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Cap-tastrophe?

Cap-tastrophe?

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

Over the weekend, two almost identical articles by Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline and Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com came to almost identical conclusions in regards to the Redskins salary cap situation. They both claimed to have talked to a trio of cap experts from various places and these experts told them that the Redskins were in a cap situation that was so untenable that they may be forced to make drastic cuts to get under the cap. The Redskins, they say, may be forced to play the 2006 season with 15-20 rookies making the minimum in order to get in compliance with the cap rules. There would have to be an unprecedented bloodbath in regards to the roster.

As those two writers are notorious for their frequent anti-Redskins biases, their pieces were immediately met with derision from all around Redskins nation. “There they go again,” was the common refrain.

Well, this observer, accused of being a homer far more often than he’s called anti-Redskins, is here to tell you that, as painful as it may be to say it, what Pete and Lenny said is by and large true. If there is no extension of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before the free agency period begins on March 3, the Redskins will officially take up residence in the dreaded cap hell. The Redskins took a gamble and, as of right now, it looks as though they may well lose it.

The gamble they took was to insert roster bonuses into the contracts signed by Marcus Washington, Clinton Portis, and others. Since these bonuses are not guaranteed, they all count towards the 2006 salary cap, pushing it up to a number that is some $20 million over the limit, which will likely come in at $95 million.

The Redskins had to structure those deals in that way in order to make them acceptable under the current collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The gamble that they took was that the CBA would be extended and revised before the ’06 free agency season began. That would allow them to guarantee the roster bonuses for those players, meaning that they could spread out the impact over the life of the contract. That would, for example, lower Shawn Springs’ cap number by some $2.3 million, Portis’ by $2.25 million. The cap savings by this accounting procedure would total $15 million. The rest of the overage could easily be handled by cutting some fringe players and restructuring some other contracts.

It was a reasonable gamble at the time the contracts were drawn up. The NFL and the NFLPA have never before gone to the brink of an uncapped year, which is what 2007 would be under the current CBA, before extending the agreement. However, we find ourselves about 10 days before free agency starts and a CBA extension does not appear to be imminent. In Sunday’s Washington Post an NFLPA representative said that the chances of reaching a deal were not very good. That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or won’t happen. It means that every minute that passes without a new agreement pushes the Redskins a minute closer to entering cap hell.

Without a CBA extension the Redskins will need some very creative measures, some very painful decisions and/or some unprecedented cooperation by many players to get under the cap. There will be an article here Tuesday on WarpathInsiders.com that will look at some creative options. Right now, though, let’s focus on the latter two.

One of the problems with cutting players is that with the contracts structured as they are and the fact that most of the contracts are pretty new, there isn’t much money to be saved in releasing a lot of players with big camp numbers. For example, LaVar Arrington counts about $12 million towards the ’06 cap, but releasing him would result in a slightly higher cap charge than that because of uncharged money already paid to him. It’s like being upside down on a car loan, when the car is worth less than the payoff amount. Cutting Arrington would the put Redskins further away from the goal of being able to get under the cap. The same is true of such players who might be considered expendable in a crisis such as Mark Brunell and Davis Patten.

Now, to be sure, there are players that the team could release that actually could save money. Some of these players are ones that the Redskins would rather not cut such as Marcus Washington, Ladell Betts, Jon Jansen and Joe Salave’a. However, the Redskins could cut those four plus Taylor Jacobs, Renaldo Wynn, Pierson Prioleau, Philip Daniels, James Thrash, Cory Raymer, John Hall, Patrick Ramsey, Walt Harris, and Matt Bowen and still be about $8 million shy of being able to make it under the cap.

To realize the maximum cap savings, which are obviously necessary, these players would have to be replaced with rookies earning the minimum salary. Thus the “15-20 rookies” alluded to by Prisco and Pasquerelli.

The Redskins will not release all of the players on the list above. To make up the difference and to clear the remaining cap space they will have to restructure some contracts and, in the process, ask some players to give back real money.

This doesn’t happen very often. Usually when you hear about a player redoing his contract to help the team create cap room he doesn’t give up a dime. It’s usually just a matter of deferring something or guaranteeing all or part of a salary to spread out the cap hit. The player is not, as many believe, “taking one for the team” when he cooperates in such restructurings.

But it appears that if the Redskins are going to be able to scrape under the cap without losing some key players in the prime of their careers some players are going to have to take a pay cut, plain and simple. And if they don’t, well, the Redskins will enter another level of hell altogether.

Again, more on that in an article here on Tuesday. The point here is to tell you that, without a CBA extension, Chicken Little (and Pete and Lenny) will be right. The sky will be falling. A whole slew of players that have been solid contributors will be gone. There will be so many young players on the roster that the team mascot will have to be changed to Barney. The Redskins won’t be able to afford any free agents; heck, they won’t be able to afford cab fare for a free agent from Dulles to Redskins Park.

There is the possibility that a CBA extension will get done and none of this will have to happen. It’s very difficult to assess the chances of that happening; it may not look good now but a breakthrough in the negotiations could occur at any time. But if it doesn’t, well, things will get ugly. If you’re a Redskins fan, keep your fingers crossed, hang a horseshoe in a appropriate spot, be on the lookout for four-leaf clovers, or whatever you do to try to bring on good luck. This isn’t typical media anti-Redskins spin.

It’s the real thing.

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How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

How a simple bet between Alabama rookies Allen and Anderson could pay big dividends for Redskins

The Redskins ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in a number of defensive categories in 2016, and the first and second round selections in the 2017 Draft should help to address that.

A huge part of the Washington defensive problems stemmed from an inability to get off the field on third downs, and Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson should immediately provide a pass rush boost. In 2016, the duo combined for 18.5 sacks, 8.5 coming from Anderson and another 10 from Allen, two huge pieces for the excellent Alabama defense.

On the pro level, Anderson may actually be in position for more sacks as he's likely to play outside linebacker in the Redskins 3-4 scheme. Allen will be more of an interior presence, a natural fit for the 'Skins defensive end spot in the 3-4.

That doesn't mean the two won't compete to hit quarterbacks. 

RELATED: Gruden squashes notion that Alabama defenders do not succeed in NFL

Asked Saturday if there would be a bet between the two college teammates about who gets more sacks their rookie season, Anderson quickly responded, "definitely."

Though he was surprised by the bet, Allen wasn't going to back down from the challenge. (Full video above)

"I guess there is now, I didn't know about it 'til now," Allen said. 

As for the stakes of the bet, Allen said the pair of rookies will figure that out behind closed doors. 

"His bank account is a little longer than mine so we will have to figure something else out," Anderson said.

What's clear from hanging out with both players is their familiarity with one another will help both players transition to the NFL. Allen and Anderson said they had an emotional response when they learned they would continue to play together in Washington. 

"There's very few players that have better film or resume than this guy right here," Allen said of Anderson. 

Anderson, as the Redskins press group has quickly learned, has a certain way with words. Honest and funny, but to the point.

"I'm excited to have one of my dogs with me here," he said of Allen. 

The Redskins ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks in 2016, but will lose Trent Murphy for four games to start the year. Sacks are just one metric to measure defensive success, though an easily quantifiable and fun metric for fans.

Where Washington has to improve is on 3rd downs. In 2016, they allowed a confounding 97 third down conversions, good for 31st in the league. There's only 32 teams. What's worse? The 'Skins gave nine fourth down conversions too.

Regardless of sack totals, Allen and Anderson were brought to Washington to help this defense get off the field. Coming from the Crimson Tide, the two rookies seem up for the challenge. 

MORE REDSKINS: Grading the Redskins 2017 draft

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Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Grading the Redskins' 2017 draft

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we must dig in a little more to come up with a grade for the draft headed up by Bruce Allen. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—B

There really isn’t enough to love or to hate here. They didn’t do much wheeling and dealing while on the clock, making only a minor deal with the Vikings to move up two spots in the sixth round in exchange for moving down 10 slots in the seventh.

For the record, the trade (picks 201 and 220 from Washington to Minnesota in exchange for picks 199 and 230) was just about a wash on the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, with the Redskins giving up a statistically insignificant one point of value.

Whether center Chase Roullier, the player they traded up to draft, makes the team and has an impact or not is not going to make or break the draft but it should be noted that they gave up something of value to get him so it was a player they wanted to make sure they got as his name was still on the board.

The deals that got them up to 10 picks had already been made by Scot McCloughan on draft day last year as he added picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds with various trades.

Perhaps they deserve the most credit for a potential deal they did not make. As their first-round pick got closer and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen remained on the board it had to be tempting for them to spend a mid-round pick to jump up and grab him before anyone else could. But Gruden said that they had a number of players to choose from as the pick approached and they decided to stay put. The gamble paid off as Allen fell into their laps at pick No. 17.

RELATED: Redskins roll the dice in the 7th round

Talent/fit/needs—A-

The Redskins needed to bolster their defense and they certainly gave it a go. Their first three picks were on defense as were four of their first five and six of 10 overall.

But the raw number of the picks doesn’t really tell the story; it’s the value of the picks that really matters. According to that Jimmy Johnson pick value chart, they spend 1,596 points on defense and 126 points on offense.

They hit on their biggest needs with their first two picks. They had not drafted a defensive lineman in the first round since 1997 and the neglect of the position was evident. In Allen they got a player with Pro Bowl potential in their biggest area of need.

Allen will help the pass rush from the inside and then in the second round they acquired some edge rushing ability with Ryan Anderson. It seems that this pick was strongly influenced by Scot McCloughan’s draft board. His height, weight, and combine numbers were not what a lot of teams are looking for in an edge rusher but his tough mentality and obvious love for the game are attributes that McCloughan valued.

Although Gruden expressed his confidence in Rob Kelley to be his running back it appeared to most outside observers that an upgrade was needed and they got that in Samaje Perine. You can’t have too many good corners and Bashaud Breeland is set to be a 2018 free agent so they took Fabian Moreau in the third round. They had no backup center Roullier could develop into that spot. Gruden said earlier this offseason that they needed a blocking tight end and that is what Jeremy Sprinkle is.

They didn’t hit on all their needs. With the top three inside linebackers set to be free agents next year many thought they would spend a top pick there. And although there were a few possible nose tackles on the board in the later rounds they bypassed that position. You can’t solve everything in one draft but the Redskins have now had eight drafts since converting to the 3-4 defense and they still haven’t found a solution at nose tackle.

As far as value goes, it doesn’t get much better than Allen, who was a consensus top-five talent who lasted until the 17th pick. Moreau may have been a first-round pick before tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights during his pro day.

On the other end of the value scale, the fourth round seemed to be way too early to take safety Montae Nicholson. There is something to be said for taking a guy with good measurables who didn’t have good game tape and taking a shot at developing him. But the fourth round is too soon for taking such a chance.

READ MORE: Breaking down the Redskins late round picks

Overall—B+

After their first two picks, they didn’t shy away from red flags. Moreau and Nicholson both have injuries that will keep them out of action until sometime in training camp. Sprinkle had a highly-publicized shoplifting citation that got him suspended from Arkansas’ bowl game. Seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons failed multiple drug tests during college.

They did stay away from players with histories of high-profile violent incidents like Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Caleb Brantley.

How those red-flag players turn out will be the key to this draft. It’s fine to take some chances, especially when you go into the draft with 10 picks. But you have better win more than you lose.

There were enough players taken who seem to be sure bets to be productive, if there is such a thing in the draft, to make it unlikely that the draft will be a total bust. Allen, Anderson, and Perine are clean prospects who have very high floors. Allen and Anderson may have Pro Bowl ceilings.

Given that, they seem to be assured of having a least a productive draft (again, with the caveat that nothing in the draft is certain). If Sprinkle develops into a good third tight end who can block and be a threat to catch a pass, that’s a plus. If Moreau can develop into a starter, this could be a pretty good draft. If sixth-round WR Robert Davis can contribute on special teams and be a productive fourth or fifth wide receiver, that would be another plus.

In short, the Redskins did some good work towards giving this draft a chance to be a success. Now it’s up to the coaches, to luck, and seeing how players who are projected to play well at age 22 actually perform on the field when they get older and suddenly have a six-figure salary. 

MORE REDSKINS: Clear winner from Redskins 2017 Draft?