The Los Angeles Rams will have to navigate some cap space concerns in the 2022 NFL offseason if they want a shot of heading back to the Super Bowl next year. The Rams are one of a handful of teams currently projected to be over the salary cap for 2022 as things stand at the end of February. With Los Angeles needing to be under the salary cap when the new league year begins on March 16, let’s examine what options they have in the coming weeks.
Rams salary cap outlook for 2022
As it stands on February 26, the Rams are projected to be a touch above $13 million over the 2022 salary cap. That number could change slightly when adjustments from the 2021 season are included, but for the most part, the Rams are going to have to make some moves in the coming days and weeks to get themselves under the cap.
Of course, the Rams likely also want to add some pieces in free agency. If that’s the case, they will need to clear more than just $13 million. There is also the matter of fitting in the salary cap from their draft picks. However, with no picks in the first two rounds and just one in the first two days, their cap commitments from the draft should be relatively minimal.
Rams’ potential salary cap moves ahead of the 2022 NFL league year
Any roster you look at, you can find ways for teams to save cap space. Whether that be cutting players, making trades, restructuring deals, or signing extensions, there are always options. The balance is always finding realistic options that do not tie the teams into players longer than they would like or leave them with dead money in future years that they cannot easily shift.
The good news for the Rams is that they have several options to free up cap space with players that are likely to be on their roster for the foreseeable future.
Matthew Stafford is entering the final year of his deal in 2022
With the Lions eating a large chunk of Matthew Stafford’s salary cap commitments with the trade last year, the Rams’ QB is sitting cheaply at a $23 million cap hit for 2022. However, the Rams still have the opportunity to save cap space on Stafford’s deal. They have two options with which to do this.
The first option is to leave it as a one-year deal but add up to four void years to spread the $23 million in salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus over five years for cap purposes. LA could feasibly take Stafford’s cap number down to around $5.5 million for 2022. However, that would leave them with around $17.5 million in dead money next year regardless of whether he’s on the roster or not.
The second option is to give Stafford an extension. Doing so would allow the Rams and Stafford to structure the contract in the best interest of both the player and team as much as possible. The Rams could feasibly reduce Stafford’s cap number as low as the veteran minimum salary at $1.12 million.
That would be the extreme option. There would be no signing bonus, likely resulting in the Rams having to guarantee huge amounts of money in the next two or three years of the deal. Stafford is currently projected to be worth a four-year, $166 million contract by Spotrac.
Andrew Whitworth appears set to retire
It seems as though Andrew Whitworth is ready to walk away from the game, which will help the Rams’ salary cap immediately. Whitworth is owed $16 million across bonuses and salary this season. If he does retire, the Rams would have to eat $1.67 million in dead money from his signing bonus proration. However, it would free up $16 million in cap space.
They would have to replace Whitworth, which might require investment. However, Whitworth’s retirement would immediately get the Rams under the salary cap for the new league year.
Will Aaron Donald retire?
At 30 years of age, Aaron Donald has hinted at retirement but nothing is confirmed. Should he retire, the Rams would not see the significant savings they will see if Whitworth retires. Donald would leave the team with a $21.5 million cap number as it stands due to last season’s restructure.
However, if retirement is the plan, then LA could do what the Saints did with Drew Brees. That would involve restructuring the contract to remove the roster bonus and reduce his salary to the veteran minimum. That would mean Donald carries just under a $14 million cap number into the new league year. The Rams could then process the retirement post-June 1, leaving themselves with $12.5 million in 2022 and $9 million in 2023.
If Donald remains with the Rams, they have a few options. A basic restructure would save around $10 million in cap space. They could also work with Donald to change the contract up and add void years to give them greater flexibility later in the deal. There is also the potential of a conventional contract extension. But the savings on that would be the least of the three and does not make sense for a player contemplating retirement.
Elsewhere on the defensive line, they could save some money if they were to do something with A’Shawn Robinson’s contract. Trading or releasing Robinson is an option to save $5.5 million, but it is certainly less than desirable. LA could add further void years and stretch the $9.5 million cap number out between 2022 and 2023. Of course, they could also extend him, especially if Donald decides to walk away.
Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods all offer the opportunity to save cap space for the Rams in 2022
There are a number of options for the Rams with these three players. Jalen Ramsey is currently the highest-paid cornerback in the league with four years remaining on his deal. For that reason, the only option that makes sense is a restructure. Ramsey’s cap number is already high in the remaining years of the deal, but the cap is projected to skyrocket in the coming years. Therefore, the Rams could save another $11 million in cap space in 2022 with a restructure of his $15 million base salary.
Cooper Kupp has two more years left on his deal and will likely get an extension either this offseason or next. Restructuring his deal in 2022 would instantly save $11 million. Then the Rams can deal with the issue of the void years and their cost when they do an extension next year.
An extension for Kupp this offseason would give the Rams some options with his contract. They are locked into a $5 million cap number at a minimum. But after that, the Rams can structure it however they want — as long as Kupp and his agent are happy.
Robert Woods’ injury has made his future uncertain. Still, it would be surprising if he was released ahead of the 2022 league year. He currently has a $15.1 million cap number and would carry $12.1 million in dead money if released. The Rams could save $10 million in cash by moving on ahead of his salary becoming guaranteed on March 20. More likely is they look to restructure his $13.5 million in salary and roster bonus this offseason. Doing so could save close to $10 million.
What other cap space options do the Rams have this offseason?
The Rams have a handful of other options to save cap space. Leonard Floyd is the other high-profile name that could save them over $10 million. LA has the opportunity to save just over $12 million with a restructure. It seems like an easy decision, but doing so would push his cap number up to around $25 million in both 2023 and 2024.
Tight end Tyler Higbee could be released to save $5.2 million in cap space. However, he appears highly valued and more likely sees his deal restructured. The Rams could shift over $4 million into the future if they utilize void years. That option would not push Higbee’s cap number over $10 million next year and means they could release him for less than $6 million in dead money next offseason.