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Will Kirk Cousins’ new contract be a cap killer for the Redskins?

Will Kirk Cousins’ new contract be a cap killer for the Redskins?

Redskins president Bruce Allen said last night that the team has started to have contract discussions with Kirk Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, and they are going well.

We feel good,” Allen said. “Kirk wants to be a Washington Redskin, and we want Kirk to be a Washington Redskin. It will work itself out.”

But what will the Redskins’ salary cap look like when it does work itself out? Will the Redskins be able to retain their own good players and pay free agents to fill holes?

In the short term, certainly, his contract should not be an issue. If the Redskins want to they can squeeze Cousins’ deal into a very tight 2016 salary cap spot.

Cousins’ contract is likely to average between $15 and $20 million per year, probably close to the higher figure than the lower. The contract the Chiefs gave Alex Smith in 2014 averages $17 million per year, perhaps a bit less than Cousins will get, but close enough to use it to illustrate how Cousins’ deal could be structured.

Smith’s 2014 salary was $1 million but he still got plenty of cash in the form is an $18 million signing bonus. That structure made the first-year cap hit on his deal $4.6 million.

The Chiefs pay for that bargain cap hit as the years go by. The cap hit jumped up to $15.6 million last year, $17.8 million this coming season, $16.9 million in 2017 and $20.6 million in 2018.

The Redskins may want to smooth out the cap charge increases for Cousins’ contract. Since Bruce Allen has been involved in contract negotiations the organization generally has taken more of a “pay now” approach when it comes to big contracts. They could easily craft a contract for Cousins with a cap hit of $10 million in 2016.

How will that set up the Redskins’ salary cap for 2016? Based on the league estimate of $153 million per team, they currently have about $12.3 million in cap space (cap data via OverTheCap.com). When Robert Griffin III is released prior to the start of the league year on March 9 that number will jump to $26.4 million. They would have opportunities to create more by releasing some veterans but even at that they could comfortably carve out the $10 million for their quarterback.

Cousins’ cap numbers would go up from year to year. Let’s say his deal is for four years and $72 million, an average of $18 million. After that first-year cap hit of $10 million the cap hits could go $17 million in 2017 and then $19 million and $21 million. The remaining $5 million could go into a dummy fifth year that is voidable and would create a dead cap charge in 2020.

Keep in mind that the salary cap is likely to continue to increase annually. It's going to increase about $10 million from 2015 to this year and the NFLPA anticipates similar jumps. That means that Cousins' cap will remain roughly the same in terms of the percentage of the cap it eats up.

Still, other players like Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan will have increasing cap numbers as well and it will take some careful cap management to work around Cousins’ contract. The key will be Scot McCloughan’s ability to continue to stock the team with quality draft picks who can help the team win while drawing relatively modest salaries.

It’s a lot of money but it’s the going rate. A contract with an average of $18 million would make Cousins the 12th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. That may be a bit high for a quarterback who has started just one season and doesn’t have a playoff win on his resume. But keep in mind that the cap will go up and quarterbacks signing new contracts will surpass the value of Cousins’ deal.

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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 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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