Salary construction is the invisible pair of hands that pull the strings of success in the National Football League. An unbalanced salary allocation is a bad salary allocation. In other words, too much money in the wrong place leaves too little in the right place. Bad fiscal teams are bad teams and good fiscal teams are good teams.
The Los Angeles Rams currently have their two most expensive players on defense in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Donald is expected to make $27.892 million and Ramsey is expected to pull in $22.5 million. Combined, Donald and Ramsey are expected to take up about 28 percent of the 180 million salary cap.
Is it bad that the top-paid Rams players are on defense? A look around the league at the other five teams with this current salary allocation sheds light on this.
Good Or Bad: Top Paid Rams Players Are On Defense
The Chicago Bears are paying outside linebacker Khalil Mack $26.646 million and cornerback Kyle Fuller $20 million. Currently, the Bears are in trouble as they are coming off a fairly disappointing four-year stretch with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and are expected to move on. With Trubisky, the Bears had one playoff appearance (two if you count this past season where Trubisky and Foles essentially split time) and one winning season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are paying cornerback Trae Waynes $15.8 million and defensive tackle Geno Atkins $14.7 million. The Bengals franchise is also in a rough spot and currently in a five-year drought since a winning season or any true excitement. Quarterback Joe Burrow has been in the building for a season now, but he hasn’t proven to be the savior yet. His rookie season, while statistically very good, ended early with disappointment as he tore his ACL and MCL. 2021 will be a massive year for the Bengals to see if they can build toward something with him or if they should go back to the draft board. Unfortunately, the tide already could be turning against the Bengals with Burrow on the path to being injury-prone.
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The Dolphins’ top two most expensive players are also on defense. Cornerback Byron Jones is expected to take in $16.1 million and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is also expected to make $13.9 million in 2021. The Dolphins are coming off a decent season and a rare case of winning 10 games but missing the playoffs.
However, it could be argued that the Dolphins shot themselves in the foot by continuing to force rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into games that veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to win. It seemed that Tagovailoa’s offense was stymied easily while Fitzpatrick’s offense picked up immediately when he was inserted.
In terms of recent history, the Dolphins were over .500 in two of their last five seasons. In 2016, the Dolphins made the playoffs and lost in the Wild Card round when Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was hurt and backup Matt Moore started. The Dolphins should be cautiously optimistic for 2021 if Fitzpatrick returns to the team as long as they frontload his snaps and use Tua Tagovailoa for relief.
New England Patriots
The Patriots are expected to pay cornerback Stephon Gilmore $15.015 million and inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower $12.445 million. In their first year without Quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots didn’t do too hot as they finished their season with a 7-9 record. General Manager and Head Coach Bill Belichick had last year as a mulligan but the NFL has a way of keeping teams down once they slip. If Belichick does not right the ship in 2021, the Patriots’ era of dominance will officially have ended in 2020. Looking to 2021, the Patriots need to find an explosive quarterback to avoid being back under .500.
“What do these teams have in common with the Rams? They have all recently started over at quarterback.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham are expected to make the two highest salaries on the team in 2021. Cox is in line to make $23.880 million while Graham is expected to take home $17.928 million. In terms of recent history, the Eagles are the best team so far.
They won the Super Bowl at the end of the 2017 season and made the playoffs in each of the next two years. However, after that, the team went 4-11 in 2020 including an embarrassing tank-job in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football. Put simply, the team reached the highest high and is now at the lowest low.
2021 looks grim for the Eagles as dysfunction and skydiving teams with a new quarterback rarely rebound quickly.
How Does Los Angeles Fit With Their Top Paid Rams Players?
Going into 2021, the Rams are easily the best team on this list. That said, they share a lot of bad company with teams in uncomfortable situations. Admittedly, the Philadelphia Eagles have had an arguably better five-year stretch than the Rams due to the Super Bowl victory but they are not trending in the right direction.
The Patriots are in a bad place because they do not have a solution at quarterback and are teetering on the end of the Patriots’ era of dominance.
The Dolphins are in an awkward position at quarterback and their future is unclear as well.
The Bengals need a franchise savior as they’ve been down for a while and the Burrow injury sets a dark precedent for his career.
Lastly, the Bears will be basically starting from scratch at quarterback.
What do these teams have in common with the Rams? They have all recently started over at quarterback. Of course, the Rams now have Quarterback Matthew Stafford and should feel good about it but until one gets a look at how Stafford really does in the offense; he cannot be set in stone as a solution at quarterback. That said, it looks really good right now but there are no absolutes in the NFL. Every other team on this list once had a promising future with their new quarterback as well.
For those looking for a reason to not be alarmed, it should be made clear that the offseason is still early and plenty of time remains to restructure deals. Also, it should be pointed out that Stafford was acquired less than a month ago and the trade cannot officially happen until March 17th. Lastly, it could simply be the case that the Rams got a great deal on their quarterback who is only expected to make 20 million in 2021.
However, in the end, the Rams are surrounded by bad company on this list. When surrounded by bad company, what are the actual odds that the Rams are the diamond in the rough? On paper, it looks like the Rams are in the position to be that diamond but nothing is obvious in the NFL. Is it bad that the top-paid Rams players are on defense? The 2021 football season will hold the answer.