A Prison Without Walls

You know that mime schtick where they pretend their trapped in a shrinking box?  That’s what the press claims cap jail is like.  And most people are talking about the Skins as a team in cap prison.  It is true that we started this offseason 20 million over the cap, but we have already started to trim that just by monkeying with contracts. For instance, we took four million off the cap by converting some of Randy Thomas’s contract into bonuses.

Anyway, despite being over the cap, the Skins have already indicated that they are interested in top flight free agents like Lance Briggs and trades for players like Chad Johnson.  Clearly, we believe this prison has no walls and we’ll be active players in the trade market even though we’re keeping the major core of the team intact.  Let’s look at this from two points of view.  First, how the heck did we get 20 million over the cap?  And second, are there long term ramifications even if we sign a big free agent this year?

The best way to see how we got here is the incomparable and meticulous salary database at Hogs.net. Seriously, I could look at this thing all day, and those guys deserve a medal just for putting it together.  One only need look at this to see a huge number of players are hitting the backloaded portions of their contracts.  Check some of these numbers:

Clinton Portis 2007 Cap Hit: 3.9 million 2008 Cap Hit: 8.8 million

Chris Cooley 2007 Cap Hit: 1.1 million 2008 Cap Hit: 7.1 million

Jon Jansen 2007 Cap Hit: 3.4 million 2008 Cap Hit: 8.8 million

These guys are prime renegotiation targets (particularly Jansen who has been injury prone and Stephon Heyer has shown to be capable fo stepping in) just like Randy Thomas who’s cap number was going to rise from 3.3 million to 8.7 million.

If you add up the 3 guys above plus the savings already reported by the Post article with Thomas and Andre Carter, we could be under the cap.  So, assuming these guys (or others like Cornelius Griffin, Shawn Springs, or Chris Samuels) play ball, this is going to be no problem. 

But let’s say all of the guys above renegotiate and push back their big years or take big bonuses or whatever voodoo it is that we’re going to do.  We’ve been doing this for years. This past year we paid Adam Arculetta, Taylor Jacobs, John Hall and over 30 other players in “dead cap space.”  Some of this is the cost of doing business in the NFL.  A lot of the guys on the list were roster fillers who very easily could have made the team if things broke right. Guys like Dallas Sartz, Ade Jimoh, Nemo Broughton are all over the list.  And then there were mistakes like Archuleta.

Among the list of guys we’ll be renegotiating with are players who are either old or fragile.  I love Jon Jansen, but he may never be the same after two major leg injuries.  I love Cornelius Griffin and Shawn Springs, but both are near the end of their careers.  It is likely we will be paying several of these guys long after they are no longer taking significant snaps for the Redskins.  While teams like the Bucs are $30 million under the cap and can basically buy whoever they want, we’re fudging around to grab one or two big catches.  Does it matter?

Probably not this year.  We’re a veteran team with few obvious holes.  But with the exception of last year where the new CBA raised the cap by a huge number, we’ve been having this conversation for years.  How many years can we hang out on the edges of the cap?  One of the problems with a veteran team is that the wheels tend to fall off all at once and if you are in cap prison you can’t sign fresh blood quickly.

There are two ways to get out of cap jail:

1) Rip the band aid off.  Just release everybody and start rebuilding from scratch.  The Titans recently did this and have been rebuilding nicely.  But the Redskins are not the kind of franchise to do this.  We have expectations of competing every year and ripping the band aid off is admiting you aren’t going to compete for at least 2 or 3 years.

2) Drafting well.  When you draft well, you can afford to replace the veterans without giving them the big deals that keep them happy but hurt the cap.  You want to get yourself in place where the only big number guys in your cap are all-pro, irreplaceable types.  Fortunately for the Skins, we have a real load of draft picks this year and seem to be commiting to using them on actual players.  And our recent picks have shown we know what we’re doing. Despite having a reputation for relying heavily on free agents Jason Campbell, Rocky McIntosh, HB Blades, Chris Cooley, Sean Taylor, Laron Landry, Anthony Montgomery, Stephon Heyer, Ladell Betts, Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen are all major factors on this team and all were drafted while Cerrato worked for the team in some capacity.

So, the upcoming draft isn’t just a chance to add the talent we need to take the next step, it is also important to help us get out of the cap problems we’re in.  If we have two or three straight good draft classes, we can let the vets go gently and without hurting the cap.  If we can’t do that, there’s going to be a big bubble burst in the next couple of years.  Let’s hope Vinny is up to the task.


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Tags: Draft Free Agents Washington Redskins Cap Space

  • http://insidetheiggles.com/ Ian – Inside the Iggles

    1) When you restructure a contract, it actually guarantees that player more money down the line. In the short term the Skins get some cap space, but in the long run it just digs you in a deeper hole.2) The Skins would be able to draft well if they didn’t trade away half their draft picks. They actually have more than 3 this year.3) What if Sean Taylor(RIP) was never murdered? The Skins would have probably ended up losing out on a great player because of poor cap management.4) The Redskins have spent more money on free agents than any other team in the NFL since 2000. They overpay their own players, spend big money on guys on the downside of their career, and give up valuable draft picks to trade for talent. This method has proven to fail, and the Redskins continue to make the same mistakes. I truly hope they give up their first round pick for Chad Johnson, and then make him the highest paid receiver in the NFL. It will just be another mistake.

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  • gehenna

    I can understand how any team that has less than 20 million of the salary cap wide open must seem crazy and foolish to an Eagles fan.   We have signed some bad players in free agency but we’ve become more disciplined recently.  Unlike the eagles, we’re actually learning from our mistakes and not doggedly commiting the same mistakes over and over and over again.

  • http://RiggosRag David

    Ian:1) That isn’t actually automatically true.  Some of what the Redskins do is guarantee previously unguaranteed money.  You can do this when your owner isn’t a cheapskate (and sadly when your owner charges a billion dollars for parking).  But yes, my point was that this is my fear.  If we renegotiate with Cornelius Griffin we are putting off his cap hit and making it bigger so that when he is no longer useful it will be worse. 2) Again, my point.  We have a real slate of draft picks this year and other than the now dead Chad Johnson trade have made no efforts to trade them away. 3) We wouldn’t have lost out on Taylor.  Had Taylor never been shot we obviously would have offered him a huge contract, but it would have been mostly in prorated signing and roster bonuses.  It is easy to keep a cap number low at the beginning of a new contract.  And even if this wasn’t possible, we would have maybe lost out on Lance Briggs or whoever we would have gone after in free agnecy this year, but Sean Taylor was obviously a Redskins for life. 4) Yup, we have.  But think about it this way.  The first years of the Snyder era we grabbed guys like Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders who sucked even when got them.  We moved towards a policy where with some exceptions (like Adam Archuleta) we were getting good free agents like London Fletcher, Andre Carter, Shawn Springs, and Cornelius Griffin. The error was in the trades and the resticted free agent signings.  But at the time I can see how they made sense.  It was an attempt to get young players in their prime instead of the retreads we had just gone through. Last year, the Skins filled specific holes in free agency– CB depth (Smoot, Macklin, etc), middle linebacker (Fletcher), and otherwise used the draft (Laron Landry) to fill any other holes.  In other words, the change is already happening and you just missed it. You can argue against Cerrato or Zorn being appointed to their positions, but there is no way you can argue we haven’t adopted the right plan recently when it comes to the draft and free agency. We’ve learned the lesson you think we haven’t learned.-DW