Rams' 2014 Salary Cap: Breaking Down Overall, Position-Specific Cap Space
Last week, I covered St. Louis' salary-cap situation and made predictions on where the money should be spent.
This week, I'll expand on that piece and look at St. Louis' financial situation from a different angle.
This article will strip the roster down to the bare minimum. In this scenario, we'll assume the potential cap casualties—Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl, Kendall Langford—are all cut loose, along with the low-level players who have a narrow shot at making the team in 2014.
Last week's piece concluded that the Rams have approximately $3 million in spending money. This article will look at each position, weed out the unnecessary players and calculate the total costs.
Let's see if we can't find a few extra bucks for the St. Louis Rams.
Also, it's worth mentioning that making predictions about the salary cap is always a guessing game, so feel free to participate by leaving thoughts and questions in the comment section.
Note: All player contract information is from Spotrac.com.
Sam Bradford ($17.61 million)
Kellen Clemens ($570,000, estimated)
Total: $18.18 million
A reader mentioned to me recently that the Rams could possibly save cap room by replacing Kellen Clemens with a dirt-cheap rookie, but that's not necessarily the case.
Despite having an $840,000 base salary in 2013, Clemens' cap hit was a mere $585,000 this past season. This is due to a rule known as the "veteran minimum salary benefit."
The rule is meant to help veteran players gain an edge when competing against younger, cheaper players fighting for the same roster spot. As long as the veteran's contract is a one-year deal near the league minimum, the cap hit is lowered to that of a second-year player's minimum salary.
If the Rams sign Clemens to a one-year deal at the nine-year veteran minimum of $855,000 in 2014, his cap hit will be reduced to $570,000, the minimum for a second-year player, according to NBC Sports.
So yes, the minimum pay for a rookie in 2014 is $420,000—cheaper than a $570,000 cap hit—but it's not the half-million dollar savings you might expect. It's just a mere difference of $150,000.
It's possible the Rams will pursue a rookie quarterback to back up Sam Bradford, but it certainly won't be for financial reasons.
Clemens made it clear that the Rams can win games with him under center. It's not pretty when he's under center, but the team can still win nonetheless. And that's why the Rams will likely keep him in 2014 at a similar price as 2013.
Isaiah Pead ($1.1013 million)
Zac Stacy ($539,125)
Benny Cunningham ($498,333)
Daryl Richardson ($581,474)
St. Louis will not be spending much on running backs any time soon. Isaiah Pead is the only back who will reach a $1 million payday, but the second-rounder from 2012 has been a disappointment and can be cut for a $412,000 savings, which is a real possibility.
Starter Zac Stacy and No. 2 back Benny Cunningham will combine for a mere $1 million cap hit, give or take.
This is one position where the Rams are certainly getting bang for their buck.
Tavon Austin ($2,897,955)
Brian Quick ($1,468,940)
Austin Pettis ($814,567)
Chris Givens ($694,257)
Stedman Bailey ($644,195)
Tavon Austin will enter 2014 as the top-paid wide receiver, unless the Rams happen to secure a new receiver in the draft or free agency.
Based on the flashes of greatness from Austin in 2013, he certainly deserves to be the top-paid receiver on the team. Not that he has much competition.
Brian Quick is the only other receiver who will surpass $1 million in 2014. That might make Rams fans cringe, as the second-round pick has been virtually invisible, but don't expect that to change. Quick is general manager Les Snead's handpicked receiver. Snead's ego is tied into the success of Quick, so the 24-year-old receiver will be provided every opportunity to succeed.
Jared Cook ($7 million)
Lance Kendricks ($1,344,614)
Cory Harkey ($570,000)
Thanks to the monster contract of Jared Cook, who was productive but inconsistent in 2013, the Rams will be spending more on tight ends than receivers in the upcoming season.
Cook will be with the team in 2014, as cutting him would add an additional $5 million to the cap budget. It doesn't matter anyway, because the Rams aren't ready to give up on him. He has too much talent and potential to abandon after one year.
Kendricks, who is entering the final year of his contract, can be cut for a savings near $1 million. He's an underrated contributor on offense, and St. Louis surely wants him back, but there's always a chance the coaches will determine that Cory Harkey is capable of handling his role on offense.
Jake Long ($9.25 million)
Rodger Saffold ($6 million, estimated)
Chris Williams ($1.37 millions, estimated)
Joe Barksdale ($645,000)
Mike Person ($645,000)
Shelley Smith ($645,000, estimated)
Tim Barnes ($620,000, estimated)
Barrett Jones ($606,300)
Brandon Washington ($575,575)
Jake Long will account for nearly half of St. Louis' offensive line budget in 2014. He's well worth the money when healthy, but his high cap hit is a bit troublesome since he's coming off a major knee injury, according to ESPN.
Hopefully, Long will return in time for the Week 1 lineup and not leave the team with any regrets.
Rodger Saffold is now a free agent, so his new contract will account for another large chunk of the fund, assuming he's brought back. The $6 million figure is an estimate based on the average salary of guard Louis Vasquez, who was signed by the Denver Broncos in free agency a year ago.
Like Saffold, Vasquez entered free agency at the age of 25 and has also been pegged as a player with injury concerns. But unlike Vasquez, Saffold has the ability to play left tackle, which could significantly up his value.
However, the Rams will likely be looking to retain Saffold as a guard, which means he'll be paid like a guard. If that's the case, he'll average close to $6 million per year, just a hair over Vasquez's average salary ($5.875 million).
Shelley Smith's cap hit is estimated based on the minimum pay for a fourth-year player. Tim Barnes' cap number is beyond the minimum for the third-year player, but he'll receive a bit of a pay bump, as he'll now be considered the starting center in Wells' absence.
Like we discussed with Clemens in the "Quarterback" slide, Chris Williams may be a candidate for the veteran minimum salary benefit if he's signed to a one-year deal. That would cut his cap number in half. If not, the $1.37 million estimate is based on his 2013 cap hit.
Chris Long ($14.7 million)
William Hayes ($3.845 million)
Robert Quinn ($3,002,390)
Michael Brockers ($2,596,908)
Jermelle Cudjo ($1.075 million)
Eugene Sims ($730,000, estimated)
Matthew Conrath ($572,000)
Chris Long is St. Louis' highest-paid defensive lineman, but that won't be the case much longer with Robert Quinn's extension nearing.
William Hayes has the next highest cap number in 2014. If the Rams happen to draft Jadeveon Clowney or another defensive end later in the draft, Hayes can be released for a savings of over $1 million.
Eugene Sims' contract is estimated based on the minimum pay for a fifth-year player.
James Laurinaitis ($10.4 million)
Alec Ogletree ($1,597,735)
Jo-Lonn Dunbar ($730,000, estimated)
Phillip Steward ($498,333)
Ray Ray Armstrong ($495,000)
Daren Bates ($495,000)
James Laurinaitis will account for nearly three-quarters of St. Louis' linebacker budget in 2014. Laurinaitis is hardly an elite inside linebacker, but he's a team leader and in no danger of being cut.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar may return for the $730,000 league minimum. He was not as productive in 2013 as he was in 2012, but Dunbar gives the defense attitude. The unit certainly struggled without Dunbar in the lineup early in the 2013 season.
If Dunbar is not re-signed, the Rams will either draft a replacement of give Ray Ray Armstrong a shot at starting.
Janoris Jenkins ($1,360,995)
Trumaine Johnson ($823,794)
Brandon McGee ($542,790)
With Cortland Finnegan gone, the Rams will enter the season with Janoris Jenkins as the highest-paid cornerback at approximately $1.36 million.
Obviously, the Rams will not enter the regular season with only three cornerbacks, but don't be surprised if St. Louis pursues a cornerback with a second- or third-round draft pick—possibly even a first-rounder.
Jenkins' play was not flashy in 2013, unlike his dazzling 2012 rookie campaign that featured four defensive touchdowns, but he was still solid, as was second-year pro Trumaine Johnson.
Between the two of them, the Rams are getting terrific value at cornerback.
T.J. McDonald ($680,815)
Matt Daniels ($573,333)
Rodney McLeod ($571,333)
Cody Davis ($495,000)
It's doubtful that Darian Stewart, who is set to enter free agency, will be retained. If he is re-signed, it certainly won't be at the $1 million price tag he carried in 2013.
Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald are clearly the starters at this time. It's possible the Rams will draft another safety to compete for a starting spot, but there's no reason to re-sign Stewart.
Cody Davis and Matt Daniels will both contribute to special teams and see limited time on defense.
Jake McQuaide ($745,000)
Greg Zuerlein ($617,756)
Johnny Hekker ($573,333)
Jake McQuaide is the highest-paid specialist on the Rams. The 2014 season is the first year of his new contract extension, so it's unlikely he'll be cut for any reason. Even if there's a cheaper option out there.
Greg Zuerlein and Pro Bowl punter Johnny Hekkey both have modest price tags in 2014, but their salaries will eventually go up as both players are excelling in the NFL.
Total: $103,713,150 (totals from each slide added up)
Cost of Draft Picks: Approximately $8.5 million
Significant Dead Money Costs: Kendall Langford ($2 million), Cortland Finnegan ($6 million), Scott Wells ($2 million)
New Total: $122.213 million (factoring in the cost of draft picks and dead money to the initial total above)
The projected salary cap for 2014 is $126.3 million, according to USA Today. That leaves the Rams with approximately $4 million to spend.
That's a slight $1 million increase over the $3 million I initially predicted. Also, last week's calculation did not include the cost of re-signing Saffold. Since this total does include Saffold, the actual difference is closer to $7 million.
That leaves $4 million to re-sign either Langford or Dahl or possibly pursue a high-end safety in free agency.
But I'll end with the same disclaimer I made a week ago: These are rough estimates. No one outside of St. Louis' front office knows with certainty where the Rams truly stand financially, so take this article and all similar articles lightly.
However, it's possible that the cap predicament may not be as gloomy as previously predicted. If the Rams are dedicated to signing a specific player in free agency, chances are they'll be able to make it happen.
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.