It's just the salary cap...

So.

The current salary cap is 109 Million dollars (pinky to lip, sinister laugh, you know the routine). That's a lot of nachos, but not enough for the Washington Redskins apparently because we're currently over that cap -- per PC's Salary Cap Page -- by around 280,000.

The Rule of 51 is that only the 51 highest paid players on an NFL roster count against the salary cap. That's the good news.

The bad news is that we are over the cap by 280 grand with just 45 players currently under contract in 2007. We're over the cap and need 8 players, 6 of whom will count against our cap, to fill the roster. Where are we going to get the money to a) cover the 280,000 and then b) sign 8 players at a league minimum of 285,000 a year (not including signing bonuses and the like) while c) shoring up our defensive woes in the secondary and pass rush?

  1. Cuts.
  2. The Draft.
  3. Prayer.
  4. Restructures.
In that order. Let's discuss the problems associated with each.

1. Cuts -- the most obvious problem being that a 5-11 team can't really afford to cut players, it needs to sign better ones. And some players just aren't cuttable, either because we've "restructured" their salary so much or because we simply cannot afford (on the field) to let them walk away. Chris Samuels is uncuttable from restructure. Many would argue that Shawn Springs is uncuttable due to necessity (I'm not one of them; he doesn't play, remember?). Clinton Portis is uncuttable because he has such a monster contract, which is why he's also untradeable. Adam Archuleta is uncuttable but also unkeepable, putting us firmly between a rock and a rock.

Cutting Mark Brunell now frees up 4 million, but then we'd have to sign a QB to replace him. Cutting Renaldo Wynn now would save us 2.5 mil, but then we'd need a DE (which we will hopefully draft anyways) to replace him.

We could save ourselves a paltry 725k if we cut Patten now, or save 1.25M if we cut him after 2007, though we'd owe another 1.5 mil in '08.

John Hall is as good as gone, replaced by Suisham, and that will save us 1.5M.

I like James Thrash, but cutting him could also net us 1.3M in 2007. Etc.

The point is, there are millions of dollars to free up through cuts, but they leave the team weaker than it is now, which is about five-wins good. Our problem isn't filling up 8 roster spots, but filling up 8 roster spots with people we actually need, and our needs are great.

2. The Draft -- We have to get those 8 players from somewhere, and unfortunately it won't be the draft. We only have 4 picks last I checked = 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th. Our 2nd pick was dealt for Rocky McIntosh in last year's draft. Our 3rd was dealt for TJ Duckett this year. And our 4th is the 49ers for Brandon Lloyd. Even if all four of those players survive the cuts, which they won't, we're still only halfway there to a full roster. This means we're going to have to pick up some undrafted scrubs, or skim the ranks of other team's cuts. Or sign talented free agents for inflated market value that we can't afford anyways because we're over the Salary Cap.

So...

3. Prayer -- Self explanatory.

Hogs Haven aside: This website does not recognize nor endorse any religious affiliation whatsoever. The above is not meant literally to mean that the Front Office should engage in prayer to cure our salary cap woes. Rather it is a rhetorical insertion designed to separate option 4 from options 1-3 in a manner consistent with my views pertaining to option 4 as a viable means of "saving" cap spave.

4. Restructures -- There are two types of Restructures. One is a pay cut which is offered to players on their way to getting cut. I'm losing confidence daily in the likelihood of us tricking any veterans under contract into taking pay cuts, so I won't ask anyone to hold their breath on that. I don't even know if the Players' Union allows the team to ask players for pay cuts.

More likely, and this is what the 'Skins do every year, is that we "restructure" contracts to turn unguaranteed salary into guaranteed salary which can then be prorated over the course of a contract. This is one of many clever Salary Cap tricks the Redskins do en masse. Rather than pay Generic Redskin Player 3M this year, we pay him 2M and prorate the remaining 1 million over the course of, say, 4 years. 250,000 this year, 250,000 next year, etc. Thus we save 750,000 this year (1M-250,000). Brilliant!

So why is this option 4 after "prayer"? Because it is a short-sighted, ridiculous money "saver", the annual practice of being the precise reason why we are in salary cap hell right now.

The first thing to remember is that no money is "saved". In the long run it will actually cost us money, though it is often difficult to see why. Only guaranteed money is prorated so we are turning unguaranteed salary -- which might not get paid -- into guaranteed salary that will be paid no matter what. One way or the other, for every $ the Redskins switch from salary to bonus exactly $ will have to be paid in salary cap space. It might not be paid this year, but one year that will get paid.

The main thing preventing a team from cutting dead weight is how much money we'd lose in dead space. If you cut a player prior to June 1st, you owe all their guaranteed money in that year's Salary cap space. So if we owe Player X 5 million in bonuses, we'd take a 5 mil dead space hit the year we cut him (if prior to June 1st). If cut after June 1st we take one year of prorated signing bonus the year we cut him, and the remainder the following year. Thus, 1 million that year and 4 million the following year.

Thus we recognize how guaranteed moneys "protect" the player from being cut. If a player only makes 3M next year, yet has 5M in bonuses protecting his salary the following year, it doesn't make much sense to cut him since this will actually cost us money. Thus the more money we shift to guaranteed moneys, the less capable we are of actually cutting a player. Hence why giving Adam Archuleta 10 billion in guaranteed bonuses probably wasn't such a swell idea.

Consider the highest paid Washington Redskin -- Chris Samuels. He was owed nearly 4.6 MILLION DOLLARS in pro rated bonuses in 2006 alone. That's more than anyone else on the team pretty much by degrees. Only CP comes close with 2 million last year (2006). The reason Chris Samuels has so much more prorated moneys is because we've restructured him so many times in the past, increasing his guaranteed money drastically to 10+M dollars. This makes him virtually uncuttable. Considering that Chris Samuels base salary is only 2.5 million next year -- but he will cost us 8.6 million in salary cap space -- and you recognize a real problem looming in the future. His salary raises to 7.5M by 2011. And the more of that money he shifts to guaranteed bonus, the less capable we are of cutting him.

As the vogue contractual maneuver was to sign players to ridiculous contracts where the unguaranteed salary goes up exponentially at the end of the contract, the result of restructuring has been turning money this year into money that protects a player's tail-end base salary from being cut thus increasing the likelihood we have to pay them money we never had nor should have had any intention of paying them anyways. At some point, those bonuses are forcing us to keep players we either don't need, or pay players amounts they cannot possibly earn.

Before I get too wordy (too late), I want to caution fans and the front office on relying too heavily on restructures, year in and year out, to "save" us. At some point fiscal responsibility needs to kick in and we must get our books in order. Restructuring salary into unguaranteed money gives the player the edge in future negotiations and pretty much ties our hands when considering cuts. Our financial future is married to Chris Samuels (and will be to others, if we restructure incessantly), who we cannot cut, and our franchise will suffer horribly unless he invents a magic potion that reverses the effects of aging.

In conclusion, I'd rather pray or just take our licks in 2007 than continue a bad trend of putting off our problems 'til the future. We need to religiously hoard our draft picks by refusing to trade them away for untalented free agents. If we sign big-cheese FAs, they need to be at SUPER NEED positions only (see: Duckett, TJ and Archuleta, Adam) and should be accompanied by appropriate cuts as well. If the woes of 2006 are to be reversed in the immediate future, that needs to be a Coaching solution and not the typical Redskins check-signing solution. More likely, the front office and we the fans need to recognize that 5-11 teams might squeeze an anomalous playoff run once every 3-5 years (thanks to great coaching), but persistently winning franchises aren't built overnight.

The word of the day is patience.

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