The soft deadline is quickly approaching to get contracts done in the NFL. Most players prefer not to negotiate new deals during the season, leaving the last two months before training camp as prime time for contract extensions. While we still do not know exactly when training camp will be, it’s always interesting to take a look at who might be signed to an extension and who will be playing out the year. Obviously, the Rams have more than nine players on one-year contracts, but these are the nine who are expected to contribute this season. Currently, the Rams sit at $48 million in cap space but can get to over $60 million with a few moves.
When he was acquired from the Jaguars last fall in exchange for two first-round picks and a fourth, Ramsey instantly acquired endless leverage against the Rams. There’s no way that Les Snead can let Ramsey walk away after paying that price to get him to LA. Knowing this, however, makes Ramsey’s bargaining position one to envy. He can wait as long as it takes to get every penny out of the team. What Ramsey risks, however, is injury or regression. On the regression side, Ramsey did not grade out as well with the Rams as he did with the Jaguars, according to Pro Football Focus. On the injury side, look at Richard Sherman‘s contract with the 49ers. Coming off an injury, Sherman was only guaranteed three million dollars at signing. Granted, Sherman is older than Ramsey, but he was and still is one of the best in the game. That’s not good enough in free agency. You also have to be healthy.
Prediction: Ramsey re-signs with the Rams before training camp in 2020. Five year- $80 million deal, $60 million guaranteed at signing.
Cooper Kupp may be on the opposite side of the leverage wall as Jalen Ramsey. The Rams just drafted Van Jefferson. They have Robert Woods under contract for $9 million in 2021–one of the best deals in the NFL, and they have Josh Reynolds. Reynolds is also due to hit free agency. He would cost less than Kupp and is less redundant. Kupp may also be on the process of being phased out of the offense. Late in the 2019 season, Kupp played a highly decreased snap count as the Rams moved to more two-tight end formations. For the type of player that Kupp will be in this offense, it is fair to wonder how much value he will provide to the team at the kind of salary cap hit he will require. He won’t be getting Mike Evans or Julio Jones‘s money, but he could push to get close to the $15 million annual cap hit that the Vikings gave Adam Thielen. That will price the Rams out of this race.
Prediction: Kupp walks in free agency and the Rams get a third round compensatory selection.
John Johnson was on his way to being one of the highest-paid safeties in the game before he went down with a shoulder injury last season. Even though he had a rocky start to 2019, he is still known as one of the best combo safeties in the game. His ability to seamlessly transition from both safety spots is hard to find. Most guys can cover “centerfield” but not play in the box and vice versa. The injury, however, gave the Rams a chance to wait on the extension– perhaps a blessing in disguise. Johnson will now have to play out the year on basically a “Prove-it” deal, perfect for a Rams team that needs to get the Ramsey extension done now.
Prediction: The Rams use the franchise tag on Johnson at the end of the year. They secure more time for a deal. The franchise tag number for safeties in 2020 is $11.4 million. It will be around that amount in 2021 as well.
There’s no way around it when it comes to Austin Blythe’s 2019 play; it was terrible. Despite playing better when he moved to center late in the year, Blythe still graded out negatively at PFF at both center and guard. However, Blythe was very effective in 2018 and is still in his prime–28 in June. If he has a rebound season, I can easily see him signing long term on a deal that pays him middle of the pack starting center money. The Rams made it to the Super Bowl in 2018, with John Sullivan playing some of the worst graded football in the league. That proves that the team can succeed without a top-flight center, but having Blythe take a step forward will be huge for the offense to evolve.
Prediction: Blythe re-signs with the Rams. Three-year, $15 million deal, $7 million guaranteed at signing.
This one might be the most obvious. Although Everett has shown the ability to be dynamic as a pass-catcher, his lack of all-around game has left him on the sidelines more than not. He has also struggled with injuries. This is the year he hopes to put it all together. The Rams are moving to more two tight end sets this season. That means that Everett is due to see possibly the most targets of his young career. He could parlay those targets into a big year and subsequent big contract. That might leave the Rams on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2021 Gerald Everett sweepstakes. The team surely braced for this event, drafting play-making tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round.
Prediction: Everett reaches the open market and signs elsewhere in free agency. Due to the value of his contract, the Rams could recoup a fourth-round compensatory selection.
Ebukam is in a similar yet different situation that Dante Fowler Jr was with the Rams last season. Similar because they were both very much in need of a breakout season before they hit free agency. Different, though, because of the Rams cap situation. Letting go of young pass rushers isn’t something the Rams do very often. Pass rushers generally need time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NFL. Ebukam is just coming into his prime, so the Rams don’t want to be the team that developed a guy so he could ball out with someone else. Ebukam is going to command a “good but not great” type of money. That type of player fits perfectly for the Rams because they already have the highest-paid interior defender in the league in Aaron Donald.
Prediction: Ebukam re-signs with the Rams before 2021 free agency. Four-year, $40 million deal with $27 guaranteed.
The Rams have Troy Hill at a salary-cap hit of around $3 million this season. That’s a very reasonable rate for a starting corner. Don’t expect him to be around for long, however, if he starts again this season. With David Long Jr. waiting in the wings, and a looming mega-extension due to Ramsey, the Rams are in no position also to be paying Hill. The way the Rams are structured, that simply isn’t feasible. Goff and Donald take up too much of the salary cap to afford more than one big-time player at each position group. That leaves Hill possibly as the odd man out. No crying for him, however, as he is set to hit the market as one of the best available corners.
Prediction: Hill makes it to free agency and moves on to another organization. Also keep an eye on a trade here. The Rams like Terrell Burgess in the slot, and also have Darious Williams waiting for playing time.
When the Rams matched Detroit’s offer sheet on Malcolm Brown in 2019, everyone was surprised. As an injury-prone running back with a career 3.7 YPC, he doesn’t seem long for the squad. Brown will be an unrestricted free agent, not allowing the Rams any ability to match offers from interested teams. They probably won’t want to anyway. Cam Akers and Darrel Henderson are under contract, and a third back can be found in the late rounds of the draft. The Rams will surely try to trade him first.
Prediction: A team loses a running back in training camp. Brown is traded to them for a conditional seventh round pick. If he plays out the year with the Rams he will surely reach free agency.
The Rams might have signaled to some that they lack faith in Josh Reynolds when they selected Van Jefferson. That may be short-sighted, though. As the biggest receiver on the team, he is the best red-zone wide receiver. If Reynolds can stay healthy, he can provide an element that Kupp, Woods, and Jefferson do not. This will most likely come down at the end of the year to whether the Rams want to pay $15 million per year for Kupp, or significantly less for Reynolds. They probably can’t afford to keep four wide receivers and two good tight ends. There are not enough touches to go around.
Prediction: Reynolds re-signs with the Rams. It will be around a three-year $30 million deal with $25 million guaranteed.
Follow me on Twitter for more great content @JbellSportsTalk