As LA Rams roster descends, Rams dead cap money for 2023 balloons
By Bret Stuter
Even as the LA Rams roster continues to shrink , now down to 44 players, there is one thing that continues grow. No, I am not referring to optimism over the Rams chances in the 2023 NFL season. Nor am I referring to the expectation that the Rams offense will turn the corner and land among the top NFL offenses in the 2023 NFL season.
There are many fans who are applauding the recent trade of Allen Robinson to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a move that for all intents and purposes is the equivalent of a salary dump. Perhaps I'm a bit naive in my understanding of the complexities of the ins and outs of roster building. But here are a few thoughts:
Question I - What was the decision-making process that identified free agent wide receiver as a must-have for the Rams roster just one year ago?
However else you see it, I'm not sure how anyone can claim it was a well-vetted value-added decision based on the results.
Question 2 - Am I the only person who sees this as an alarming pattern?
The Rams have a growing list of players who are signed to long-term contracts in one year, but do an about-face and dump those players just one or two years later. Veterans like Michael Brockers, Brandin Cooks, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Sony Michel, Robert Woods, Bobby Wagner, and now Allen Robinson. I'm not suggesting that the decision to trade Robinson was the wrong choice. I'm simply struggling over the fact that the Steelers are paying a guy just $5 million this year for a veteran wide receiver, while the LA Rams are paying him over $10 million to play for the Steelers. All of that for the tidy sum of moving up a few spots in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft?
Question 3 - Is the juice worth the squeeze?
There is a lot of vitriol embedded in the comments so far about the LA Rams' experience with Allen Robinson. But Allen Robinson played just nine games, was seldom targetted, and was signed and paid as a player who would contribute far more significantly to the Rams offense.
Question 4 - Does anyone else see the goal of 2023 as setting up 2024?
The LA Rams have made no bones over the fact that the team was targeting 2024 as a fresh start, a way to get out from the burdensome financial hole that years of paying top dollar and restructuring contracts as a way to load up the Rams roster with as many playmakers as possible and use the future dollars as a way to leverage the current payroll. Now, the Rams have committed to paying over $10 million of Allen Robinson's salary to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023.
Per Over The Cap.com, that is more than all but three players will be paid by the team for 2023. That seems very alarming to me.
No, the sky is not falling. No, I am not trying to overhype this recent development. The Rams underwent a very similar exercise in 2020, and at the time the hope was that the Rams had learned from that negative experience. History repeats itself just three seasons later. I understand that the team competed in two Super Bowls in the first five seasons of head coach Sean McVay. But the 2022 contracts had no NFL Playoff implications, and the two veterans signed last year are gone this year, incurring tremendous financial penalties for the Rams in the process.
The LA Rams are taking it on the financial chin right now
Here is where the LA Rams are right now. The Rams roster is at 44 players. Per Over the Cap.com, the Rams have just over $7 million to spend in available salary cap space. The Rams are currently carrying over $74 million in dead cap space. Because the NFL salary cap rules consider the Top-51 players through training camp, and the fact that the LA Rams' next seven player additions will factor into that Top-51 calculation, the team has more work to do to be able to afford their 2023 NFL Draft class.
The LA Rams will need a projected $7-10 million just to pay their rookie class of 2023. That allows no room to promote players from the practice squad nor to sign new players during the season if any player is injured.
The Rams' finances, even with some actions to clear some more cap space this year, do not appear to support any interest in trading up in the 2023 NFL Draft, and thereby committing the team to compensate a rookie at a higher level.
Are the Rams simply swallowing the yucky financial medicine necessary to have a fresh start in 2024? Perhaps. But as we had pointed out in 2020, the Rams should really invest in crafting better and more incentive laden contracts to avoid this type of financial duress in the future.
Do you not see what I am seeing? If not, that's okay. I've sounded the alarm before. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. But the 2023 events as they are playing out are forcing me to consider the 2023 NFL season in less optimistic terms. Whether or not anyone states it officially for the record, it really looks like the Rams are trying to optimize more than just their salary cap status for 2024. Right now, the Rams first-round draft pick in the 2024 NFL Draft appears to be a Top-5 pick.