Tony Pastoors: How The Rams Cap Genius Makes Magic
Whenever critics want to make fun of the Rams, the joke used most often (well second-most, after the no fans bit) is how they have no picks and their salary cap is clogged like an Arby’s toilet or Homer Simpson’s arteries. Yes, the Rams have a top-heavy roster with the cap tied up in six members of the roster and YET they are still able to land Bobby Wagner, Allen Robinson, and presumably Odell Beckham Jr.
An online joke is that congress needs to step in and investigate how the Rams keep finding cap space in the cushion of their couch. It seems fishy but that’s only if you read the headline of any Rams deal. The reason they can have a cap sheet that would make most owners blush is because of the cap magic of Tony Pastoors. Tony Pastoors was once the author of the Rams’ cap woes and is now a cap genius.
The Rams’ championship window extends beyond “RUN IT BACK” thanks to Pastoors’ carefully constructed contracts and the team’s ability to find value at the margins. It can all seem like a house of cards but the Rams have the perfect ecosystem to support this seemingly reckless style of team building.
In writing about Pastoors, one needs to go back to the summer of 2018 when the mockery of the Rams’ team building began. After Sean McVay coached the Rams to an 11-5 season the year prior the Rams appeared to be spending money with the reckless abandon as if fulfilling a “Brewster’s Millions” scenario with extensions that seemed idiotic at the time and would look even worse in hindsight.
They prematurely extended Todd Gurley with a four-year $60 million deal with $45 guaranteed making him the highest-paid back in the league. This flew in the face of conventional team building especially considering the fact that he had a history of knee issues and the fact that he hadn’t even played on his 5th-year option yet so there was time to evaluate him prior to his rookie deal expires. They also traded a first-rounder for Brandin Cooks (his third team in as many years) and immediately gave him a five-year $80 million extension.
This was presumptuous, to say the least, and while the extensions for Aaron Donald and Rob Havenstein were warranted and in Havenstein’s case a bargain at four years $32.5 million. The Gurley/Cooks deals became difficult to defend as the years wore on. Gurley broke down as the season went on to the point where he was unplayable in the NFC title game and didn’t play in the Super Bowl.
The 2019 season proved to be a down season for the Rams and on top the Jared Goff extension (four years $134 with $110 guaranteed) made the Rams cap look more toxic than “The Flash” movie. They cut bait with Cooks and Gurley and had $21.8 million and a year later when Goff was traded took on another $22.2 million in dead cap. Tony Pastoors and the front office seemed to doom the Rams to lose every valuable asset they had to free agency because they couldn’t afford to keep every blue-chipper they drafted but it turns out that wasn’t the case.
In a perfect world, taking on that much dead cap and tying up that much salary in a finite amount of players isn’t IDEAL but their reasoning makes sense. Tony Pastoors might have caused the Rams to swallow jagged-edged Krusty-Oh’s but that’s okay because it’s better to dig into the crevasse than run on the mediocrity treadmill.
They had to accept Gurley was done, Cooks wasn’t a fit for McVay, and Goff wasn’t the prince that was promised. They were able to find a sucker in Bill O’Brien to take Cooks’ contract (that said Cooks was the only productive Texan the last two years) in exchange for the pick that became Van Jefferson, and they were able to get Matthew Stafford for Goff. Gurley found a home in Atlanta briefly and the Rams were able to replace him with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson.
It was all worth it in the end as the Rams (in conjunction with the refs apparently) won the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl might allow for a time of roster purging and unclogging cap space but NOPE. The good news is that Stan Kroenke aside from being a billionaire and a Super Bowl/Stanley Cup champion is an in-law to the Walton family (of the Mart Waltons) which means he has more money than Davey Crockett and the Rams/SoFi have generated “Top Gun Maverick” levels of revenue.
He isn’t merely content to win a title and then go into Florida Marlins austerity mode. One title is nice but multiple with stars such as Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Matthew Stafford, means cementing the Rams as an essential part of the fabric of Los Angeles. They do that by proving they’re a lasting contender and thus keeping younger generations hooked for life. That is no easy task as the Rams suddenly have a lot of mouths to feed and need to get better in order to compete with the gargantuan amount of player movement around the league. So how did they do that? Well, Tony Pastoors became the Sting of cap Kama Sutra.
First up, take care of Stafford. He was entering the last year of his deal and more than earned an extension. His deal is four years $160 million with $60 million at signing and $130 million guaranteed. This deal is fair but caused many to assume that there was no way they could keep other people but looking closer at the deal and it makes sense.
His base salary is $1.5 million and has only a $13 million cap hit because the life of the deal is flexed out enough to where he won’t hit $31 million in base salary until 2024. That’s two years where he’s a steal. He becomes a free agent in 2027 at the age of 39.
This deal allowed the Rams to sign Allen Robinson to a three-year $46.5 million deal with $30 million at signing and he also has a $1.5 million base salary and $4.3 cap hit so his deal doesn’t hit $10 million until next year.
They allowed Von Miller to sign with Buffalo (not for the money apparently) so they could get Bobby Wagner. His deal says 5 years $50 million BUT it’s a $1.5 million base this year and a $2.5 cap hit. Next year it jumps to $7.5 million and a $12 million cap hit and in 2024 goes to $8.5 million.
Those deals make them better on both sides of the ball BUT Pastoors wasn’t done. Aaron Donald floated the idea of retiring but Tony Pastoors was literally able to make a case that moved him…TO A BIGGER HOUSE. Donald signed a contact restructure (not an extension) that comes out to three years of $95 million which means a $1.5 million base salary this year BUT has a $25 million bonus and in 2023 his base salary jumps to $13.5 million with cap hits of $24 and 38 million the next two years.
In 2024 he has a dead cap of $19.5 million if he decides to retire OR it’s a 2-year $60 million extension. The contract also voids the last day of the 2024 season. Lastly, he rightfully extended three years of $80 million extensions where he has a base of $10 million and it’s $15 million for two years and then $12.5 and $14.8 2025 and 2026. He becomes a 34-year-old free agent in 2027.
This all seems complicated and that’s not even to mention all the free agents they’ll have next year including Greg Gaines and Van Jefferson. So HOW DO THEY DO THIS? Tony Pastoors and the Rams front office are skilled at creating space by the way the deals are structured but also they are savvy about restructuring deals like they’ve done with Jalen Ramsey (who is in the middle of a 5 year $100 million deal), Donald, and Kupp before restructuring again.
Essentially this kicks the can down the road but that’s okay because again Stan Kroenke is a gozillionaire and doesn’t mind paying this much money (oh and McVay and Snead are getting extensions). Snead and his team have done an excellent job at drafting in the later rounds and finding young talent that can play right away. This enables them to pay for the marquee talent while not sacrificing everywhere else.
They can kick the can as far as they can with salaries because the team will remain competitive no matter what. They aren’t shy about trading picks for rentals to buttress a deficiency that pops up during the year. A lot of this is luck in terms of injury, getting Denver to take on most of Von’s salary, and being able to live off the comp pick system but that isn’t to say there isn’t sacrifice. It’s a bummer that the Rams had to say goodbye to Robert Woods after he helped build the culture in that locker room but that’s the reality and the Rams are smart about how they replace players.
A lot of what the Rams do to build their roster flies in the face of conventional roster building. Teams are praised for hoarding picks and cap space, and not being too sentimental with stars. The Rams haven’t had a first-round pick since McVay was hired and they’ve been liberal with their picks ever since.
They’ve gone out of their way to take care of stars for good and for ill and they treat the cap as more of an idea but they have a culture that can support it and are smart about finding players that can buy in and if they can’t they’re on the first Metrolink out of town in favor of someone who can. Tony Pastoors and his team are super creative about keeping the Jenga blocks together and as long as the Rams have him they can keep the window open longer than anyone would’ve thought possible back in 2018.