Redskins "save" 7.6M against the cap in restructuring Carter, Thomas, and Randle El

Interesting use of the word "save" here, because restructured money is never "saved". It is spent, immediately, and counts against the salary cap no matter what, thus distinguishing it from the unguaranteed money it is created from. More on that below.

Before we begin, though, you'd do wise (hat tip: Curly R) by heading to Hog Heaven and reading this Greg Trippiedi cap post. It's a few days old but still a very relevant analysis of the cap situation at Redskins park. A quick note on Hog Heaven: If you haven't been reading it, you should start now. Anthony Brown has been scooping up quality writers from seemingly thin air and now that blog, which was as fine a Redskins source as anything out there even when it was just Brown writing, now has a staff of great writers. In other words, they've improved on a good thing, and if you love the 'Skins you'd benefit from time spent there. (But please come back here, too.) Anyways, Hog Heaven beat me to the punch on this story as well, but here it comes at you via Redskins Insider:

Randy Thomas went from a cap figure of 8.0 million to 4.1
Andre Carter went from 4.9 to 2.8 (the team guaranteed his June 1 roster bonus of $2.4 million as part of the deal)
ARE went from 4.1 to 2.7

So the Redskins saved 7.6 mil in cap space with these moves. They're top 51 (salaries) for 2008 now stands at $132 million, $16 million over the cap, "by far the most in the NFL," according to my guy.

Now, again, don't panic. They'll trim $9 million on Chris Cooley alone and will easily end up with room to chase other free agents. They'll keep guaranteeing salary and pushing things back and extending contracts. But, I ask, as a practice, how much success - Ws and Ls, we're talking - has this strategy brought with it?

Caveat: This is not a chicken-little the sky is falling Redskins "cap hell" post. We're always allegedly in cap hell. I'm not saying we're doomed, but I will suggest that this is not a sustainable policy or, even if it is sustainable in the mere sense that we can do so ad infinitum, it will provide us ever decreasing opportunities to pursue free agency in the manner we have under Dan Snyder (maybe that's a good thing?). The question Jason puts out, regarding the Ws and Ls, needs to be asked. In years past we'd restructure contracts so we could free up cap space in order to offer lucrative contracts to free agents or traded players. Any player acquisition strategy that includes Brandon Lloyd and his contract is fundamentally in error, because that was simply a disaster by the scouting department. He wasn't good enough to play for us, period, and certainly not for the amount we paid him. Then again, I thought we got every penny and more out of London Fletcher.

As I was saying... In years past we'd restructure Chris Samuels (and later Jon Jansen, and Randy Thomas, and Mark Brunell, etc.) so that we could go out and purchase a shiny Andre Carter (worthwhile) or an unproductive Adam Archuleta. This year is unique, because now we've reached a point of having to restructure just to get back to the league mandated salary cap. And that means this marks the first restructure that I can't honestly complain about, because it simply has to get done.

I've beaten this drum to death but will never stop. Restructuring is a necessary evil only and has never been, in my opinion, a legitimate long-term strategy for gaming the salary cap. The philosophy on restructures operates thus:

You owe a player X amount of money somewhere down the line of his contract. The money in question is not guaranteed so, unlike in the NBA, the player doesn't actually have that money. He could be cut tomorrow and that money would not be spent on him. The team approaches that player and says "Hey, we'll turn X into guaranteed money because we can prorate guaranteed money over the course of your entire contract." The player always says "Hell to the yes let's do that!" Because then he gets a check cut for the full guaranteed amount on the spot (even if the amount counts against our cap prorated over a series of years). You owe player 4M in base salary next year and he's on a 3 year contract, you guaranteed 3M of that base salary and you pay him 1M a year over the course of 3 years.

In many instances, this ain't no big deal. For instance, I've really got little qualms with throwing Andre Carter his roster bonus guaranteed. That's money that wasn't guaranteed in name only; he played his way into that roster bonus and I've little doubt that he can play through his contract. In reality, that's naive of me to say. I have no idea what happens to Andre Carter next year. I don't know how quickly the aging process will affect his ability to eat opposing quarterbacks alive. And every penny shifted in restructures goes from money yet to be earned (and thus money retained by the team) to money already earned and that will get paid for no matter what.

The main problem with excessive restructures is that it makes the players so restructured nigh uncuttable. Chris Samuels, for instance, is one of the most expensive players on the team on any given year. Fourth highest as of this week per PC. Shawn Springs is the 5th highest cap hit next year. The difference between the two is that Springs hasn't restructured (been asked, in other words, since it is always to the players benefit to restructure -- rumors about him being unwilling to change his contract last year served only to convince me the team was asking him to take a pay cut) in the manner discussed above, he can be cut. It would count 5M against the team in dead cap space, because that's what he has in remaining prorated guaranteed moneys. Since he will cost the team 7.5M next year, there's a substantial amount of saving to be had by cutting him. More substantial than, say, cutting Chris Samuels: if I'm reading this right, he has 10M in guaranteed moneys remaining. The soonest we'll be able to cut him for savings (though it wouldn't even be that good of a transaction, since the savings relative to the dead cap hit minus his services wouldn't be worth it) will be next year, and I anticipate that date getting pushed farther into never after they restructure him, again, for what feels like the 4th year in a row.

Chris was the first person to really take advantage of the restructuring program, but he wasn't the only one. Jon Jansen got behind it as has Randy Thomas. These would be the usual suspects since they are veterans with large contracts that happened to tail end into ever increasing amounts. In other words, they're ideal candidates for shifting millions of unguaranteed future base salary (or roster bonuses) into guaranteed and paid today prorated moneys. Since increasing the guaranteed money a player receives creates a disincentive for cutting that player (since it will result in a larger dead cap hit, which is wasted space) restructures run you the risk of creating uncuttable players that might need to be cut sooner than you'd anticipate. You can gamble and win for only so long -- at some point in the future, Chris Samuels will cease to play Professional Football. For some time he was the central focus of the restructuring strategy, though that has now expanded to an increasing percentage of our roster.

For instance, last March Clinton Portis and Santana Moss got in on the action. Last month CP, clearly frustrated by his previous restructure, basically begged the team to do so again. Jon Jansen increasingly wants to play as well. (Even James Thrash is in on it.)

This strategy can work if you're always right about a player's future with the team. We are not, nor have we always been right about a player's future with the team, though since Chris Samuels has been such a steady Pro Bowl stud for so long and was really the only guy doing so significantly until the last two years, there wasn't ever much of a gamble -- he's good, he's one guy. Now we've included a lot of people who I certainly hope will be with the team long enough to make these worthwhile transactions, but I'm not naive enough to claim with great certainty that every single restructured player will earn the money we've now guaranteed. Someone will get cut down the road and then we'll be paying dead cap hits when we really can't afford them, in years like 2008 where we're already millions over. The necessarily evil solution: restructure. In many ways, it was that latter strategy that got us where we are today.

We'll always be under the cap, so don't take this as OMGOOSE THE SKY IZ FALLING. What I do believe is that at some point down the road the restructure intensive strategy will cost us dearly, if not fatalistically. The real question is whether or not it already has cost us. You shouldn't wake up one day and have to restructure 8M dollars of salary just so you can get to the unenviable position of being 12M over the league mandated cap rate. Whether we're not, have been, or ever will be in "cap hell", I can tell you that no team in the NFL wishes they were where we're at, vidalicet the cap (and our protracted coaching search comma fuck).

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