EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Heading into the 2015 offseason, the St. Louis Rams' salary-cap situation looks to be relatively tight. But looks in many cases, especially this one, can be deceiving.
The final number for this year's salary cap has yet to finalize, but many are expecting another large hike in that number in 2015 and 2016. Beyond that, the Rams also have a $3 million plus salary-cap exemption due from the release and subsequent signing of cornerback Cortland Finnegan by the Miami Dolphins.
So attempting to put an exact number on how much space the Rams have now or will have is solely a guess. What isn't a guess is how much room the Rams can create by making a few tweaks to the roster.
Whether it's via a cap casualty or executing a new contract, there are four players who could and likely will allow the Rams plenty of flexibility heading into the offseason.
Here's a look at the quartet that could help restock the vault with all contract numbers courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:
QB Sam Bradford: 2015 cap number -- $16.58 million
The Rams have made no secret that they would like to bring Bradford back at a reduced rate. The above number is the reason why, and it seems entirely unlikely that they'd bring him back from two major knee surgeries at such a high price. They've actually budgeted for that amount and could make it work, but the more likely scenario is executing a new contract that would drop his base pay down substantially with a lot of playing time and performance bonuses built in. They won't take the risk of outright releasing Bradford so any deal will have to be agreed to before the Rams would do anything with the old contract. The Rams can get a big savings here, but it will depend heavily on how much less the player is willing to take and then how he performs after. If the Rams did outright release Bradford, it would save them nearly $13 million but again, that's almost certainly not going to happen.
OT Jake Long: 2015 cap number -- $10.5 million
Like Bradford, Long is also coming off a second straight season-ending knee injury. Unlike Bradford, though, there's no guarantee that Long will return. Long has not spoken to the media since the injury. There have been rumors of his considering retirement, but recent momentum points toward his attempted return. Either way, it would be crazy for the Rams to bring Long back at such a high price. They could attempt to come up with a new deal for him, but if they did they'd have to find a new position for him with coach Jeff Fisher committed to Greg Robinson as his left tackle. The Rams could save $8 million with an outright release or more than $9 million if they designate him a post-June 1 cut. Regardless, this seems like the easiest and quickest way to save a big chunk of money.
C Scott Wells: 2015 cap number -- $5 million
Wells already redid his contract last year and is now in the final year of a two-year deal he signed before last season. This one is pretty cut and dry in terms of Wells' status. Releasing Wells would save the Rams $4 million with $1 million in dead money, but it's possible the Rams could hang on to him to see if they can land an upgrade first. Wells has been oft-injured in his time in St. Louis and, to his credit, played through it in 2014, but his production has dropped precipitously from the guy the Rams initially signed three years ago. The Rams have young options such as Tim Barnes, Barrett Jones and Demetrius Rhaney around, but none is a proven commodity. Wells is due a $1 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year. If the Rams are sure that they have a better player in hand by then, Wells could be on the way out.
DT Kendall Langford: 2015 cap number -- $7 million
Langford is still a solid, productive player for the Rams and was a valuable piece of a defense that improved dramatically over the final half of the season. But he's also no longer a starter as rookie Aaron Donald supplanted him and took many of his snaps. And $7 million is a lot of money for a player who played 467 snaps with 25 tackles and a sack last year. That's down from 703 snaps, 49 tackles and five sacks the year before. If the Rams chose to release Langford, it would save $6 million with $1 million in dead money. The Rams would like to retain Langford, who is also a good locker room influence, but for that to happen, it's probably going to have to be on a new, reduced contract.