Los Angeles Rams Free Agency Forecast
There are a few salary cap magicians in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams have one on staff, Tony Pastoors. He is described as the Rams chief negotiator. He is responsible for Rams’ salary cap management, contract negotiations, as well as the club’s financial and strategic planning.
That is to say, free agency starts and ends with the voodoo that Pastoors does. So any prediction of the Rams free agency must also start with forecasting their budget.
So, for his next trick, Pastoors will magically transform a deficit of nearly $21 million into cold hard cash. Just how much cap room? Over the Cap estimates that the Rams have a ceiling of $105.7 million available in restructures, which will put them $84.8 million under the salary cap.
That’s the ceiling. OTC estimates that with what they call a “simple restructure” the Rams could end up with $51.6 million at their disposal.
While it seems like some wizardry, this isn’t coming as a surprise to anyone in the Rams organization. These restructures are built into the plan that Pastoors and the rest of the franchise laid out over the years. It’s another aspect of team building.
Of course, the biggest savings come when restructuring the biggest contracts. According to Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac, addressing the contracts of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Floyd will account for over $70 in cap space. That isn’t including the possible retirement of Andrew Whitworth which would free up another $16 million.
The only player that could provide a sticking point to cap harmony is Donald. There has been chatter around his desire to once again be the highest-paid defender in the league with a 15% cushion between him and the next highest player (currently, T.J. Watt). That means Donald would need to make $32.2 million per year. This could just be negotiating tactics or simply chatter, but the truth is Donald deserves it and the Rams shouldn’t skimp on the best player in football.
That said there are ways of paying players more money while reducing their immediate cap hit. In Donald’s case, it would have to be a contract extension with several voidable years. This contract would have to be incentive-laden and backloaded and most importantly gets Donald to that magic yearly average. On paper, this could look something like a five-year, $161 million deal.
All that said, the free agency forecast demands a number. Having assessed the various estimates from the major sources and casting it through the lens of probability, the forecaster would put the number at $68 million and Donald’s 2022 cap hit landing at $25 million (Magic!).
Priority Free Agents
Not only does Donald want money, but he also wants to run it back with the ‘super team.’ He stated that he wants both Odell Beckham and Von Miller back. This was in the midst of an alcohol-infused shirtless banner of a Super Bowl celebration, but Donald has built incredibly strong bonds with particular teammates in the past, most notably Michael Brockers. He was traded away before last season. Building a band of brothers may be a top priority for Donald for the remaining years of his very dominant prime.
It may just be a coincidence, but The Athletic’s, Jourdan Rodrigue reported both Miller and Beckham as top priority free agent targets. Neither are clear cases of what they want nor what they are actually worth to the Rams.
Ms. Rodrigue reported that the Rams are willing to pay up to $16 million per year on a short contract for Miller. Spotrac estimates that his market value to be significantly lower than that, an average of $10.5 million per year. PFF puts him slightly higher, getting $17 million per season. Money won’t be the only consideration for Miller. He is in a great negotiating position and is in control of how (and more specifically where) he will end his Hall of Fame career.
He has been especially playful about courting other teams on social media, including his former team, the Denver Broncos. Again this could just be tactics. Another priority of his would be to play on a contender, which Denver is now on that list after adding Russell Wilson. The Broncos currently have the ninth-best odds to win the Super Bowl, per BetUS.
Miller is in the driver’s seat and the Rams can only offer him so much. Denver on the other hand has some of the most post-restructure money in the league. If they want to make a run at him, they absolutely can.
This one in reality falls into a category called ‘too close to call’, but once again the forecast demands an answer.
Forecast says: Von Miller Opts to stay with LA and AD, signs a two-year, $16 million per year contract. Cap Hit $14 Million.
The situation with Beckham is just as murky, but for wholly other reasons. When the season starts he will be on the wrong side of 30, but when the season starts he won’t be available to play. He will likely miss about half of the 2022 season while recovering from the ACL tear he suffered in the Super Bowl. This makes Beckham a much easier player to re-sign, but they will assume some risk and only get him for a portion of the season. There also seems to be a lot of mutual desire from both sides to keep Beckham around
Forecast says: Rams sign Beckham to a one-year 2.5 million deal.
The forecast puts Andrew Whitworth’s chance at retirement at 73.7%. That leaves the Rams with three options, find a free agent replacement for the future Hall of Famer, trade up to draft one, or simply re-sign Joe Noteboom. The only option that looks anything like what the Rams have done in the past is to re-sign Noteboom. And it isn’t as if this move would be without merit. He has shown continued improvement since being drafted in the third round in 2018. Noteboom proved to be a starting grade tackle when he filled in for Whitworth last season.
The big question is how much will they be willing to pay Noteboom. About half the league will be prioritizing offensive tackle this offseason, so there will be teams interested in Noteboom. Jourdan Rodrigue gets the sense that they won’t spend more than $10 million per year, which seems like more than enough to keep Noteboom, but high-demand positions have the ability to create a bidding war.
With a strong offensive tackle draft coming up and several proven big names on the market, Ms. Rodrigue’s budget of $10 million seems right on the money. The question remaining is will the Rams go for a one or two-year prove-your-a-legit-starter deal or a longer-term contract.
Forecast says: Four-year $40 million contract, 2022 Cap Hit $8 Million.
If only the Rams offensive line was sewed up with re-signing Noteboom. The Rams will nip this one in the bud. The team and, most importantly, Stafford have been high on Brian Allen. Of the free agents on the Rams offensive line, he is the easiest to retain. There aren’t a lot of center needy teams. The Rams will lock him down with a generous long-term deal.
Forecast says: Five-year $6.5 million per year (with a significant signing/roster bonus), 2022 Cap Hit $2 million.
The Rams have spent the last four seasons developing Obo Okoronkwo and he is now playing at a high level. He finished the year with a career-high three sacks and his best PFF grade yet, 79.5. He also had some of the best games in his career against high-end talent. He managed three pressures against both the Titans and Packers and four against Tampa Bay in the playoffs. All in all, he had a great playoff run. He achieved six pressures on 59 snaps. That’s not Von Miller level, but it’s pretty great for a former 5th rounder. He is yet another example of the Rams scoring raw talent late in the draft then developing them into starter grade material.
The Rams may have to pay above market value to keep him. He has risen to some amount of prominence and there are always teams that are looking for depth at EDGE, so there will be several teams that will be interested in him and maybe more than expected.
PFF ranks Obo as the 15th EDGE defender free agent, but by their own grades and their Wins After Replacement metric, he is third and fourth-best respectively. Obviously, his lack of playing time weighs into the ranking (He only has played 610 snaps since 2018), but smart teams will have an eye on him.
Forecast says: Rams re-sign Obo Okoronkwo with a four-year $13 million contract (3.25 per year) with a $3 million cap hit.
Brandon Powell is the Rams first legit special teams threat that they have had in quite some time. He is a must keep. He isn’t being talked about on a national level, yet, So the Rams should try to lock him into a reasonably generous long-term deal this season. More people will be talking about Powell after 2022.
Forcast says: Cap Hit $1 million per year.
Too Rich For My Blood
Darious Williams, Austin Corbett, and Sebastian Joseph-Day all fall into this category. The Rams are certainly interested in keeping all of these guys, but they will garner more on the open market than the Rams will be willing to pay. The Rams also feel they have good depth at cornerback and at the interior offensive lines. David Long and Robert Rochell will compete for Williams vacancy on the outside and Terrell Burgess will see a significant increase in snaps defending the slot. On the defensive line, both Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson proved to be able to hold the line very effectively. They also drafted Bobby Brown last year. He rode the pine all season, but will likely get playing time once Joseph-Day is signed by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Corbett will be the big question mark heading into training camp. Losing him leaves the Rams in less than ideal circumstances with the offensive line. The remaining two starters from 2021, Rob Havenstein and David Edwards are free agents after next season. So the Rams have some work to do and it starts with replacing Corbett. Behind Corbett on the depth chart are Tremayne Anchrum and/or Coleman Shelton (Shelton is a restricted free agent which makes him very retainable). Neither player is very experienced )Anchrum saw no live snaps last season), but the Rams have leaned on players like Anchrum and Shelton in the past and proved everyone wrong. There is also the option to look on the open market for a replacement guard.
Shopping The Free Agent Market
If the Rams don’t feel comfortable with their depth at guard they could play the field. There are a few free-agent veterans that could be gotten at the right price. Trai Turner is coming off a bounce-back year with the Steelers and the price is affordable. About $4 million less than Corbett should fetch. The issue would be the length of the contract. The Rams would like a longer-term solution, but taking a risk on a recently up and down player on a longer contract never works well.
Another option is Mark Glowinski. He is coming off a good year in Indianapolis and would also cost around what Turner would get paid this season. Length of contract wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but Glowinski is over 30. With Whitworth possibly leaving, adding another veteran to the group isn’t a bad idea, especially one that has played with some of the best linemen in the league with the Colts the last four seasons.
Each player’s cap hit would be about $5 million this season.
Ernest Jones might be feeling pretty lonely if the Rams don’t sign someone in free agency. They have passed on tendering Troy Reeder, which means he won’t likely be back. Travin Howard will likely be back and Christian Rozeboom didn’t see any action in 2021.
Bobby Wagner has been thrown into the mix as a possible addition to the Rams. He would likely get a short contract for about $8-9 million per year, which is still doable with the Forecast predicted spending.
To save a bit more money there is another option the Rams should have their eye on in free agency, Josh Bynes. Bynes was signed to the Ravens practice squad and by week six he was their starting inside linebacker. Like Bobby Wagner, Bynes would bring a veteran mentorship which would benefit Jones. He has played 11 seasons in the NFL. Unlike Wagner, Bynes had one of the best years of his career last season and would cost the Rams less than $2 million to sign. That said, Bynes was never considered to be the best player in the league at the linebacking position. But, the Rams in the recent past haven’t invested much into the position. Doing so would break with that philosophy, which might not be a bad thing.
When not taking into consideration shopping the free market, the forecast predicts that the Rams will have $15.5 million dollars of cap space remaining. This is just enough to seal up contracts with Donte Deayon, Johnny Mundt, and Matt Gay. As well as enough to sign their eight draft picks with a little bit left to find additional talent.