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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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Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

RICHMOND - Looking at the contracts for the two most important people associated with the Washington Redskins, a clear discrepancy arises. The head coach, Jay Gruden, is under contract until 2020. The quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is only under contract for 2017. 

Some speculation suggested that, given the diverging deals, at some point Gruden might look to develop another passer that's locked in with the Redskins for the long-term. Backup QB Colt McCoy is under contract for the next two seasons, and second-year passer Nate Sudfeld is under team control through the 2019 season. 

Gruden made clear that isn't the case. Crystal clear. 

"We're focused on Kirk," the head coach said. "He's our starter and he's going to get all the starter reps. Period."

Cousins should obviously be the focus. In the past two seasons he's twice broken the Washington single season passing yards record, and his rise has coincided with the Redskins first back to back winning seasons in 20 years. 

As for practice reps, Cousins will get the vast majority. McCoy will get work, and Sudfeld too, but this Redskins team is focused on winning this season. 2018 contracts are not on the coach's mind in July of 2017, nor should they be. 

"Colt [McCoy] will take advantage of his reps, I'm sure he will. And Nate [Sudfeld] will get a few sprinkled in there. We're trying to develop Nate also for the future. But, this is Kirk's team right now, and it's our job to get him ready for Philadelphia and really surround him and make him feel good about the people around him. Trying to get him used to [Josh] Doctson, get him used to [Terrelle] Pryor, we have some new weapons around him, so it's a matter of getting him ready. But Kirk will get all of them."

With a rebuilt defense and plenty of options offensively, the Redskins should compete for a playoff spot this year. Is there a scenario where the team sputters and spirals into a lost season? Maybe. And in that hypothetical scenario, perhaps at some point it makes sense to see what another passer can do. It's a long shot. 

For Redskins fans, know that Cousins is the unequivocal starter. Period. 

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Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

RICHMOND—The Redskins will be without Jordan Reed in training camp for an unknown period of time. Although his toe injury does not appear to be serious, others will have to fill the gap until he is able to return. And the Redskins just so happen to have one of the deepest tight end groups in the NFL and they added another one with NFL playing experience on Thursday.

Jay Gruden said that the Redskins needed to sign E.J. Bibbs, who has one NFL catch in his career, because Vernon Davis, the backup tight end, has “a little bit of a tweaked hamstring.” Davis, who caught 44 passes for 583 yards last year, seemed to me moving fine in practice after Gruden spoke to the media but he could need some reps off on occasion so they brought in Bibbs to fill in the gap. There is no point in pushing the 33-year-old Davis if it’s not necessary.

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The Redskins have even more options at tight end. Niles Paul is back and he appears to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last eight games in 2016. Paul is going into his seventh season and while he is mostly relied on for special teams play he does have a 500-yard season on his resume (2014).

During offseason practices fifth-round rookie Jeremy Sprinkle looked like he had a lot to learn as he goes from a run-based offense at Arkansas to the Redskins’ sophisticated pass-first scheme. He will need to find his comfort level before he takes any snaps in Reed’s place.

The forgotten veteran is Derek Carrier, who now appears to be fully healthy after he missed the first half of last season with a knee injury he suffered late in 2015. He had just two receptions for 10 yards last year in limited playing time on offense.

MORE REDSKINS: Live practice report, Day 1

Joining Bibbs in the long shot category is Manasseh Garner, a first-year player out of Pitt. While neither player seems to have a shot at the 53-man roster, the Redskins could carry one of the tight ends on the practice squad.

Depth is a good thing to have and the Redskins have done a good job assembling a backup plan at tight end. But you just can’t replace Reed, one of the best few tight ends in the NFL, without a significant drop off in production. The Redskins will let the backups compete and learn in training camp and will keep Reed either on the sideline or doing very light work until he is fully ready to go (and then some).

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.