Salary Cap Analysis: Redskins won’t have to Mortgage the Future in 2011 to Buy a New Team

Washington Redskins' head coach Mike Shanahan leads his team against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on December 12, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

One of the expected outcomes of any new NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement is the re-institution of the NFL salary cap, because of it’s value to overall league parity, and how it works hand in hand with the NFL draft in forcing teams to build organically.  It is not yet known exactly where the new salary cap total will be placed (this is a negotiation point), but we do know that in 2009, the cap sat at $127 million thanks to an exemption for the uncapped year.  We can safely estimate that the 2011 NFL salary cap (or 2012 NFL salary cap if there is no 2011 season) at somewhere between $130-$135 million per team.

Thanks to some leaky faucet repairing by GM Bruce Allen, and some creative contract leveraging by cap maven Eric Shaffer, the Redskins do not have very much committed money for the 2011 season.  In fact, they would be paying just over 91 million to 31 different players, causing them to have nearly $40 million in available cash to spread to fill up the rest of the roster.

It’s not quite that simple for the Redskins, because while the team isn’t particularly invested in it’s current roster (Mike Shanahan can part with pretty much any player he feels is a non-fit, cap-wise), some meaningful dead-cap obligations are going to be unavoidable.  The most costly non-fit of the bunch is likely to be DE/OLB Andre Carter, who signed an extension with the team (for cap purposes) prior to the 2009 season.  Carter’s contract gave him a $7.25 million dollar signing bonus in the second year of his deal (2010), and releasing Carter now will create a deadcap obligation of more than $10 million.

The other main factor is with regards to Santana Moss’ voiding contract, which is going to make Moss a free agent, and cost the Redskins $5.5 million in the process.  The Redskins can avoid that deadcap hit by reaching an extension with Moss, but that wouldn’t make the guaranteed money obligation disappear, it would merely push it back.

Moss and Carter are going to be the most costly players to release from a cap perspective, but if we assume that Donovan McNabb, Albert Haynesworth, Casey Rabach, Artis Hicks, Derrick Dockery, and perhaps even Clinton Portis are all team releases (or trades), the Redskins will be looking at about $39 million dollars in deadcap money on their 2011 salary cap.  That’s about $5 million more than they had in 2010 deadcap, when there was an infinite amount of “live”cap room to be had.

That seems like a staggering figure, and it is.  The Redskins could be looking at a situation where 30% of their total cap room is held by players no longer on their roster.  Crippling, though?  Hardly.  Releasing all those players would actually create more cap room to spend on player salaries in 2011 than the Redskins currently have.  I did some rough math here, and the outright release of the 8 players above should cut the salary obligation of the 2011 Redskins in half, from $90 million to $45 million.  Although the players still count on the deadcap total, the Redskins do net a little over $6 million to spend on 2011 player salaries with this release.  That increase is likely negated though by the need to bring in 8 additional players to fill roster spots.

For a team that tends to be as year to year in terms of salary cap flexibility as Washington is, there will be plenty of money around to spend on the free agent market despite all the deadcap.  This is attributable to the severe lack of player obligations inherited by Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan.  With only 23 players from this current team likely to return on their current deals, the Redskins will have to do a lot of spending just to fill out the roster.  But they figure to be handed about $40 million in 2011 cap room to do the spending.

To put that in perspective, the Redskins typically leave themselves between $10-$15 million to spend on player acqusitions per year, which is inclusive of the draft and free agency, and that’s about 10-15 players worth of money.  They usually backload free agent contracts to make everything fit in that small amount of money.  Now they have three times as much available, though twice as many roster spots that must be filled.

Despite unprecedented levels of deadcap, the Redskins will not be financially crippled in 2011, and will be able to go after they players they want in free agency.  What the dead cap will functionally prevent is a scenario where the Redskins are competitive on all the top free agents.  Like in any other year, the team will be forced by the cap to pick and choose it’s targets, making just a few big money signings, if the team wants to backload its contracts.  It’s thanks to the uncapped year that the Redskins are in pretty good financial position, and barring a barrage of win now signings — or absent a 2011 season — should head into the 2012 NFL season with more financial flexibility than the Redskins have enjoyed in the entire NFL salary cap era.

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