As the season has gone south, Shanahan has been hiding behind with increasing frequency the salary cap penalty. The more Mike loses, the more he brings this up in his pressers etc.
However, it is a bunch of crap. However you feel about the penalty (and I know how most feel), it is more than offset by the relative health of the team this year. How many other teams at the halfway point in the season were starting basically 21 of 22 preseason projected starters (I am counting Carriker as missing due to IR, but not anyone else)? The answer is none. The Redskins have had freakishly good luck in the injury category, and it is just that, sheer luck. OK, the Bowen injury after the season was decided was painful, but it was not impactful in terms of the success of the team this year.
Here's the way I think about it: you start with a bucket of theoretical money you could spend. Before you even start, you have to account for dead cap money. You can say that this is paying for the sins of the past, although in the Redskins case if there were any sins they were Shanahan mistakes since he has been here 4 years. Then you may not choose to spend all the money (think Bengals). Then you suffer injuries / players are lost in preseason or very early on that basically don't contribute.
So I have a new metric called 'active roster spend'. Think of it as total cap minus dead cap minus unspent cap space minus IR player cap spend. By that measure, the Redskins have a much higher 'active roster spend' than many other teams. I'll give a few examples below of teams with similar active roster spend but much better results.
So for the Redskins: active roster spend = $84.5 MM.
That is $123 MM - $6.5 MM dead - $18 MM penalty - $2.1 MM unspent - $11.9 MM IR or PUP = $84.5. I am even counting Bowen in that figure even though he was just hurt recently.
Eagles = $79.4 MM. That is $123 MM - $13.1 dead - $17.1 MM unspent -$10.6 IR. They are doing OK.
Bengals = $87.9 MM. That is $123 MM - $5.1 dead - $7.9 unspent - $22.1 MM IR. Their two top paid (and best) players are on IR. They are doing OK.
Panthers = $82.8 MM. That is $123 MM - $18.8 MM dead - $11.6 MM unspent - $10.6 MM IR. They are doing OK.
So to recap: this is a bullcrap excuse. Plenty of teams are doing more with less or similar because they are overcoming bigger IR problems, or not even spending the cap. I probably made some mistakes that Steve will point out but I hope everyone gets the general sentiment / idea.