move to cut Todd Gurley added $11.75 million to the Rams salary cap while trading away Brandin Cooks hammered the team with a $21.8 million hit. All totaled, the Rams are carrying over $36 million in dead cap money this year. Per a recent article from Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald, that translates into the 18-19 percent range, reducing the odds of the Rams getting to the 2020 NFL Playoffs. Of course, the article does differentiate between teams purging costly players on the roster, and a team which jettisons high-cost players to make room for other players.  The Rams likely fall into the second group.

Bad teams make the list more frequently

Another noteworthy factor is that teams at or under 12 percent of dead cap space were unaffected whatsoever in their post-season chances. Of course, some teams like the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills were repeat-offenders on the list, both showing up three times. The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers both appeared twice. It could be a coincidence or a symptom of bad management. After all, a huge dead cap number indicates costly mistakes for the team in building a competitive roster.

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Perhaps the appearance of the LA Rams on this list is not as damning as it first appears. The trick, it seems, is simply not to appear on the list again for the foreseeable future.