By Paul "the Closer" Wanecski
Holding the 10th overall selection in the NFL draft will always put you in a special light with Hashtag Nation. With the structure of the Rookie Wage Scale, picking 10th is known as the "fat chick pick", because this is the last of the large 5th year option contracts remaining in the first round. This is perhaps the least coveted draft slot. Congratulations St.Louis.
The Rams are the first team of this 32 part series that currently projects to be over the 2015 salary cap. Somewhere, Jerry Jones is smiling. While salary cap numbers can slide over the next several months, the way that St.Louis has structured contracts has proven to be a bit foolish. While they may be only $1.1 million away from getting under the 2015 salary cap, they will still need to free up around 4 million to get the draft class under contract. This is not a requirement to have done prior to the NFL draft, but it sure makes picking in the mid-rounds simpler if you know who is restructured and who must be cut.
The Rams gambled with Sam Bradford and lost. His contract was the last of a generation, when no rookie wage scale existed. He missed a majority of his senior season at Oklahoma and was still the first overall selection. Actually, Oklahoma's punter took more snaps than Bradford. His current contract, which is in its final year, is costing $16.5 million against the salary cap. If he is released, the team only saves a few million dollars and would then have no quarterback on the roster who started a game for them lasted season. Now Bradford is an interesting case, considering he has missed 25 of his last 32 games. He would be best served to take the $16 million in base dollars in his contract, restructure nearly all of that to incentive money and extend his current deal an additional two years. St.Louis would then be able to spread out any remaining bonus dollars along with negotiate an injury clause buy-out. While it may seem on the surface that Bradford should avoid restructuring at all costs, no team would be willing to pay him more than $3 million as a free agent. His best chance to make the most money is if he remains with the Rams. Not to mention that restructuring his contract with an injury buy-out could make him an attractive trade target.
With 4 players making over $10 million against the salary cap for 2015, several poor contracts are coming back to hit the team. Unfortunately with the injury his to Jake Long, his contract seems like a weight on the teams shoulders. He has a large base salary which offers St.Louis the opportunity to extend his current deal, transition the base salary into bonus money and everyone walks away happy. The issue is the injury history. Will St.Louis roll the dice again?
The team could also look to extend defensive end Chris Long's contract to free up 2015 money.
The Rams lost no players of significant value to free agency this season
The Rams need an offensive weapon. They have had a terrible run game the past two seasons and the lack a tall playmaker at wide receiver. While a slid in the quarterback position is conceivable (see players like Ryan Mallett), it is extremely unlikely that one of the top 2 players at that position will be available with the 10th pick. Expect St.Louis, who has plenty of tools on defense, to go with the best offensive player available. Will that be John White (West Virginia), the tall and speedy receiver? Possibly, as Amari Copper (Alabama) will already be gone. The Rams could save some cap space and draft a tackle to slide into the guard position allowing them to free up some salary cap space releasing a veteran player. The 9 selections before the Rams pick will dictate what they can do and just how aggressive they will be.
Role players will be all the Rams can afford given the current salary cap situation. Watch them to sign skill position players at safety, cornerback, wide receiver and running back who are either undrafted free agents or were released because of injury last season.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale