The Los Angeles Rams Are in Cap Purgatory For the Foreseeable Future

Jalen Ramsey, now a very wealthy individual
Jalen Ramsey, now a very wealthy individual / Harry How/Getty Images

Just under a year after they exchanged a first-round pick for Jalen Ramsey's services, the Los Angeles Rams locked down a defensive cornerstone by giving Ramsey an absolutely massive extension. Worth $105 million with $71 million in guarantees, Ramsey completely reset the cornerback market with an unprecedented deal and the Rams do not need to fear they gave up substantial draft capital for a player who leaves immediately afterwards.

However, it also means the Rams are in cap purgatory for a while. I don't say cap hell, because that implies there's no means of escape. After the Kansas City Chiefs gave Patrick Mahomes a preposterous contract extension and still managed to re-sign Chris Jones to a big deal despite having three-digit cap space prior to those contracts, it's clear that the cap is just something teams need to move around rather than be completely limited by in most cases. But with Ramsey's big deal coming the offseason after Los Angeles inked Jared Goff to an extension of a similar size (doing the same with Aaron Donald in 2018 and with Cooper Kupp still reportedly to come), the Rams won't have anything to work with money-wise. Any potential cap work-arounds will be far more difficult for L.A. then most other teams.

The Rams are paying $368 million in guarantees to their Big 3 of Ramsey, Goff, and Donald over the course of their contracts. Donald is the only one of those three one can definitively argue is worth it as a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner who will continue to be the best defender in football for at least the next two-three seasons. Goff is right in that strange middle tier of quarterbacks where he doesn't deserve to be named in the top 10 but is just good enough that the Rams don't feel comfortable trying their luck finding someone better. Ramsey is an elite cornerback but his play hasn't been consistent enough to merit a follow-up All-Pro selection after he earned his first in 2017.

That's a lot of money to be tied up in two players who aren't among the best at their position, year-in and year-out. As things stand, Goff and Donald will count for about $45 million against the cap next season. When you add in Ramsey's cap hit that will likely come in around $20 million, that's $65 million of the cap tied up with three individuals. Given that next year's cap could be around $175 million with exact numbers to be determined, Los Angeles will, in all likelihood, have a third of their cap taken up by those three. The Ramsey deal looks even worse since it came a few days after Tre'Davious White, who was better than Ramsey last year and arguably the year before, signed a much more modest $70 million extension with the Buffalo Bills. The Rams guaranteed Ramsey the same amount of money that White's contract is worth in its entirety, and White was an All-Pro last year.

All in all, consider the Rams out of the running for any big-money free agents anytime soon. It also means that they absolutely have to nail their draft picks. They're without their 2021 first and fourth-round picks thanks to the Ramsey trade. But they've otherwise moved away from the strategy of trading draft picks for win-now talent and will have a relatively full cadre of draft picks starting in 2022 (for now). The draft is the only way they're going to find blue-chip talent for a reasonable sum that fits into their cap sheet.

If the Rams do hit on some picks over the next few years, they have a great defensive core and a good enough offense. But if they don't, they'll be left scouring the discount bin for contributors while forking over an immense sum to three players, two of whom can't be considered the best at their respective positions. Los Angeles is going all-in on their current core, but it will be what they do around them that will determine if they look back upon the last two seasons of spending with regret.