Understandably, the concerns surrounding COVID-19 has largely been on how safe the conditions will be for the players and what plans are in place should there be an outbreak. There has already been a mass exodus of players opting out for the year because they don’t feel it’s worth the risk. This year is likely to be a mess (although not the cluster-bomb baseball has been), but the ramifications of COVID-19 will be felt beyond when the pandemic eventually ends.
The biggest question for next year is what the salary cap looks like given the cap is based on league revenue. At the moment, most stadiums are going to be at about 20% capacity so the salary cap will go down by a lot. For the Rams, this is the darkest timeline because they have a ton of free agents to sign and likely can only keep one.
Prior to the pandemic, the Rams were projected to have roughly between $40-50 million give or take. That would’ve helped out a great deal since the Rams need to resign Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp, John Johnson, and Gerald Everett, among others. If the season is able to be played in full, their projected salary cap is around $8.1 million. Suddenly the Rams go from likely being able to keep three of their free agents to now only being able to keep Ramsey. Yes, he’s the one that they’d keep.
He’s seen his 2016 draft mates, his 2017 counterparts, and Byron Jones get paid and since he’s regarded as a top-three corner he’s going to get paid too. The Rams traded two firsts and jettisoned Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to get him. There’s no way they let him go for nothing. He’s said and done all the right things (which is saying something since he’s a volatile figure) and is set to be an anchor for new defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley’s, plans.
Jalen Ramsey is the least expendable of all their free agents by far. Yes, Cooper Kupp is one of the key cogs of the Rams’ offense and his absence has been seismic. If they had him in the Super Bowl it’s a totally different game. But the selection of Van Jefferson signals they’re preparing for life after Coop. He’s got similar skills and because he’s a rookie 2nd-rounder he’s a hell of a lot cheaper. It’s brutal but there’s no way they can keep Coop and Ramsey with their projected salary cap hell.
There’s a world in which Johnson can stay if they free up a little money but he too will be in demand since he’s emerging as one of the best young safeties in the league.
Everett has been the subject of trade rumors and if they can flip him for a pick then they have a little more flexibility but not much. He is the most expendable of their marquee free agents given the selection of Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round to go with Tyler Higbee (already extended) and practice hero Johnny Mundt.
The Rams are trying to reload and contend, which is feasible this season, but beyond they are going to heavily rely on rookies and young guys while they continue to pay for their top-heavy roster. No one could’ve foreseen the pandemic but Les Snead and Tony Pastoors still blew this like it was an Atlanta Falcons lead. They made it rain in 2018 and that’s royally screwed them. Sure, the salary cap projections for the Saints, Eagles, and other teams are in a much darker place next year, but the Rams are still in dire straits.
Before this becomes a “night is dark and full of terrors” place, the Rams could flip Everett and Rob Havenstein to free up space and there will be a veteran cut or two so while the lion’s share of their money will go to Ramsey they could do some cap Kama Sutra in order to keep either Coop or Johnson. It won’t be easy, because nothing with the Rams ever is, but they can make it work and by 2022 they should largely have exorcised their dead cap money from Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks.
The league hasn’t figured out how they’d disperse the losses they’d suffer as well so that could help. Perhaps, the 2021-2022 season can see a return to normal or close to normal return conditions for fans, and then they’ll have a lot more flexibility. All of this sounds great for the future, but the present is precarious because we still don’t know what the pandemic looks like this winter.
The point is, the Rams made decisions that were meant to lock in their core but instead is on the verge of collapsing their title window. The NFC West is essentially a Thunderdome and every game, and move matters. The Niners and Seahawks have their own cap concerns but their management has proven to be able to navigate even the whitest of squalls. The Rams are Clooney’s crew in “The Perfect Storm” well-meaning but ultimately doomed because they fool-heartedly pursued fish they shouldn’t have. Anyway, the salary cap is going down and the Rams are in for a reckoning.