Gotta tip your cap

You can hear the howling now, from the media, from rival team fans, even some Redskins fans, all saying that the free agency spending bonanza undertaken by Redskins owner Dan Snyder and the front office is going to put Washington into cap hell within a couple of years. But if you really want the truth then read on....

Sure the activity in the free agent market has been frantic and has produced more high octane results than Spurrier's Fun 'n Gun offense so far, but what does it really mean salary cap wise both now and in future years.

One of the major factors that is restricting the Redskins in 2003 is the amount of dead cap money having to be taken into account against the salary cap - essentially cap space that is charged against players no longer on the team. The current total of dead cap money being held against the 2003 salary cap is in excess of $12.5m at the present time - $10.1m of that charged for two released players - Marco Coleman and Stephen Davis.

While all teams have to grapple with some dead cap space - a matter that is common place in today's NFL where the average life span of a player on a team is something like 3 years - the good cap managers will keep this figure under tight control. If a team has less than 10% of its total cap tied up in dead money then it is doing reasonably well. There is a good chance that the Skins dead cap figure will increase in the coming months as the Redskins fine tune their roster further. In 2004, the Redskins should be looking forward to a relatively low level of dead cap money with Bruce Smith the only certain cap casualty next year at this stage (Smith will count $2.335m against the 2004 cap).

The best way to analyze Washington's cap situation is to look at the top 15 or so paid/rated players on the Redskins roster and plot their salary cap figures out over the next 4 years. Most of these players would be considered the cornerstones of the franchise or are free agents specifically brought in to turn the team into a winner - the players around which the team will be built. These players make up the biggest slices of the salary cap cake.

Name 2003 2004 2005 2006
Lavar Arrington 5.590 9.274 10.243 11.638
Chris Samuels 4.093 8.328 9.221 11.121
Randy Thomas 1.530 2.000 3.600 4.500
Patrick Ramsey 1.050 3.520 3.520 3.520
Jon Jansen 2.038 2.638 3.238 5.238
Rod Gardner 1.499 1.616 1.807
Jeremiah Trotter 1.692 3.862 5.662 6.162
Dan Wilkinson 5.221 5.944 6.244 5.954
Renaldo Wynn 1.307 2.777 4.277 4.777
Jesse Armstead 1.416 1.917
Dave Fiore 1.055 1.475 1.875 2.075
John Hall 0.850 1.220 1.420 1.420
Regan Upshaw 1.055 1.400 1.600 1.700
Brandon Noble 0.980 1.450 1.950 2.150
Matt Bowen 0.850 1.250 1.400 2.400
Bruce Smith 3.840
Champ Bailey 3.983
Dead Cap (est) 13.000 2.335 0 0
Total 51.049m 51.006m 56.057m 62.655m
NFL Cap Projection 75.007m 80.000m 82.500m 85.000m
% of cap 68.06% 63.76% 67.95% 73.71%
No of Players above 17 15 14 13

The likely addition of WR Lav Coles from the Jets will only add to this list but his first three years cap hits are reasonable at $2.3 (2003), $2.4m (2004) and $3.4m (2005). In 2006 his cap hit jumps to around $6.0m.

Many are suggesting that Washington have foregone the draft process in favor of recruiting already established, and ready to produce, players. Certainly in the initial stages of the personnel plan that is clearly the case, but as the above figures suggest the Redskins cannot keep going out and buying in premium quality free agents every year.

This is where Snyder and the front office need to get smarter in their planning. From 2003 onwards the Skins will need to develop some of their own talent to come in and replace players like Dan Wilkinson and Renaldo Wynn whose level of play cannot justify the cap numbers they have now or will have in the near future, or to replace players coming out of contract or retiring like Jesse Armstead. The ability to identify talent, especially on day two of the draft, has long been a criticism of the front office and scouting departments. If this can improve, then the marquee players listed above will be able to be kept for a longer period of time and complemented by some savvy drafting.

The three most cornerstone players in this franchise are all home grown talents - Arrington, Samuels and Bailey. The first two have big cap numbers coming up in a couple of years, while the latter is a free agent after 2003. The Redskins organization, not to mention the fans, would like to keep these players at the club hopefully s lifetime Redskin players. To do this the contracts of Arrington and Samuels will need to be revisited with a view to a significant extension that will reduce the cap hit not just in one year but steadily over time. This will enable the Redskins to sign Bailey to a similar length extension while being able to pay him as one of the top corner backs in the NFL.

Snyder's approach has been labeled as the "take your shot within two years" plan. Certainly if nothing is done to manage the contracts of Arrington and Samuels, and the draft is not viewed with any degree of purpose it will turn out to be just that - a major shedding of the top players will occur around 2006. However, with a switch in focus to developing initial low cost talent through the draft after this current free agent spending spree is over, the plan can be very much a long term one.

The ball's in your court now Dan, Joe, and Vinnie etc........

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