The Rams’ incredibly shrinking salary cap

Remember when we learned that the NFC West was the “richest” division in football in terms of cap money to spend in free agency? The news spawned a whole new round of free agent dreaming. “Why not Barry Cofield AND Reggie Bush AND Sidney Rice?” asks the dreamer.

As it turns out, the cap-crunchers have spoken again, and the Rams are now looking like the pauper in this division of riches. After originally reporting a $35.6 million dollar surplus in Billy Devaney’s GM checkbook, ESPN’s John Clayton now is the bearer of some very bad news.

The St. Louis Rams have $39 million of one-time cap charges on Sam Bradford, Jason Smith and Chris Long, but still have about $12 million of cap room left.

$12 million? That doesn’t leave much room for a bold statement, especially if the team’s slated rookie expenses — a hair over $5 million, says Mike Sando — have to be cut from this same slim pie.

Meanwhile, Seattle is said to be in the running for Sidney Rice, and has reportedly already brought in a familiar face at quarterback — fellow Viking (and former understudy of the now-departed Matt Hasselbeck) Tarvaris Jackson. That’s a topic for a whole separate post, but worth noting as a sign that Pete Carroll’s team plans to be as aggressive in this year’s free agency pool as they were in last year’s draft.

Arizona also has much coin to spend, though their ongoing flirtation with both the Eagles’ Kevin Kolb and the Broncos’ Kyle Orton will leave them much lighter in the pocket in terms of draft picks. 

All of which means the Rams will have to be very choosy with their free agent spending. How this might affect the key areas of need:

Backup RB: Reggie Bush is now far out of sight, and the less-heralded (but potentially more desirable, according to Bernie Miklasz) Darren Sproles might even require some cap creativity to bring aboard. 

Starting DT: Barry Cofield might be the big free agent splash, and given the implausibility of Fred Robbins repeating last year’s miracle season at age 35, might be the most necessary area of focus. However, we also recognize Spagnuolo’s ability to do more with less at the position, and pragmatically Cofield might be cut from the Rams’ plans.

Outside LB: The Rams have now cut Larry Grant, and both Chris Chamberlain and David Vobora are free agents. As both Vobora and Chamberlain should come cheap, I imagine both will be asked back. (Though Vobora had to fight hard for playing time, and may be on the outs with coaches.) The Rams have also been linked with Saints LB Scott Shanle, though this would arguably be a downgrade at the position, as Shanle was the very worst outside linebacker rated by Pro Football Focus last year. 

Free Safety: Hot commodity Eric Weddle is being hotly pursued, and according to Yahoo’s Jason Cole, could get $7 million annually. Quite simply, don’t expect the Rams to spend here. Craig Dahl is the lone starter we can pencil in, with Darian Stewart, rookie Jonathan Nelson and potentially CB-FS hybrid Jerome Murphy given plenty of rope to earn the second spot.

Right Guard: Adam Goldberg is now a free agent, but will still be cheap and probably asked back — hopefully into a reserve role. As we’ve discussed, whether the Rams make a move here is largely dependent on how the coaches feel about John Greco. One intriguing name to hit the market: Dallas has released starting guard Leonard Davis. Davis is a 6’6″ 365 lb monster who doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area, but still rates as a top-16 guard by PFF. At 33 years old, he will not command big bucks, but could fill a hole nicely.