Future NFL financial situation could affect Rams players looking for extensions

play
How do NFL executives feel about Jalen Ramsey? (0:43)

Jeremy Fowler explains why NFL executives expect Jalen Ramsey to be the No. 1 cornerback in the league a year from now. (0:43)

Jalen Ramsey rolled up to training camp in an armored truck as a personal hype-man yelled "It's time to get that money, money!" through a megaphone.

That was last year, when the star cornerback played for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This week, Ramsey displayed no such antics when he reported to camp with the Los Angeles Rams.

But his situation remains similar.

As the COVID-19 pandemic looms over the start of camp and the 2020 NFL season, so do the contracts of several notable Rams players. Ramsey, along with five others -- including receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson III, are entering the final season of their rookie deals and in search of extensions.

In Ramsey's case, his deal is expected to be marked with record-breaking terms.

However, patience could be key as the NFL and the Rams navigate this period of uncertainty.

The Rams have $5.6 million in salary-cap space in 2020 and their cap space is projected to grow to $36.6 million in 2021, according to ESPN Roster Management.

But the future of the NFL salary cap -- which is set at $198.2 million in 2020 and typically increases every year -- remains largely in question because of financial fallout from the coronavirus.

The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed on a $175 million salary-cap minimum in 2021. If the cap drops to that amount next year, the Rams will have only $8 million in space, according to OvertheCap.com. That could significantly alter personnel decisions.

Here's a look at Rams players entering the final season of rookie contracts:


Jalen Ramsey

Drafted: 2016 (Jacksonville Jaguars), first round, 5th overall pick

Position: Cornerback

2020 salary: $13.7 million

This negotiation is not expected to be easy for the Rams.

The Rams mortgaged their future to acquire Ramsey in a trade with the Jaguars last October, sending the Jags their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks along with a 2021 fourth-round pick.

Expect Ramsey, who turns 26 in October, to have the upper hand throughout negotiations given his understanding of how much the Rams paid to acquire him.

"The Rams know where I stand, I think that's all that matters at the end of the day," Ramsey said in May when asked about the status of contract negotiations. "It will be handled. They know where I stand. They've been in contact with my agent, or you know, they on the same page as my agent."

After his midseason arrival last season, Ramsey made an immediate impact as a lockdown defender and his contributions this season are expected to grow under first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.

"I don't want to overshare, but I'm very excited about the way I'm going to be utilized in this defense, I'll leave it at that," said Ramsey, who describes his role as a defensive back rather than a cornerback. "I think my talents will be shown thoroughly, not just in one aspect."

A three-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro in 2017, Ramsey is worthy of a record-setting contract. The biggest question now is timing, and whether the Rams can make a deal work in anticipation of the salary cap falling.

If the Rams and Ramsey are unable to agree to terms this season, the Rams will have the ability to franchise-tag him.


Cooper Kupp

Drafted: 2017, third round

Position: Receiver

2020 salary: $2.1 million

Over the offseason, Kupp said a contract extension did not rank among his priorities as he focused on his family and ensuring their health and safety amid COVID-19.

But the key playmaker in coach Sean McVay's offense most certainly is a priority for the Rams.

Last season, Kupp made an improbable comeback after undergoing season-ending surgery on his ACL after Week 8 of 2018.

Kupp caught 94 passes for a career-high 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns. He dominated in a Week 8 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, when he caught seven passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.

Expect Kupp to stick around for years to come.


John Johnson III

Drafted: 2017, third round

Position: Safety

2020 salary: $2.1 million

A third-year pro, Johnson has steadily proven himself as playmaker.

Since his arrival, Johnson leads the Rams with seven interceptions. In 32 starts, he has deflected 24 passes and has forced a fumble.

After a fast start in 2019, with two interceptions in the first three games, Johnson suffered a shoulder injury in Week 6 that sent him to injured reserve.

He has since rehabbed and trained tirelessly to produce a bounce-back season and provide a veteran presence among a young group of safeties.

The Rams have expressed a desire to keep Johnson, 24, for the long term, but it remains uncertain how his contract situation will be impacted by the future salary-cap uncertainty.


Josh Reynolds

Drafted: 2017, fourth round

Position: Receiver

2020 salary: $2.1 million

Reynolds has served mostly as a backup the past three years, but his role is expected to grow this season after the Rams traded Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans.

Reynolds started two games in 2019 when Cooks was sidelined because of concussions and also started eight games in 2018 when Kupp was sidelined because of injuries.

In three seasons, Reynolds has caught 61 passes for 832 yards and seven touchdowns.

He will compete this season with rookie Van Jefferson, a receiver from Florida whom the Rams used a second-round pick on in April.


Samson Ebukam

Drafted: 2017, fourth round

Position: Outside linebacker

2020 salary: $2.1 million

Ebukam started as a second-year pro, then took a Year 3 demotion in stride when the Rams signed veteran Clay Matthews to take over as starter.

The Rams have since released Matthews, making room for Ebukam to reclaim his starting role.

In 21 career starts, Ebukam has 9½ sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception.

In 2018, during a historic 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, Ebukam made several game-altering plays, including an interception that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. He also returned a fumble 11 yards for a score in that game.

This could be a big season for Ebukam to prove his playmaking ability.


Gerald Everett

Drafted: 2017, second round

Position: Tight end

2020 salary: $1.3 million

McVay has lauded Everett's talent over the past few seasons, but his production has been uneven.

Last season, Everett registered career highs with 37 receptions and 408 receiving yards. He also caught two touchdown passes. In Week 5, Everett surged with seven receptions and 136 yards in a 30-29 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

However, Everett was sidelined three games late into the season because of wrist and ankle injuries and did not play in Week 16 despite being available.

After the Rams signed Tyler Higbee to a four-year, $29 million extension in 2019, then selected Purdue standout Brycen Hopkins with a fourth-round pick in the NFL draft, it seems Everett's time with the Rams could be limited.