As I sat down to write this piece I noticed that the NFL has just released the schedule for next season. Like any die hard fan the first thing I did was check my Rams’ upcoming games. Huge sigh of relief. Beside a Week 2 grudge match with the Saints and dates with the Steelers & Ravens this would appear to be one of the easiest schedules in the NFC. 12-4 at least, Grandkids. Mark my words.
I’ve lived in LA since escaping the doldrums of St. Louis (Misery...er...Missouri) 13 years ago. Before moving to Heaven on Earth I’d spent 17 years there trying, in vain, not to transform into another besotted mouth breather.
In STL you inevitably learn to fall in with the 5 Bs: Baseball, Blues Hockey, Budweiser, Brats & Big Ass Fat People. The Cardinals & their Busch Overlords are King and always will be.
Even after the LA Rams moved to town in 1994 and soon won us a miracle Super Bowl title with Kurt Warner (plus the one the Pats stole from us a year later), 11 World Series titles continued to be the bar our NFL team had to clear to capture the hearts and minds of my Gateway City contemporaries. Nothing less would do. Translation: St. Louis is a baseball town.
Despite the impossibly high bar, I still became a devoted Rams fan and stuck by them even after the foolishly traded away Warner and disintegrated into the trash team they remained for the rest of their tenure in St. Lou. When I moved to LA I continued pulling for them. I even took it on the chin and likely damaged multiple friendships celebrating the Rams seemingly unpopular return to LA - not merely due to my undying love for them, but also because I knew how little the STL folks actually cared about them. Ever since I have rooted for them with an almost religious fervor and have attended multiple home games every year.
While I surely am critical of the way St. Louis has poured salt all over the Rams since they fled the Midwest, I do understand why the rest of the country hates LA. It’s not just because we have the best weather, hottest women & choicest beaches - it’s because everyone who lives here is unabashedly Bandwagon when it comes to sports.
There are multiple reasons for this but let’s cut to the root of it and spare us all the power point presentation: LA is a city of transplants. My neighbors have moved from Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, Portland, Seattle, Dallas & Denver. Hardly anyone was born here and even those native Angelenos I know are quick to cease caring the second one of our local teams stops producing a successful & entertaining product. Also let’s face it: with two football teams, two baseball teams, two basketball teams, two hockey teams, two soccer teams, two competitive college football teams and a thriving film/music scene why would anyone get too hung up on any one avenue? There are at least 10-20 Bandwagons rolling at all times! It's just a way of life out here.
That said, the Rams have begun to capture the city’s attention over the past couple of years. Funny how winning does that. While this has not necessarily translated in massive fan turnout yet, their slugfest Super Bowl loss to the Evil Empire has surely bred goodwill in the community and positively affected season ticket sales for their new, pristine stadium, due to open in 2020. Also the off-season acquisition of So Cal stalwarts and household names Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews has bolstered confidence that the Rams are not resting on their laurels, but continuing to build a championship caliber team without wasting the big bucks they need to save for re-signing Jarod Goff when his rookie contract expires next year.
All this, plus Tiger Effing Woods just won The Masters and everyone is all over it.. The Rams may have been humbled by the Patriots and their band of Masshole fans. They may have been maligned in NOLA and the press for a blown PI call. They may have more visiting team fans than home team fans at every game next year. But damnit - Eldrick 'Fused Back' Woods is the King of Golf again. And America is all on that Bandwagon together. So, welcome to the LA way of thinking people. The Rams are here to stay.
Rams Win The Super Bowl Next Year.
Congrats Big Cat!!
Tucker Booth is our Blitzed Entertainment correspondent and a huge Rams fan. He's also an accomplished musician. You can check out some of his music here.
This season an unprecedented eight NFL teams will have new head coaches. And for six of these coaches, it will be their first time running the whole show.
Bruce Arians has stepped out of the booth and back onto the field in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have floundered recently and Jameis Winston hasn’t grown or flourished the way we expected him to when he was drafted in 2015. Perhaps promoting former NFL QB turned offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be the first step in turning Winston around.
But the seven other coaches have their work cut out for them. Let’s take a look at these “rookies” and, maybe the biggest key to their success, who will be under center as they take the field.
The toughest job has to belong to Kliff Kingsbury, taking over the 3-13 Cardinals and rookie QB Josh Rosen. He worked with some familiar names during his tenure as head coach at Texas Tech, including Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. While I hope he as the chance to work with Rosen, rumors abound that the Cardinals might trade Rosen for a chance at Kyler Murray in the draft.
The Denver Broncos (6-10) surprised many with the hire of Vic Fangio, and more were stunned when they signed veteran QB Joe Flacco. After four years as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, Fangio knows how to stop opponents. But, as he also found out in Chicago, good defense isn’t enough without a QB and an offense. Flacco feels more like a safe choice to buy them time and not really a long-term answer.
Aaron Rodgers is absolutely an elite quarterback. Is he enough to stand behind Matt LaFleur as he takes over in Green Bay? An incredibly disappointing 6-9-1 season that was laden with injuries tells part of the story. And word on the street is that Rodgers and former head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t actually see eye-to-eye, which Rodgers has now refuted. LaFleur has worked for a few NFL teams as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, so that should help their relationship.
When you are in a division with the New England Patriots, you just get used to settling for second place. But the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets are trying to show that it’s not good enough to settle, and both teams made coaching changes as well as QB changes.
Leaving the Dolphins, Adam Gase may not be a rookie, but he’s got something to prove as heads to the New York Jets and takes over managing Sam Darnold. His rookie year left a whole lot of question marks as to his abilities. After the QB carousel Gase dealt with in Miami, it should be interesting to see what he can do with the #2 pick from last year’s draft. Given time and resources, this should be the kind of QB he can build a team around.
Plus, those new uniforms are sweet.
Brian Flores leaves New England to take over the struggling 7-9 Miami Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick was a great off-season addition and should be an asset to the defensive-minded Flores. From scouting to defensive coordinator, Flores worked his way through the Patriots organization. He learned from the master himself, Bill Belichick. If anyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Dolphins, it’s him. I’ve got a feeling we’ll see 9 or 10 wins this season.
Lastly, we come to my home division: the AFC North. A division in turmoil, with the Ravens and Steelers on the decline – at least that’s what I like to believe. It’s a division ripe for the taking and both of the Ohio teams are making moves.
Zac Taylor was a wide receiver and quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams. He’s worked with Jared Goff. No one knows what, if anything, Andy Dalton has left in his tank, but if the Bengals can find a way to get Murray or Dwayne Haskins or some other young QB to develop, Taylor is the guy to do it. After taking over the bottom spot in the division at 6-10 last year, fans were beyond thrilled that Taylor was hired to right the ship.
I try to be objective. I fail, but I try. Freddie Kitchens has the best job in this bunch with Baker Mayfield under center. The team that went 1-15 then 0-16 just a short while ago, made huge strides to finish 7-8-1 last year. Kitchens was named the interim offensive coordinator after week 8 and earned the respect of the players, the front office, the fans, and most importantly, general manager John Dorsey. His relationship with Mayfield seems to be solid and, if they continue to click, this team is headed to the playoffs.
We’ve made it to part three of my three-part series on the NFL salary cap. We conclude with guaranteed money and how it fits into everything. Now guaranteed money has nothing to do with betting that Blake Bortles will never lead a team to a Super Bowl win. Guaranteed money is money in a player’s contract that he will make regardless as to whether he stays with his team for the entirety of his contract. For example if a player signs a five-year, $55 million contract with $22 million guaranteed, it means that even if he gets cut after the first year, he’ll get the entire $11 million from year two of the deal ($11 million for the year he played plus the $11 million for year two gets you the $22 million guaranteed). Guaranteed money gives you an idea of what risk a team takes on with a player’s contract. The Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $87 million contract with every dollar guaranteed. No matter what happens, the Vikings are on the hook to pay Cousins ever dime. I’d love the chance to suck at my job and still get all of my money.
Guaranteed money can be an issue with salary cap if a player is cut before he actually earns all of his guaranteed money. Let’s take the Cousins’ deal as an example. The current deal, to keep things simple, would count $29 million per season against the salary cap. Now if the Vikings decided in the off season to cut him, the cap hit for the upcoming 2019 season would be $58 million, not $29 million because they’d have to pay him for the remainder of the contract. This is why you see teams hesitant to guarantee money in player contracts but we’re in an age where players have become more aware of health issues related to playing the game so they want their money guaranteed for their own security.
As a kind of compromise, you will often see players get large signing bonuses as part of their contracts. Teams are allowed to prorate these signing bonuses up to five years against the salary cap while the player is getting all of the money up front. Let’s look at an example. A player signs a five-year, $20 million contract with no guaranteed money. Teams won’t normally spread that evenly over five years. They’ll probably back load it in case they want to cut the player early in the deal. Backloading will mean less against the cap up front. Let’s say for this contract It’s $2 million for year one, $3 million for year two, $4 million for year three, $5 million for year four, and $6 million for year five. As an incentive to get him to sign, the team pays him a $20 million signing bonus. The team doesn’t need to take all of that against the cap in year one. They are allowed to take $4 million per year over the five years of the contract so it’s actually $6 million against the cap in year one, $7 million in year two, $8 million in year three, $9 million in year four, and $10 million in year five. On the downside if the player doesn’t make it through the entire contract, any remaining balance cannot be prorated and must be taken against the cap in the year the player is no longer with the team.
So there’s your tutorial on the NFL salary cap and how certain aspects of a contract affect it. Hopefully you got something out of this. Maybe you’ll amaze your friends at the bar with your contract knowledge. Maybe they’ll tell you they’re going to take a leak and they won’t come back because you’ve bored the hell out of them. In any case, knowledge is power and you just added some. Score!
Until next time, don’t take any wooden nickels, tell ‘em you want straight cash, Homie, and don’t take a penny for your thoughts if you put in your two cents because someone’s making a penny there and it’s not you.
Yours in football,
Mike Zimmers Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan and regular contributor on Blitzed. He also hosts his own Vikings podcast Sound the Gjallahorn.