Cap-tastrophe?

Tandler's Redskins Blog Ver. 02.20.06--The Redskins gambled when they signed some of their key players over the past few years. They may be on the verge of losing that gamble and the team could have a decidedly different look in 2006.

You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net

Over the weekend, two almost identical articles by Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline and Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com came to almost identical conclusions in regards to the Redskins salary cap situation. They both claimed to have talked to a trio of cap experts from various places and these experts told them that the Redskins were in a cap situation that was so untenable that they may be forced to make drastic cuts to get under the cap. The Redskins, they say, may be forced to play the 2006 season with 15-20 rookies making the minimum in order to get in compliance with the cap rules. There would have to be an unprecedented bloodbath in regards to the roster.

As those two writers are notorious for their frequent anti-Redskins biases, their pieces were immediately met with derision from all around Redskins nation. "There they go again," was the common refrain.

Well, this observer, accused of being a homer far more often than he's called anti-Redskins, is here to tell you that, as painful as it may be to say it, what Pete and Lenny said is by and large true. If there is not extension of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before the free agency period begins on March 3, the Redskins will officially take up residence in the dreaded cap hell. The Redskins took a gamble and, as of right now, it looks as though they may well lose it.

The gamble they took was to insert roster bonuses into the contracts signed by Marcus Washington, Clinton Portis, and others. Since these bonuses are not guaranteed, they all count towards the 2006 salary cap, pushing it up to a number that is some $20 million over the limit, which will likely come in at $95 million.

The Redskins had to structure those deals in that way in order to make them acceptable under the current collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The gamble that they took was that the CBA would be extended and revised before the '06 free agency season began. That would allow them to guarantee the roster bonuses for those players, meaning that they could spread out the impact over the life of the contract. That would, for example, lower Shawn Springs' cap number by some $2.3 million, Portis' by $2.25 million. The cap savings by this accounting procedure would total $15 million. The rest of the overage could easily be handled by cutting some fringe players and restructuring some other contracts.

It was a reasonable gamble at the time the contracts were drawn up. The NFL and the NFLPA have never before gone to the brink of an uncapped year, which is what 2007 would be under the current CBA, before extending the agreement. However, we find ourselves about 10 days before free agency starts and a CBA extension does not appear to be imminent. In Sunday's Washington Post an NFLPA representative said that the chances of reaching a deal were not very good. That doesn't mean that it can't happen or won't happen. It means that every minute that passes without a new agreement pushes the Redskins a minute closer to entering cap hell.

Without a CBA extension the Redskins will need some very creative measures, some very painful decisions and/or some unprecedented cooperation by many players to get under the cap. There will be an article here Tuesday on WarpathInsiders.com that will look at some creative options. Right now, though, let's focus on the latter two.

One of the problems with cutting players is that with the contracts structured as they are and the fact that most of the contracts are pretty new, there isn't much money to be saved in releasing a lot of players with big camp numbers. For example, LaVar Arrington counts about $12 million towards the '06 cap, but releasing him would result in a slightly higher cap charge than that because of uncharged money already paid to him. It's like being upside down on a car loan, when the car is worth less than the payoff amount. Cutting Arrington would the put Redskins further away from the goal of being able to get under the cap. The same is true of such players who might be considered expendable in a crisis such as Mark Brunell and Davis Patten.

Now, to be sure, there are players that the team could release that actually could save money. Some of these players are ones that the Redskins would rather not cut such as Marcus Washington, Ladell Betts, Jon Jansen and Joe Salave'a. However, the Redskins could cut those four plus Taylor Jacobs, Renaldo Wynn, Pierson Prioleau, Phillip Daniels, James Thrash, Cory Raymer, John Hall, Patrick Ramsey, Walt Harris, and Matt Bowen and still be about $8 million shy of being able to make it under the cap.

To realize the maximum cap savings, which are obviously necessary, these players would have to be replaced with rookies earning the minimum salary. Thus the "15-20 rookies" alluded to by Prisco and Pasquerelli.

The Redskins will not release all of the players on the list above. To make up the difference and to clear the remaining cap space they will have to restructure some contracts and, in the process, ask some players to give back real money.

This doesn't happen very often. Usually when you hear about a player redoing his contract to help the team create cap room he doesn't give up a dime. It's usually just a matter of deferring something or guaranteeing all or part of a salary to spread out the cap hit. The player is not, as many believe, "taking one for the team" when he cooperates in such restructurings.

But it appears that if the Redskins are going to be able to scrape under the cap without losing some key players in the prime of their careers some players are going to have to take a pay cut, plain and simple. And if they don't, well, the Redskins will enter another level of hell altogether.

Again, more on that in an article here on Tuesday. The point here is to tell you that, without a CBA extension, Chicken Little (and Pete and Lenny) will be right. The sky will be falling. A whole slew of players that have been solid contributors will be gone. There will be so many young players on the roster that the team mascot will have to be changed to Barney. The Redskins won't be able to afford any free agents; heck, they won't be able to afford cab fare for a free agent from Dulles to Redskins Park.

There is the possibility that a CBA extension will get done and none of this will have to happen. It's very difficult to assess the chances of that happening; it may not look good now but a breakthrough in the negotiations could occur at any time. But if it doesn't, well, things will get ugly. If you're a Redskins fan, keep your fingers crossed, hang a horseshoe in a appropriate spot, be on the lookout for four-leaf clovers, or whatever you do to try to bring on good luck. This isn't typical media anti-Redskins spin.

It's the real thing.


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