Breaking Down the St. Louis Rams' Salary Cap: Where Is the Money Best Spent?

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Breaking Down the St. Louis Rams' Salary Cap: Where Is the Money Best Spent?
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images


The St. Louis Rams will enter the offseason tight against the cap with few resources at the front office's disposal. 

In fact, according to Over the Cap, a website that carefully tracks team spending, the Rams had the least cap space in the NFL during the 2013 season at $86,162—a nice chunk of change for you and me, but an alarmingly small amount in NFL terms. 

With such little financial freedom, the team must make every dollar count. Between the signing of free agents, draft picks and undrafted rookies, there is no room for irresponsible spending in 2014. 

Here's an overview of St. Louis' cap situation, as well as thoughts on where the money should be spent. 

 

Creating Wiggle Room

According to USA Today, the 2013 NFL salary cap of $123 million will likely undergo a 2.68 percent inflation to $126.3 million—providing St. Louis with an extra $3.3 million in cap space right off the bat.

The Rams also have $11.2 million of dead money from the 2013 season that will be coming off the books, according to Spotrac.  

The term "dead money" refers to guaranteed money that is still being paid out to former players. For example, ex-Rams safety Quintin Mikell counted for $6 million against the 2013 cap even though he was no longer with the team. That money was still guaranteed to Mikell and therefore went against the 2013 cap. 

That brings to total to $14.5 million in extra cap space. 

James Laurinaitis' cap hit will go down $2 million, bringing the total to $16.5 million. 

Next, it's time to make some cuts. 

Cortland Finnegan will most likely be cut after an injury-plagued 2013 season. He has a $10 million cap hit in 2014 with only $3 million guaranteed, so the cut will save St. Louis $7 million in 2014 cap space.

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Scott Wells is another cut that is highly likely. Wells is due $6.5 million in 2014, and only $2 million will count as dead money, leaving the Rams with a $4.5 million savings. 

Kendall Langford and Harvey Dahl are both possible candidates, but both players have something to offer on the field, so it's hard to tell what management will do here. Each player is worth $4 million in savings if cut. 

For argument sake, lets say just Dahl is cut. That brings the total to $32 million in extra cash based on all the moves covered in this section. Possibly $36 million if Langford is cut as well. 

 

Extra Expenses

While Laurinaitis' cap number will decrease in 2014, several players will get an inflated pay day. 

Four players in no danger of being cut—Jake Long, Chris Long, Sam Bradford, Jared Cook—will see their cap numbers rise a combined $19 million in 2014. 

William Hayes will also see his cap number rise from $2 million to $3.8 million, but his status is not as concrete as the other four players. 

All of the mentioned players are possible candidates for contract renegotiations to create cap space, except for Bradford, who is more likely a candidate for a contract extension (a questionable proposition given his injury). 

Take the combined $20 million inflation from these players, subtract that from the $32 million total in the section above, and that leaves $12 million. 

The next expense is draft picks. The Rams have the No. 2 and No. 13 overall picks in the first round, followed by (approximately) the 13th pick in each additional round. 

Here's the cap hit from those same picks in 2013, according to Spotrac

Round 1 (2): Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville ($3.854 million)

Round 1 (13): Sheldon Richardson, New York ($1.828 million)

Round 2 (45): Kevin Minter, Arizona ($798,000)

Round 3 (75): Terron Armstead, New Orleans ($559,000)

Round 4 (110): Ryan Nassib, New York, ($518,000)

Round 5 (146): Quanterus Smith, Denver ($336,000)

Round 6 (181): Latavius Murray, Oakland ($314,000)

Round 7 (218): Jordan Poyer, Philadelphia ($238,000)

Total: $8.445 million

Subtracted from the $12 million, that leaves approximately $3 million in spending, assuming there are no contract negotiations or contract extensions to create extra wiggle room. 

There are obviously other factors, such as aging low-end players reaching the next level of minimum pay, low-level cuts and other small variables, but the $3 million figure is a rough number. 

 

Where Should the Money Be Spent? 

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The totals above are not 100 percent on target, and truthfully no one outside of the St. Louis front office has a real concrete grasp of the 2014 salary cap, but I think we all can agree that the Rams have very little spending money in 2014. 

With this in mind, the Rams need to pursue a position in free agency that will give them the most bang for their buck—they need to sign a safety.

Unlike most skill positions, high-end safeties can be had for cheap. 

In November, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com ranked his top safeties into different tiers. Of the 12 safeties in his top-two tiers, those players had a combined average cap hit of just $5.02 million in 2013—and we're talking cream-of-the-crop safeties. 

Some of the safeties, such as Earl Thomas, are still in their rookie contracts. Even so, the 2013 franchise tag cost for safeties was just $6.91 million—the second-lowest total for non-special teams positions—so it's clear that teams are unwilling to pay big bucks for talented safeties. 

With so little spending money available in 2014, the Rams need to get good value, and that makes the safety position awfully appealing, especially since it's a glaring roster need. 

If the Rams prefer to look for a safety in the draft rather than free agency, then the money will most likely be used to re-sign tackle Rodger Saffold

Saffold is talented enough to pull in a contract averaging about $6 million per year. If that's the case, it's hard to picture Saffold wearing a Rams uniform in 2014. 

However, Saffold has missed 17 games in the last three years and hasn't started all 16 games since 2010, so his questionable health could certainly result in a substantial discount. 

It might be in Saffold's best interest to play on a modest one-year contract in 2014 to demonstrate his health. A successful 2014 campaign in that scenario would really inflate his price tag and allow him to maximize his earnings. 

Whether the Rams re-sign Saffold or look for veteran help at safety, the Rams organization will decide which move makes the most financial sense, as well as which move will result in the most wins. 

With so many offseason obstacles and difficult decisions, it will be interesting to see how everything plays out for the Rams in 2014. 

 

Note: All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com.

Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams' game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer profile or by following him on Twitter.

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