Saints coach Sean Payton recently talked about the challenges the team faces in trying to keep pending free agent tight end Jimmy Graham on their team.
“The first thing that comes to my mind with free agency is your own roster,” Payton told Fox Sports 1 (via the Times-Picayune). “I think often times that gets overlooked. The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with [Saints G. M.] Mickey ]Loomis] or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on year nine, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham.”
Teams all around the NFL are making similar choices. In many ways, the NFL’s salary cap creates a zero-sum game. Money that is paid to one player can’t be used to attract or retain another player.
The Redskins are not in quite as tough a situation as are Payton and the Saints. New Orleans is about $12 million over the 2014 cap so they will have to release some players and restructure others just to be able to afford the $6.8 million tight end franchise tag for Graham.
Washington has some $30 million in salary cap space and the key player there is Brian Orakpo. Although he isn’t quite in the top tier of NFL pass rushers he’s pretty good and the Redskins believe they need him if they are going to turn around their defense.
But using the franchise tag on Orakpo will eat up almost $11 million in cap space and even a long-term deal with him won’t take up very much less than that. That’s over a third of their available space with major holes on both sides of the ball yet to be filled. That may force the Redskins to let go of some veterans and it certainly will prevent them from signing any other big names in free agency.
It’s about choices and if the Bruce Allen and company choose to keep Orakpo they will close off other options that may have helped the team. This will require them to be resourceful, find some lower-priced free agents to fill some holes, develop some of the 24 players they drafted from 2011-2013 who are still on the roster, and draft well.
It's important to note that even if the Redskins do decide to let Orakpo walk there still will be choices to make. Who replaces him, how much do you pay that player, how do you best utilize the money saved? The resources are still finite.
Redskins fans need to hope that they choose well.