LA Rams roster offers few 'cap casualty' options to clear cap space

Les Snead
Les Snead / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages

The LA Rams roster is a bit of a unicorn in the NFL.

For the next several weeks, NFL teams will be working frantically to shed dollars to clear the rapidly approaching 2023 NFL season, and with it, the need to be under the 2023 NFL salary cap. That amount is up to $224.8 million, which is nearly a $20 million increase over the 2022 salary cap. But even with a huge increase, as many as 15 of 32 teams remain over the projected cap per as of February 22, 2023. And yes, the LA Rams are among those teams that remain over the cap.

The Tennessee Titans cleared over $37 million in cap space with the release of three players, and are now comfortably under the 2023 ceiling by more than $11 million. One of those players who happened to be released is former LA Rams WR Robert Woods, a player who should draw plenty of interest from NFL teams, including the LA Rams.

Rams salary cap space is simply not that simple

The trouble is, the LA Rams do not have the type of 'severable' contracts that allow the team to clear millions just be releasing veteran players. In truth, the most an outright release of any single player will free up in terms of salary cap dollars is if the Rams opt to cut veteran ILB Bobby Wagner, and that would only free up $5 million. In many cases, the release of players before June 1, 2023, acts like a poison pill and actually locks up even more salary cap dollars this year.

For the Rams to free up significant cap space, the team must either restructure or renegotiate contracts. Because the two terms are very different, but are often used interchangeably and incorrectly, let's ensure we are on the same page.

Restructure is simple, and kicks the can down the road

Restructuring an NFL contract does not change the compensation or cash flow of the terms of the contract. All it refers to is the fact that the category of compensation is modified, allowing for different accounting treatment. For example, Cooper Kupp is due to be compensated a signficant paycheck of $27.8 million in terms of his salary cap hit to the team's payroll. That consists of his $15.0 million salary, $7.8 million of signing bonus (already paid but spread over life of contract) and $5 million of roster bonus.

The Rams and Kupp could agree to package his $20 million of new dollars due to him this year, recategorize them as a signing bonus, which allows that $20 million to be spread over the next four years. Doing so saves the team nearly $15 million ($20 million / 4 years), but it pushes those dollars into future years.

Renegotiate changes the terms of the contract

Of course, there is always the option to renegotiate the contract. That is not a optimal choice, as it signifies a change in the compensation package to the player. It's a strategy used by the LA Rams in both directions, both to enhance the compensation of a player who has outplayed his contracted rate, Or it can be used to reduce the compensation for the player due to underperformance.

Of course, players can refuse to accept a smaller amount, and that leads to a trade. If the team refuses to elevate the compensation, or fails to negotiate in good faith, a player can sit out until a new contract is in place. While a restructure can happen pretty quickly, renegotiations can take time. But, there are players on the Rams roster who could find themselves being asked to rework their current contracts.

WR Allen Robinson, OT Joe Noteboom, C Brian Allen, and even TE Tyler Higbee could all be asked to renegotiate their current contract. It may not mean an automatic change of compensation for the players. Rather, the terms of contracts could change to emphasize incentive clauses, rather than just straight salary, going forward.

The Rams are not looking at a lot of time to get under the salary cap, so the team will likely focusing restructuring some of their more highly compensated players. But clearing cap space for the team is more than getting under the ceiling. It must project what the team is likely to spend in the NFL Free Agency market, as well as in the 2023 NFL Draft, and ensure sufficient free cap space for those future outlays as well

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Will the LA Rams be able to re-sign players in several weeks. Of course, but only if the team pushes to free up the money to do so. It's the old 'pay me now or pay me later,' adage. At some point, the Rams will bite the bullet and have to absorb the impact of pushing today's dollars into tomorrowland. But I don't think this is the year that happens.