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With lower salary cap, Rams GM Les Snead aims to restructure contracts, not cut players

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine.
Rams general manager Les Snead speaks during a news conference at the NFL scouting combine in February 2020.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The NFL finally set the 2021 salary cap Wednesday, so what mostly had been preliminary internal discussions about cutting players or restructuring contracts now will begin in earnest.

The Rams have, perhaps, the biggest challenge of any team.

With the cap falling from $198.2 million to $182.5 million, the Rams exceed the limit by $33.1 million, according to overthecap.com. That is the largest figure in the NFL.

Rams general manager Les Snead said the team favors restructuring contracts over cutting players.

“That would be priority No. 1,” Snead said during a videoconference call with reporters. “This has been an ongoing process probably for … the last two or three weeks, trying to work with everyone to come up with win-win solutions for player and club.”

Last season, the Rams finished with a 10-6 record and advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Green Bay Packers.

Safety John Johnson and pass rusher Leonard Floyd were potential candidates for the franchise tag, but the Rams didn’t act by Tuesday’s deadline.

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Two weeks later, they traded quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for quarterback Matthew Stafford. The trade will not become official until the new league year begins next Wednesday. That is also when teams must be under the cap.

The NFL prohibits teams from speaking publicly about deals until they become official, so during his 41-minute news conference Snead repeatedly declined to answer questions about Goff, and what led the Rams to move on from him.

But Goff’s legacy, and the $134-million extension the Rams gave him before the 2019 season, lives on in terms of dead money the Rams absorbed — a whopping $22 million this season, according to overthecap.com.

The 2020 release of running back Todd Gurley also contributes to the Rams carrying $34.1 million in dead-money charges. That ranks second only to the Philadelphia Eagles’ $40 million, according to the website.

Snead declined to speak about any player’s contract situation, but acknowledged the Rams have had discussions with players and their representatives.

“You’ve had to knock on the door of a lot of our key figures, key pillars and ask him to in some cases make sacrifices, in some case adjust their contract to help us get under the cap,” Snead said. “The vision right now is to get to the finish line without having to release players.”

Rams defensive end Aaron Donald smiles as he stands on the sideline.
Rams might have to consider reworking the contract of star defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
(Scott Eklund / Associated Press)

Defensive lineman Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey — with salary-cap numbers of $27.9 million and $22.5 million, respectively — are strong candidates for restructures that would enable the Rams to convert salary into signing bonuses, which would provide short-term relief.

Receivers Cooper Kupp ($14.5 million) and Robert Woods ($13.9 million) also could be restructured.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth ($11.2 million), defensive lineman Michael Brockers ($9.8 million) and right tackle Rob Havenstein ($8.3 million) presumably could be faced with a choice of restructuring or being released.

Whitworth said last week that he was planning to return for a 16th NFL season but said it was “a longer process” than simply saying he would be back.

Andrew Whitworth says players on the Rams knew there was a chance the team would trade Jared Goff but they were “shocked” at how quickly it happened.

“There’s a lot of work between now and then that has to go into that on a lot of different facets,” he said.

The so-called 48-hour “legal tampering” period for teams to negotiate with representatives of pending unrestricted agents begins Monday. Snead declined to specify positions the Rams might address, but coach Sean McVay has said that the offense last season lacked a deep receiver threat.

Depending on how they address their cap situation, the Rams could shop for a free-agent receiver or wait for the draft.

The Rams, who do not have a first-round pick, were awarded three compensatory picks Wednesday by the NFL. They received a third-round pick (No. 101 overall) and a fourth-round pick (No. 141) as part of a formula that accounted for the loss after the 2019 season of free-agent linebackers Dante Fowler and Cory Littleton, and kicker Greg Zuerlein, and the acquisition of free-agent defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson.

They also received a third-round pick (No. 103) as compensation for college scouting director Brad Holmes leaving to become general manager of the Detroit Lions.


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