NFL Free Agency Week 1 Recap: Where I sell on the Redskins’ Plan

About four hours before Jay Glazer caught wind of the Robert Griffin trade with the Rams, I posted an outline for an effective free agency plan, might the Redskins decide to use it.

Shockingly, the Redskins did not use this plan.  I correctly, um, “predicted” two moves they have made so far, the re-signings of Rex Grossman and Adam Carriker.  In that piece, I predicted London Fletcher would not re-sign, though none of the LBs mentioned in the piece are off the market yet.  The cap allocation in 2012 for linebacker signings in the piece was $7.15 million, which would be extremely high for Fletcher (you can roughly subtract 2 or 3 million from Fletcher’s annual contract value to get an estimate of his 2012 cap number — If 7 million AAV, he’ll cost between $4.5 and $5.5 million on the 2012 cap).

As we sit right now, the Redskins have been jobbed out of $18 million of cap space they thought they had, and have spent about an estimated $15.7 million in 2012 dollars on two resignings (Carriker and Grossman) and four additions (Garcon, Morgan, Meriweather, Griffin).  Meanwhile they created $2 million in cap room with a conversion of a bonus in the Will Montgomery contract, and also released O.J. Atogwe and Mike Sellers to create about $5 million more in cap room.  John Beck and his $1 million salary could be next.

You can try to do the math yourself, but I had the Redskins at about $17.6 million in cap space when the free agency period opened on Tuesday (the Atogwe and Sellers releases were already in that number, as was the cap penalty).  Add to that the created $2.06 million with Will Montgomery, and the $2.34 cap credit the Redskins receive from the Rule of 51 (which means for every player the Redskins sign, someone with the minimum salary no longer counts on the books as a Redskin towards the salary cap).  

The math can be tough for someone who tries to follow my direction (I’m bad at showing my work — and always was), but that’s $4.4 million of cap CREATION against $15.7 million estimated cap EXPENDATURE since the FA period opened.  

That means whatever the Redskins started with — $17.6 million by my count — they are down $11.3 million from the start of the period.  My very rough calculations say that the Redskins currently have $6.3 million remaining, almost the exact number it will take to sign their rookies (rookie cap will be estimated in the vicinity of $6 million).

That means for every signing the Redskins make from here on out, they will need to take an equal amount of cap room from future seasons.  And despite spending 15 million (less than $3 million on the retention of it’s own players), the Redskins have not yet corrected needs pertaining to a true no. 1 WR, the secondary, inside linebacker, a foundation running back, interior offensive line depth, and a true starting right tackle.

That’s why I would deem the first week of free agency to be a failure for the Redskins.  I’m not saying that “being younger at receiver” and “being healthier at safety” weren’t stated needs of the Redskins this offseason — I think clearly they were.  But the Redskins’ available cap room of $11-$12 million was one of the true assets they had to improve the team, and now that the Redskins have spent all of what was available in 2012, I’m not sure where they are better.

Coming out of the lockout, it would have been reasonable to argue that the Redskins had no bad contracts.  Sure, they weren’t paying money to a quarterback they liked, and that probably overstated how much cap room they truly had.  But the bad contracts Bruce Allen inherited from Vinny Cerrato, and the one he had taken on himself (McNabb) had been dealt with apprprioately.

However, after the lockout, the Redskins started to write some questionable contracts.  They gave Santana Moss a $6 million signing bonus, despite the fact that he was coming off a 90+ catch season where he was the Redskins only underneath target at receiver, and was at least 5 years removed from his peak in 2004-2006.  They gave injury-riddled Jammal Brown a 5-year, $27 million contract that is forcing the Redskins hand as we speak today.  And earlier this week, they wrote player friendly contracts to Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan that really put the Redskins in a tough spot the next two years, particularly since three of the four toughest contracts to get away from on the roster have gone to guys who all play the same position in the base offense, ‘Z’ receiver.  Obviously, with multiple personnel groupings in the NFL today, there will be plenty of opportunities to get Garcon and Morgan on the field together.  It just so happens that Kyle Shanahan has been one of the least formation-diverse coordinators in the league the last two years (and really, even going back to his days with the Texans).

Just be thankful that the Chargers saved the Redskins from themselves on this Eddie Royal deal.

This is the situation that Robert Griffin will be walking into on offense.  The Redskins will run a lot of running back by committee, as is consistent with a lot of Mike Shanahan’s prior history.  They will be running a lot of receiver by committee, as is consistent with Mike Shanahan’s previous years with the Redskins.  They’ll actually be running a fair amount of tight end by committee, just because they Redskins have two guys they like.  And then on the offensive line, the right side will be a weakness that needs to be addressed via a bargain bin veteran, or in the draft.

And frankly, that’s more a result of poor planning on the part of the Redskins than utter surprise stemming from the salary cap penalty that the NFL forced on them.  When you have $12 million to spend, and you run out and spend it on Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, and two underacheving defensive backs, I have no idea what good $18 million additional cap dollars would have gotten you.

I more or less agree with Anthony’s conclusion that Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan represent a modest upgrade at the receiver position for the Redskins.  Keep in mind that wide receiver (aside from Gaffney and that one really good Hankerson game) was a significant weakness for the team.  Competition is great, but if you are going to tell anyone who will listen to you that your offense needs a no. 1 receiver in the mold of Andre Johnson to achieve it’s true potential, and then you go out and give $21 million in the first two years to a no. 3 receiver in Garcon who has the potential to develop into a no. 2 for you, people are going to conclude you don’t really have a plan.  Which is what I am concluding here.  

The Redskins are much younger at receiver than they were a week ago, and the goal of getting guys (well, a guy) who will be around when Robert Griffin III is a three-time pro bowler is admirable, but moves like this work out so very rarely as planned that I’m just not sure what the Redskins were even expecting.  Sidney Rice had a much better track record with the Vikings than Garcon did with the Colts, and his first year with the Seahawks was a 400ish receiving yard 2 TD bust season that flashed potential and not a whole lot else.  Knowing what the Redskins spent for Garcon, I would like to advocate retroactively to have spent on Rice even knowing he busted in his first season in Seattle.  I think the Redskins would have been a lot closer to filling their need for a no. 1 receiver had they done so.

The Josh Morgan contract is interesting in the fact that it’s so front loaded that the Redskins basically admit in it that Garcon by himself isn’t trustworthy enough to satisfactorally solve the problem at WR.  If Garcon ends up as the Redskins third receiver with Morgan as the starting Z (or X), you would look at the contracts written to them and understand that Morgan is getting enough where he’s clearly not outperforming his contract as a starter.  Garcon is sure to get the first crack at this Z receiver thing, but it wouldn’t be terribly shocking if Morgan started more games in 2012.  The Redskins seem like a team desperate for a solution at WR, and willing to try more than one thing to get it. 

But when you factor in the team’s interest in also getting Eddie Royal under contract, it’s clear that the Redskins were willing to spend the entireity of their cap position on wide receivers.  That is: the Redskins were willing to tell you, if you were listening, that wide receiver and quarterback (which has been fixed to satisfaction by the upcoming draft) were the only problems with their “playoff caliber” offense last season.  Every other solution is already in place.

Which means:

  • Jammal Brown is the RT next year, given his health.
  • Chris Chester is the RG, Montgomery the C, Lichtenstieger the LG.
  • They believe they got unlucky with injury on the OL, that their backups got valuable experience, and the plan on the OL is fine as is.
  • Fred Davis is likely to lead the team in targets again
  • Roy Helu and Evan Royster will split the RB duties, likely with Tim Hightower.
  • We don’t yet know what they thought of Darrel Young’s performance last year at fullback
  • Hankerson/Gaffney will split the X receiver duties, and the best man will play, regardless of age.  The backup Z receiver will come out of the slot on passing downs.
  • Santana Moss is in the doghouse, and might not make the team next year.

And the defense will be deemed to be more than adequate once they figure out who will play middle linebacker next year.

For the record, the Redskins can create more than $10 million in cap room from future seasons by restructuring the deal of Trent Williams, releasing John Beck, and extending Chris Cooley and Fred Davis.  That will likely need to happen before or shortly after they sign the starter at middle linebacker.  And once they go that route, they will have between $4-$5 million in free cap dollars for some bargain basement signings.

Those signings will be important, because the Redskins will need the next two or three weeks of free agency to offer a lot more back than week one did.  As a fan, its rather frustrating to be offered this plan as an alternative to having first round draft picks over the next three seasons.  It will seriously help my mental health considerably if and when the Redskins start targeting a higher grade of free agent.  Not necessarily a more expensive player.  Just a more accomplished one who isn’t in the running for worst in the NFL at his position, something that the Redskins did appear to lean towards with the defensive backs they brought in.

So needless to say, I did not feel that the Redskins enjoyed a particularly good week in free agency, nor do I feel the team is improved as a result of losing eight figures of available cap room.  I think our secondary might be worse off, despite being the weakness of the team last season.  The Redskins still have their work cut out for them at linebacker to keep that a strength of the team, and no longer have extra cap room to improve the position.  What they will spend, they must create an equal amount of room, in order to sign their rookies.  On the positive side, the draft is within five weeks (woohoo!), and the Redskins (along with 31 other teams) will be better after draft day than they were before it.  That’s one of the certainties of being an NFL fan.  You’ll wake up the morning after the draft and be rooting for a better team than the day before.  Free agency guarantees that to nobody.

And anyway, it always could be worse: we all could be Dolphin fans today! 

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