Cap Hell or Smart Moves?

This article focuses on what the personnel emphasis will be from now on, so read on to see whether the Skins will be in cap hell or whether the strategy is just smart cap management.

Go to our message boards and read any thread on the free agent acquisitions this off season by the Redskins. There you will find at least one post in each of those threads from opposing teams fans touting "CAP HELL" and how Daniel Snyder has sold the Redskins into cap damnation.

So what is the definition of "Cap Hell"? Many message board trollers use it as a punch line for any team that signs numbers of free agents. As the resident capologist on this site, I would define cap hell as:

"the state of a clubs salary cap position when the over acquisition and overpayment of players will mean that a team will be forced to restructure a number of contracts and cut a number of highly paid players to fit under the NFL salary cap.....a move that compromises a teams ability to be competitive on the field"

Do Washington fit this definition? Lets find out.

I have updated the salary cap table that was presented in the previous article to look at Washington's top 22 players that are contracted for longer than 2004 and to plot in the acquisition of draft picks into that mix over the period of time from 2002 - 2006. Having the salary information on recent additions Lav Coles and Chad Morton now give the figures much more accuracy. It has been neccesary to make some not too unrealistic assumptions in this table - the rate of growth in the NFL projected salary cap, that all draft picks will be retained, no players from the group will be released, dead cap money is kept to a minimum, CB Champ Bailey is shown as not resigned etc.....

The noticeable omission from this table is "free agent acquisitions" and there is a good reason for that as will become evident shortly. Another salient point is that the 2003 team is pretty well set cap wise.

Name Pos 2003 2004 2005 2006
Lavar Arrington OLB 4.362 9.274 10.243 11.638
Chris Samuels OT 4.093 8.328 9.221 11.121
Randy Thomas OG 1.530 2.000 3.600 4.500
Patrick Ramsey QB 1.050 3.520 3.520 3.520
Jon Jansen OT 2.038 2.638 3.238 5.238
Rod Gardner WR 1.499 1.616 1.807 UFA
Jeremiah Trotter MLB 1.692 3.862 5.662 6.162
Dan Wilkinson DT 5.170 5.870 6.171 5.904
Renaldo Wynn DE 2.083 2.583 4.083 4.583
Jesse Armstead OLB 1.416 1.917 UFA
Dave Fiore OG 1.055 1.475 1.875 2.075
John Hall K 0.850 1.220 1.420 1.420
Regan Upshaw DE 1.055 1.400 1.600 1.700
Brandon Noble DT 0.980 1.450 1.950 2.150
Matt Bowen S 0.850 1.250 1.400 2.400
Lav Coles WR 2.307 2.307 3.300 6.800
Chad Morton RB/KR 0.950 1.035 1.040 2.300
Ladell Betts RB 0.565 0.645 0.720 0.810
Cliff Russell WR 0.447 0.527 RFA UFA
Rashad Baumann CB 0.465 0.545 RFA UFA
Larry Moore C 0.841 1.467 UFA
Zeron Flemister TE 0.538 0.662 1.138 UFA
Rookies (4) – 2003 1.350 2.025 2.500 2.800
Rookies (6) – 2004 2.750 3.150 3.650
Rookies (7) – 2005 3.400 4.000
Rookies (7) – 2006 4.200
Bruce Smith 3.840
Champ Bailey 3.983
Dead Cap (est) 13.000 2.335 0 0
Total 58.009m 62.701m 72.538m 86.971m
NFL Cap Projection 75.007m 80.000m 82.500m 85.000m
% of cap 77.34% 78.38% 87.92% 102.32%
No of Players above 28 32 37 40
Ave $ left per player to fill roster 0.680m 0.824m 0.623m 0

A number of conclusions can be quickly made from the information in the table:

" After 2003, the amount of cap space tied up in dead cap money reduces significantly
" That many players cap hits rise significantly in 2004
" In 2006 the total of the cap figures of players on this list will exceed the projected NFL salary cap figure
" Some of the cap numbers of players in the future are not justified given their current level of play
" It is significant that the amount of money left over to sign players to fill out the roster stays reasonably steady from 2003 - 2005.

Some questions that may be raised from this table and the 2003 recruiting approach are:

"Many people are suggesting that Washington have foregone the draft process in favour of recruiting already established and ready to produce players?"

This is true but the players are mostly young players on the rise and add to the already established core of young players that the Skins have added through the draft in recent years - Arrington, Samuels, Bailey, Gardner, Jansen and Ramsey. The approach is based on having some idea what the player is like at NFL level rather then banking on college players with no NFL experiences being able to manage the transition.

"Dan Snyder cannot keep going out and buying high priced free agents every year?"

This is probably the most pertinent point for the future salary cap implications of the Redskins. Snyder cannot keep going out and buying in premium quality free agents every year to improve the team. This is where Snyder and the front office need to get smarter in their planning. A reduction in cap manouervability in the next 2-3 years will necessitate that Washington get better at the drafting of college players, or continue to find bargain free agents. Having added key young free agents in 2003, the next three years in particular should be viewed primarily as an opportunity to fine tune the team with good drafting and/or savvy low cost free agent signings.

"What happens in 2006 when the Skins go over the salary cap?"

Key contracts will be restructured before 2006 and overpriced under performing players released to make the necessary cap room. Many people believe that contract restructuring is just delaying the inevitable......."you just end up paying down the road". While that can be true if not managed correctly, a structured approach to contract restructuring can mean that the end of the road is not a dead end street. The NFL salary cap is escalating all the time and this assists the pushing back of accounted monies into future years.

"Can the Skins afford to resign Champ Bailey?"
Yes they can, with more than manageable consequences on the cap in the coming years.

"Are the Skins in (or going to be in) Cap Hell?"

No they are not. I believe that the approach taken by Snyder and the front office to be a good strategy - it sets the Skins up for the next three years, at which point in time sensible business decisions can be made to extend contracts or replace the odd player - something that should be made easier by good drafting along the way - which will minimise the impact on team performance in 2006 and beyond.

So the overall management of the salary cap in Washington is in good hands, the strategy is a sound one, and the bashing that Dan Snyder receives over his perceived arm chair management is totally unfounded. Snyder learned his lesson from the 2000 season, its about time the Snyder basher learned their lesson.

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