NFC East: What you need to know

NFC East: What you need to know

New York Giants (9-7, 394 Points For, won Super Bowl): Eli Manning's pass attempts have risen for three straight years and he's coming off an 8.4 YPA, best of his career. Forget balance in New York, this is Manning's team now, a pass-first scheme. Hakeem Nicks is recovering quickly from his foot injury - don't worry about picking him in the Top 3-4 rounds - and Victor Cruz looks capable of playing outside the formation as well as he does in the slot. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is one of the toughest backs in the league, but the laundry list of injuries will take a tax eventually. The Giants selected RB David Wilson in the first round, looking to give Bradshaw a caddy. Holdover D.J. Ware has some skills, too. Bottom line, when you look at Big Blue for fantasy purposes, focus on the passing game. Manning, Nicks and Cruz have been surprisingly affordable in most standard leagues this month.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-8, 396 PF): The Eagles looked like a sneaky breakout pick a couple of months ago, given that they won their last four games last year and don't have gigantic public pressure entering 2012. But if Michael Vick's thumb and rib injuries aren't fully healed by opening day, all bets are off. Vick only scored one rushing touchdown last year after nine the previous campaign; split the difference and you still get a nice fantasy kickback. But expecting a full season from him is a fool's errand; he's done it once in nine pro seasons. LeSean McCoy is an elite running back and worthy of a Top 3 overall pick, though his best game comes as a counter-punch to Vick (scrambling quarterbacks create wide defenses and rushing lanes). Jeremy Maclin is the receiver you want in Philly, more reliable than explosive-but-combustible DeSean Jackson.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8, 369 PF): Under most circumstances we'd be on board with Tony Romo, but everything on this offense seems to be crumbling around him. Jason Witten has a spleen injury (push him out of the Top 10 at tight end), Miles Austin's hamstrings are barking, and Dez Bryant has been a high-maintenance act his entire career. The Dallas offensive line also looks like a hot mess, which limits the buzz for second-year back DeMarco Murray. The Pokes have finally moved on from Felix Jones; he's a secondary piece at most, and isn't even guaranteed to make the team. The Cowboys fantasy defense has some sleeper value, given the presence of sack-master DeMarco Ware.

Washington Redskins (5-11, 288 PF): Ah, the poor Redskins. Even when they do something right, it turns into a rocky road. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin certainly appears ready to play right away, though Kirk Cousins is also showing a strong camp and has his supporters as well. The money invested in Griffin will secure him the gig, and it's the right choice; don't look for a Cam Newton breakout, but he can be a Top 12-15 fantasy QB right away. The receiving group is surprisingly deep, with Pierre Garcon coming over to team with experienced Santana Moss and intriguing Leonard Hankerson. Tight end Fred Davis is an intermediate threat as well. But forget the backfield, where Mike Shanahan can't be trusted (and several options loom). Roy Helu still looks like the best talent of the lot, but the club seems taken by Evan Royster right now, and Alfred Morris and Tim Hightower complicate the situation.

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Need to Know: Can the Redskins really afford to franchise tag Kirk Cousins in 2018?

Need to Know: Can the Redskins really afford to franchise tag Kirk Cousins in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 24, 20 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp on May 22.

Timeline

It’s been 143 days since the Redskins played a game. Their season opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field is in 109 days.

Days until:

—Redskins minicamp (6/13) 20
—Training camp starts (7/27) 64
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 78

Is the 2018 Cousins tag threat a bluff?

On Monday, Redskins president Bruce Allen reiterated that the team is willing to use the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins for the third straight year.

“In the collective bargaining agreement, we really have one year and an option that we can do at the end of next season if we don’t get a contract,” said Allen when asked if the team would use the franchise or transition tag on Cousins in 2018. He has said something similar on previous media interviews this year.

This year Cousins is getting the tag for the second time in his career. That gives him 120 percent of his 2016 salary which comes to just under $24 million. A third franchise tag in 2018, which would either give the Redskins exclusive negotiating rights or a possible choice between matching an offer sheet from another team or getting draft pick compensation, would get Cousins a 144 percent increase over this season, or a whopping $34.5 million.

The franchise tag would give the Redskins the power to unilaterally lock up Cousins for the 2018 season. It is expensive, by design. Could the Redskins afford to wield that power? Or is Allen just bluffing?

A look at the numbers makes it look like Allen is bluffing.

According to Over the Cap, the Redskins have $127 million in salary cap commitments in 2018. Based on recent growth trends the salary cap will be an estimated $178 million. That gives the Redskins $51 million in cap room.

Cousins’ $34.5 million salary for a third tag would hit the 2018 cap all at once as soon as the tag is applied. You don’t have to be a master capologist to do the math and figure out that such a move would leave the Redskins with $16.5 million in salary cap space.

A look at the top-line number doesn’t seem that bad. Eight teams would have less cap space than Washington so others, like the Cowboys, Eagles, and Chiefs, would be worse off.

But the problem with the Redskins’ situation is twofold. First, 21 of their current players are slated to be unrestricted free agents in 2018. Not all of them are key contributors. But they would have to squeeze to bring back the likes of Zach Brown, Terrelle Pryor, Spencer Long, and Bashaud Breeland. If they don’t re-sign them they will have to go to the free agent market for replacements and that will tough to do with so little money to work with.

The other issue is that they don’t have any fat to cut from their cap. They could save from $4.5 million to $8 million by cutting one of the four players with the highest cap numbers. But they aren’t going to be better if they cut loose Josh Norman, Jordan Reed, Trent Williams or Ryan Kerrigan.

Going down the list of top cap hits, they would save no money by letting Brandon Scherff go since his salary is fully guaranteed. Washington would take a net loss of cap space by cutting Morgan Moses and releasing Vernon Davis would save just $1.1 million. In fact, other than the top four mentioned above there are no players the Redskins could release who would save more than $1.6 million in net cap space.

The Redskins could create more cap room by restructuring some of their highest-paid players. But a simple restructure, where salary is converted to signing bonus, spreading the cap impact over the remaining years of the deal, doesn’t save any real money. The cap hit is merely pushed back into future seasons. Bruce Allen has been reluctant to do this and he is right to think that way. Restructures should only be used in a “break glass in case of emergency” situations, not as a regular way of doing business.

In short, tagging Cousins for $34.5 million would force the Redskins to lose quality players or to use cap management tactics that run against their philosophy, or some combination of both. While you can’t rule out the tag on Cousins, there is enough there to make the possibility remote.

Mike McCartney, Cousins’ agent, can look at these numbers and figure out that Allen is bluffing about a 2018 franchise tag as well as I can. It will be close to a non-factor in negotiations.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Ervin Santana tosses 2-hitter as Twins beat Orioles

Ervin Santana tosses 2-hitter as Twins beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Ervin Santana pitched a two-hitter for his 10th career shutout, Brian Dozier homered and the surging Minnesota Twins beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-0 Tuesday night.

After banging out 21 hits in a 14-7 win over Baltimore on Monday, the AL Central-leading Twins relied on exceptional pitching to earn their ninth victory in 13 games.

Santana (7-2) struck out six, walked two and permitted only one runner past first base. The lone hits against the right-hander were a second-inning single by Welington Castillo and a single in the fifth by Jonathan Schoop.

It was Santana's 18th complete game, the second this season. He finished by retiring the last 14 batters.

Minnesota became the first team this season to capture a series at Camden Yards (the Orioles were 7-0-0). Now 16-5 on the road, the Twins on Wednesday will seek to complete their first three-game sweep in Baltimore since 1996.

Dylan Bundy (5-3) pitched well for the Orioles, but Santana was better. Bundy allowed two runs and six hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking three.

Byron Buxton hit an RBI single in the fifth and Dozier connected in the seventh for a 2-0 lead.

A crowd of 13,294 endured a persistent rain shower that wasn't quite fierce enough to cause umpires to stop play.

The weather suited Santana just fine. He lowered his ERA to 1.80 and improved to 4-0 with a 0.31 ERA on the road.

MORE ORIOLES: 2017 MLB Power Rankings: Where do the Orioles place?