Thursday, May 31, 2012

By: Howard Balzer

Ever since Jeff Fisher was hired as the Rams' head coach in January, he has been unwavering in his support for quarterback Sam Bradford. Most recently, Fisher told Jim Rome, "The reason I came here is because of Sam. We've got a franchise quarterback here."

Repeating a theme he has said frequently this offseason, Fisher added, "You have to kind of delete last year, look back to the way he played his rookie year, under Pat Shurmur, who did a great job with him in this offense. We're very excited. Brian Schottenheimer's an outstanding coach and we've got a fabulous quarterbacks coach in Frank Cignetti. They're off to a real good start. It's really fun to watch him work and watch him improve."

While that all is probably true, a recent restructuring of Bradford's contract along with the original terms would make it easier for the team to move on from Bradford if he doesn't perform at a high level for the next two seasons.

Remember the constant mentions of the $50 million guaranteed in Bradford's six-year, $78 million contract? Well, the restructuring has removed $6 million of those absolute guarantees, including a total of $6.41 million from the final two years of his deal. However, that latter money accelerated into his 2013 salary when the team exercised an option bonus in 2011.

Getting most of the attention in the restructuring that was signed on May 9 is the conversion of his $12 million base salary for this season into a $6 million roster bonus with the other $6 million remaining as base salary. The bonus was paid when he signed, giving Bradford the money immediately, and there is no effect on the salary cap because roster bonuses count fully in the year they are paid. League sources said the Rams were simply trying to "clean up" some language from his rookie deal and the roster bonus was offered as a "thank you."

There was a change in the guaranteed aspect of his base salary for this year. Previously, the $12 million was guaranteed for skill and injury; skill meaning a player is paid even if he is released because of performance. However, his new $6 million salary is now guaranteed only for injury. In the extremely unlikely event Bradford would be released before the season, the Rams would not be liable for his salary for this season.

They would, however, still be on the hook for $8 million in salary in 2013, which is guaranteed for skill and injury. His total salary next year is $9 million. It does make you wonder why the skill guarantee was removed this year. It could simply be a concession by agent Tom Condon to receive the money in advance when he knows Bradford won't be released.

As for 2014 and 2015, Bradford's salaries remain $14.015 and $12.985 million, respectively, but none of the money is guaranteed. In his old contract, $2.805 million was guaranteed in 2014 and $3.605 million in 2015.

None of the restructuring changes any salary cap charges, which are $15.595 million this year, $12.595 million in 2013, $17.610 million in 2014 and $16.58 million in 2015. Each of those figures includes a yearly prorated signing bonus total of $3.595 million.

If the Rams were to go in another direction after 2013, the remaining cap charge would be $7.19 million and could be split over two years.

Also notable is that Bradford still has $48 million in cash left on his contract, but if it is played out, there is a total of $62.38 million in cap charges remaining.

Having said all that, what is certainly possible is that Bradford plays well and continues to improve, clearing the way for a new contract and extension entering the 2014 season that would convert those base salaries into a signing bonus and thus reduce the cap hits.