The Rams are building a team designed to go for broke in 2018, with the offseason acquisitions of players like Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. But can they afford to keep all of those players in 2019?
The good news is, the Rams are in great salary cap shape for 2019: According to Spotrac.com, the Rams have $81 million in 2019 cap space, the second-most of any team in the NFL.
The bad news is, the Rams are going to need every penny of that cap space in 2019 to keep their top players in Los Angeles.
The top priority will be defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is heading into the final season of his contract. He’ll want a new deal that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, and he’s certain to have a big cap hit in 2019.
Cooks is also going into the final year of his contract. You don’t trade a first-round draft pick for a player just to let him walk away after one year, so the Rams will surely work on getting Cooks done, with a pricey deal that will chip away at that 2019 cap space.
Suh is on a one-year deal. With all the Rams’ cap space, perhaps they can afford to sign him to another deal next year, but that cap space will dry up once they start getting deals done with Donald, Cooks and other players. There’s a good chance Suh will head elsewhere in a year.
Talib still has two more years on his contract, but he’s 32 years old and may no longer be worth his $11 million base salary. There’s a reason the Broncos made it known they were looking to trade Talib and could only get a fifth-round draft pick for him in return: He’s old and expensive. He’s a player you acquire to win now, but not a player you build around.
Peters, as the Chiefs’ 2015 first-round draft pick, has an affordable salary of $1.7 million this year. But that salary will skyrocket to $9.5 million when the Rams pick up his fifth-year option for 2019. Ditto for the Rams’ own 2015 first-round pick, Todd Gurley, who whose salary likewise skyrockets from $2.3 million this year to $9.6 million next year.
Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner is on the franchise tag this year, which means he’s not under contract in 2019, which means the Rams are either going to lose him or pay him a whole lot of money a year from now.
And one other position the Rams need to be thinking about is left tackle, where last year’s acquisition of Andrew Whitworth was a great move in the short term but not a solution in the long term. Whitworth will turn 37 this year and realistically won’t be around much longer. Left tackles are expensive, and the Rams will need to go shopping for a new one to protect Jared Goff sooner rather than later.
All of these old and/or expensive players can’t be replaced easily in the draft because the Rams have traded away so many picks: They sent their first-round pick to New England for Cooks, their second-round pick to Buffalo for Sammy Watkins, their fourth-round pick this year and second-round pick next year to Kansas City for Peters, their fifth-round pick to Denver for Talib and their seventh-round pick to Washington for Derek Carrier. The Rams have added some draft picks in trades as well, but those are late in the draft: The Rams’ first draft pick is 87th overall, and that’s their only pick in the Top 130.
So it’s fun to watch the Rams go all-in for 2018. But this whole thing could go south quickly. Adding players in the last years of their contracts and trading away high draft picks is a good way to fall off a cliff in 2019.