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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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Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

Projecting the Redskins' 2017 roster—Defense

The Redskins are looking at potential free agents and continuing with the draft process as they try to move team from residing in the middle of the pack in the NFL to becoming annual contenders to go deep into the playoffs. The process is all about trying to build a solid 53-man depth chart. Let’s get out the crystal ball and see what that depth chart might look like.

Earlier this week we looked at the offense; today the defense is up. Although there could be a change to a 4-3 base defense in the making depending on who the coordinator is, we’ll line them up in a 3-4 until there is word to the contrary.

*Pending unrestricted free agent

Defensive line

Starters: Chris Baker*, draft pick/free agent X 2
Backups: Matt Ioannidis, Ricky Jean Francois, Anthony Lanier

It seems that Baker wants to stay and give that the Redskins would be starting their D-line virtually from scratch without him the chances of coming up with a deal seem strong. I will spend the entire 99 days between now and the draft saying that it’s not a given that they will take a defensive lineman, or any defensive player, with their top draft pick. But someone like Malik McDowell of Michigan State sure would fit in well here along with a free agent like Bennie Logan of the Eagles. The organization will be looking for leaps forward from Ioannidis and Lanier.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Jason Tarver

Outside linebacker

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Backups: Junior Galette, Trent Murphy, Lynden Trail

Although nothing is certain until pen is put to paper, the chances of Galette giving it another go after two torn Achilles in two years are strong. Trail and Houston Bates will battle for a fifth spot, if there is one. Given Smith’s inconsistency and the uncertainty of Galette’s health it wouldn’t be surprising to see them draft an edge rusher.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Will Compton, free agent
Backups: Martrell Spaight, Mason Foster, draft pick

I’m putting Compton there in dry erase marker, not in Sharpie. They love his leadership and work ethic but he must make more plays. I have a free agent starting beside him because it’s a tough position for a rookie to learn. But if they spend a high draft pick that player could jump into a starting job quickly.  Foster moves into the nickel role that he performed well after Su’a Cravens went out with an injury. Steven Daniels, a 2016 seventh-round pick who spent the year on injured reserve, could push Spaight for a job.

Cornerback

Starters: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar
Backups: Kendall Fuller (nickel), Tharold Simon, free agent/draft pick

This could go in a lot of different directions. The only spot set in stone is Norman’s. I have Bashaud Breeland moving to safety, which is something of a speculative hot take. If they make that move, they could spend a high draft pick or substantial free agent money on a corner or they could stay in-house with Dunbar or Fuller. Simon could make the team and contribute or he could be cut.

More Redskins: An early look at first-round draft possibilities

Safety

Starters: Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everett, draft pick

Safeties are hard to find. In college, potentially good safeties gravitate towards cornerback, where the NFL money is better. If a good one hits the free agent market, the laws of supply and demand push the price up beyond the value of the position. For those reasons, the Redskins might try Breeland at safety. Some in the organization have believed for a couple of years that safety is his best position. Cravens announced that he would be moving to safety so that change is firm. Duke Ihenacho, who is a free agent, could be back but I think he moves along. Blackmon is a good veteran reserve who can play nickel also. Even though he made a key interception when forced into duty against the Eagles, it still seems that they don’t trust Everett at safety and perhaps a mid-round pick will replace him.

Specialists: LS Nick Sundberg*, P Tress Way, PK Dustin Hopkins

I predict that Sundberg will be the first of the team’s pending free agents to agree to a contract. Hopkins may get some camp competition but it is unlikely to be of more than the token variety.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Need to Know: Did the Redskins underachieve in 2016?

Need to Know: Did the Redskins underachieve in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, January 18, 99 days before the NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:
NFL franchise tag deadline 43
NFL free agency starts 51
First Sunday of 2017 season 236

The coordinator search and more

Did the Redskins underachieve this year? I know that a metric like Football Outsiders' DVOA is not the final word in the quality of a team but looking at it year after year it usually does work out that the teams with the better numbers in DVOA usually win more games than those with worse numbers. The Redskins finished 2016 eighth in DVOA. Considering that 12 teams make the playoffs, that could be considered a playoff quality team. Yet 15 teams finished with a better record than they did. I’m sure there are some holes in the formula for the stat but just looking at that it sure appears that the Redskins did leave some wins out on the field.

John Keim is reporting that the Redskins are prepared to switch to a 4-3 defense if that is what their new defensive coordinator prefers. They have been in the 3-4 since Mike Shanahan arrived in 2010. Whether it is because of the scheme or lack of draft and free agent resources spent on the line and at safety, the defense hasn’t been very good. As Keim notes, they will need to make some personnel changes if they do change but with a full load of draft picks and $62 million in cap space this may be the time to do it.

I expected the angst that was all over Twitter when word of the Rob Ryan interview got out. But it’s pretty dumb to get all worked up over an interview (with all due respect to readers here who may have been upset). It’s not a hiring. Look, somehow or another Ryan managed to stay employed as an NFL defensive coordinator for 12 straight seasons. I don’t know how to research it without going through some very time consuming and tedious steps but I’d be willing to bet that only about a few dozen men in the history of the league have been able to remain a defensive coordinator for that many season in a row. The organization can learn something from sitting down and talking to him for a few hours.

I understand that we want things to talk about in a relatively slow time. But I just don’t see why there is fear out there over the possibility that Kyle Shanahan will get hired as the coach of the 49ers and somehow steal Kirk Cousins away to be his quarterback. The Redskins can maintain his rights via the franchise tag. They could tag Cousins and trade him to the 49ers but there would be a heavy price in terms of draft picks. But while it’s possible, it’s unlikely. The chances are very, very good that Cousins will be in a Redskins uniform this year via either the tag or a long-term deal. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.