A big free agency day for the Redskins

A big free agency day for the Redskins
March 27, 2013, 8:00 am
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The Redskins will be playing some high stakes free agency poker today as two player visits are scheduled. One is in Ashburn, the other in Buffalo.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield is visiting Redskins Park today. The Redskins would like to sign him to boost their ailing defensive secondary. Meanwhile, tight end Fred Davis is shuffling off to Buffalo, where the Bills organization will try to persuade him that frigid temperatures really aren’t that bad and that they fully intend to find an upgrade to Tavaris Jackson at quarterback.

The Redskins go into today squeezed by lack of salary cap space. CSN Washington's Tarik El-Bashir, citing a league source, is reporting that the Redskins are $3.29 million under the salary cap. That might be enough to get both Winfield and Davis in the fold on short-term contracts. But they still need money to sign their draft picks and they will want to go into the season with some cap room in reserve to deal with injuries.

Although how the Redskins were able to create the cap space isn’t currently known—they were about a million dollars under the cap after their initial flurry of free agent moves—the only options left to them were to release players or to restructure contracts. Since we got no news of the former it is fairly safe to assume that a player or players had their contracts restructured.

How can the Redskins fit Winfield, who made $3 million last year and was slated to make $7.25 million in 2013 before the Vikings released him just before the start of free agency, under such a tight cap? They don’t want to sign Winfield, who turns 36 in June, to a long-term contract but they need to do a deal that minimizes the first-year cap hit.

If they sign Winfield they are likely to use London Fletcher’s contract as a model, at least in terms of structure. A year ago they gave Fletcher, who was about to turn 37, what was essentially a two-year contract with a $3.5 million signing bonus. In order to spread out the cap impact of the signing bonus they made it on paper a five-year deal but the last three automatically void. That allowed his signing bonus to be charged at $700,000 per year against the cap for 2012 and 2013 rather than the $1.75 million that would have been charged in a straight two-year deal.

The Redskins will pay the piper in 2014. When the last three years void, the remaining $2.1 million of Fletcher’s signing bonus will accelerate into next year’s salary cap as dead money. Bruce Allen doesn’t like to do that but sometimes it’s just a part of the cost of doing business.

Although the dollar numbers could be different, a similar structure could be used to sign Winfield for one or two years and have a good chunk of his compensation charged to 2014 or 2015.

Davis is also in line for a short-term deal but for different reasons. He needs to reestablish himself as a valuable offensive weapon after having his 2011 season cut short due to a drug suspension and losing over half of 2012 to a Achilles injury.

They could use a similar voidable years deal to get Davis in the fold but the better way to do it might be through incentives. He could get a base salary and roster bonus payable if he is on the roster (and not on PUP or injured reserve) to open the regular season. That money would be charged to the cap as soon as the contract is signed. But they could put in some reasonable incentives that could boost his pay and, if they are structured the right way, not count against the 2013 cap. They would be charged to 2014.

Davis said yesterday that he will also be meeting with the Jets later this week.

If the Redskins can land Winfield to shore up their secondary and retain Davis, who is a legitimate offensive weapon when he is healthy and on the field, they will have taken a couple of big steps toward defending their NFC East title. If they lose out on one or both, holes will remain.