Rams over the salary cap: three players on the bubble

screenshot from Bubble Boy
With the Rams hard up against the cap, who’s on the bubble?

NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora published a list of all 32 NFL teams’ standing against the salary cap this morning. A surprise on the list? The Rams, not the free-spending Redskins or Eagles, are the only team of the bunch currently over the cap.

$822,036.00 over, to be precise.

Firstly, is this a bad thing? Not in my opinion. The Rams have been aggressive and precise in this year’s free agent frenzy, addressing key positions of need (G, DT, FS) and acquiring depth all over the place. Meanwhile, each of our competitors in the NFC West has more than $14 million left to spend, but little more than the likes of Terrell Owens and Daunte Culpepper to spend it on.

But this does intensify camp battles, especially among veteran players making more than the minimum. The way the reconfigured salary cap works, only the top 51 salaries on the roster count toward the $120 million limit. So cutting a guy making $450k in a year doesn’t save much if you’re replacing him with a guy making $425k.

To get where the Rams want to be — approximately $1 million under the cap, according to today’s chat with Jim Thomas — a couple of veterans must fall. Here’s a look at three players potentially at risk.

SS James Butler ($3 million salary, according to Rotoworld)

Okay, this might be an easy one. James Butler has supposedly been in camp for the last two weeks, but hasn’t even dented the tail end of a “notes” sheet on anyone’s practice report. In fact, the top ten Google results for “James Butler” from the last week include multiple “Find a Gravestone” listings. But nothing about football.

That’s, er, never good.

With Quintin Mikell, Harvey Craig Dahl, and Darian Stewart positively locking down the safety rotation, there just isn’t room for a player whose snaps tailed off significantly last year. Unless something changes injury-wise to shake up that situation, that is.

The only potential saving grace for Butler is the level to which he has restructured his contract, which the Post-Dispatch speculates has happened.

OLB Na’il Diggs ($1.25 million)

To list Diggs’ name here shouldn’t suggest that he’s been playing poorly, especially since his primary competitor for playing time (Ben Leber) hasn’t played at all. But the addition of Leber, Brady Poppinga and Zac Diles to a crowded mix of cheap thumpers in Chris Chamberlain, Bryan Kehl and impressive rookie Jabara Williams is the Rams’ way of serving notice to Diggs.

The former Panther, who is as familiar as anyone on the roster with defensive coordinator Ken Flajole, is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2010 season after 12 games. To his credit, he has been manning a spot with the first teamers on defense, outplaying Poppinga and Diles to this point.

But with Leber joining the group, it’s my guess that only one of those two players will be on the roster come cutdowns.

Mike Sims-Walker (potentially $3.7 million)

Again, this is not a critique of Sims-Walker’s play so far, which has shown flashes of high potential. But the former Jaguar has to prove he belongs talent-wise and scheme-wise, and has to prove he can stay on the field. After one preseason game and a strained groin, the jury is still out. 

Like Evan Silva of Rotoworld said when MSW first signed, He could be the No. 1 WR. He could also not make the final 53.” I hope for his sake and the Rams’ that it’s the former. But you can’t discount the possibility that his name might not get called when the Rams start Week 1.