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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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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up a league-worse 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

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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