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Need to Know: How much cap space do the Redskins need to sign their draft picks?

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Need to Know: How much cap space do the Redskins need to sign their draft picks?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, March 17, 44 days before the Washington Redskins go on the clock at the NFL draft.

Question of the day

A few days a week I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today’s question is from the Real Redskins Facebook page:

As we discussed here yesterday, the Redskins had $11.73 million in salary cap space. That was before they signed safety Jeron Johnson. We don’t have the details on that deal yet (reported to the for two years and $4 million) so we don’t know what the 2015 cap hit will be. But we can estimate they have about $10.5 million left and be close enough for our purposes here.

The Redskins will need a chunk of that money to pay their draft picks. As of now, they have seven picks, their own selection in each round. Thanks to the rookie slotting system that came into effect with the current CBA in 2011, the 2015 cap hit for each those draft picks can be determined now.

Washington has the fifth overall pick in the draft. That player, regardless of what position he plays or what he may have accomplished in college, will get a contract with a 2015 salary cap hit of $3.41 million per Over the Cap. Here are the hits for the Redskins other picks, rounded to the nearest $1,000.

Round-Cap hit

2-$970,000
3-$606,000
4-$554,000
5-$487,000
6-$464,000
7-$451,000

The total cap hits for rounds one through seven comes to $6.943 million. At first glance, if you subtract that from the $10.5 million they currently have it looks like the Redskins are getting very low on cash to spend.

But you don’t subtract nearly that much from the remaining cap space due to the Rule of 51. That rule applies during the offseason, from the start of the league year in March until Week 1 of the regular season. Teams have to be under the NFL salary cap of $143.28 million during that time, but since they can carry up to 90 players on the roster they can’t count everyone towards the cap. So the rule is that only the top 51 cap hits on the roster count towards cap during the offseason.

That means that when you add a player into the top 51 you drop the player with the lowest cap hit. So when the Redskins sign their first-round draft pick, Phillip Thomas, who has a cap hit of $510,000, will drop out of the top 51, so you subtract his money from the cap. So that $3.41 million deal counts a net of just $2.9 million.

It happens that the Redskins have a bunch of players with cap hits of $510,000, which is the third-year minimum salary, so when you knock Thomas off of the list of 51, he’s replaced in 51st place by another player making the same amount. So when you sign picks from rounds two, three, and four, you add their cap hits but you take off someone making $510,000 when you do. In all, picks 1-4 have total cap hits of $5.54 million. But with the Rule of 51 the net effect is a subtraction of $3.5 million from available cap space.

And since the picks in rounds five, six, and seven make less than $510,000 they don’t even count against the cap for the time being. So you wind up with a net cap hit of $3.5 million for the draft class of 2015.

As Keith noted in his questions, this could change with a draft trade but trades of picks for picks in the same draft don’t usually have a major effect on the cap consequences. The Redskins can figure on accounting for about $3.5 million in cap space for the draft regardless of how much wheeling and dealing Scot McCloughan may do.

Timeline

—It’s been 79 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 180 days until they play another one.

Days until: Redskins offseason workouts start 34; 2015 NFL Draft 44; Redskins training camp starts 135

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

More Redskins: When the talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags before

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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