In the Redskins’ and Cowboys’ two-sentence joint statement announcing their decision not to further contest their salary cap penalty case concluded by saying, “We will continue to focus on our football teams and the 2012 season.”
As far as the Redskins are concerned, that means that they will have to figure out how they will go about doing business over the next two years minus $18 million in salary cap space per season. The penalty will hurt, no doubt, but it should not be crippling.
As far as this year goes, the Redskins are some $3.8 million under the cap. They still have to sign their top three draft picks but even after that they will have a couple of million dollars to work with.
Although under the rules teams don’t need to be even a dollar under the cap, it’s not a good idea to go into the season with no cap room. For one thing, the salaries of players on injured reserve count towards the limit so you need to have some money set aside to cover that. And if an opportunity to sign a player who could help the team comes up, it is good to have the money set aside to be able to do that.
They could create some more cap room by releasing players. The two most frequently discussed candidates for release are Chris Cooley and Santana Moss, both of whom have high cap numbers but are not expected to be starters. The team would save $3.9 million against this year’s cap by releasing Cooley after June 1 and $3.15 million if they cut Moss loose at that time.
But they are not in a position where they are forced to cut Cooley or Moss or anybody else. Thanks to sound cap management, they were able to absorb the $18 million reduction in their cap, address at least some of their offseason free agency shopping list and re-sign key veterans such as London Fletcher.
They are in good cap shape despite the penalty in part because they are only carrying about $2.9 million in dead cap space. Many teams have $10-$15 million or more in dead cap and the Redskins used to be among the league leaders in dead cap annually. This means that almost every dollar of the cap is going towards compensation for players on the 2012 roster and is not on the book for players who are long gone.
They also can survive the penalty because they have drafted 21 players in the past two years, the most in the NFL. In addition to bringing youthful enthusiasm to a team, draft choices are also cheap labor, especially in their first or second seasons. Having 20 or so recent draft picks on your roster always has been a good way to keep you cap total in check.
It’s early to look ahead to next year but it appears that the $18 million penalty will squeeze them and limit them in free agency but they should not have to release any players they do not want to let go of. Fred Davis is the only starter who is scheduled to be a free agent who might command a big contract.
One source shows the Redskins with about $78 million in cap dollars committed for 2013. A lot can change there so it’s too early to base too much on that but it looks like they will have room to operate under a cap number that is likely to be in the $102 million range for them.
The Redskins were not able to plan for getting slapped with the salary cap penalty this year as they knew nothing about it until about 24 hours before the start of free agency. But sound management prepares you for the unexpected and Bruce Allen and Eric Schaffer deserve credit for having the Redskins ready for a storm that nobody saw coming.