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Jason Smith takes big pay cut to stay in St. Louis


The Lions, who had three top-two picks in the final four years of the big-windfall rookie contract system, eventually have to find a way to sign all three of them to long-term deals.

The Rams wish they had that problem.

With three top-two picks of their own from 2008 through 2010, the Rams have yet to have a true superstar emerge. Quarterback Sam Bradford (the first pick and offensive rookie of the year in 2010) regressed in 2011, and defensive lineman Chris Long (No. 2 in 2008) has shown signs of life after a sluggish start to his career. The worst by far of the trio has been tackle Jason Smith, the second overall selection in 2009.

We reported after the 2011 season ended that Smith eventually would have to reduce his $10 million base salary dramatically or face the chopping block. Jason La Canfora of NFL Network reports that Smith has agreed to slash his pay to $4.5 million.

As part of the deal, the sixth year of Smith’s contract, which already would have gone away, was officially wiped off the books. Due to the absorption of option bonus money that would have applied in 2014, the move drops Smith’s cap number from $13.2675 million to only $11.035 million. But the Rams nevertheless will save $5.5 million in cash.

A greater cash and cap savings will surely come in 2013, where Smith’s base salary of $12 million has been reduced to $750,000 with an $11.25 million roster bonus. It means that, absent a Pro Bowl season in 2012, Smith will be cut in 2013.

The use of a roster bonus will force the Rams to make a decision before the start of the regular season. The earlier that $11.25 million comes due, the better for Smith. If the Rams aren’t going to keep him, he needs to get to the free-agent market while the money is still there.

Concussions and ineffectiveness have hampered Smith. He was picked to be a left tackle, but he was nudged to the right side by 2010 second-rounder Rodger Saffold.

The new contract comes after Smith looked good in this week’s veteran minicamp. “Yeah, he’s good,” Fisher said, according to the team’s website. “He’s been here, he’s been working He’s been working very well inside and his condition level is excellent. We’re excited about a new start for him, if you will.”

In the end, he looked $4.5 million good, not $10 million good.

But that’s a lot better than $0.00 good.