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Some are confused by the salary cap

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Conventional wisdom says that the Washington Redskins spend vast sums of money for players that fail to live up to expectations. And on some years, that's true. There's simply no way to excuse a five win season without acknowledging that the guys you paid to play didn't do as well as the majority of their peers in the NFL. 5-11 is below average.

Conventional media wisdom sometimes tells us that the Redskins spend more than their peers in the league which is sometimes true and sometimes not. Recent example would be the Orlando Sentinel's Jerry Greene who asks which sports franchises waste money comparable to the New York Yankees. He answers himself:

NFL -- The Washington Redskins, who treat money management like a virus.
Claim is consistent with general feelings about the Washington Redskins, that they overspend for forgettable talent, that they are the Yankees of the NFL, etc.

I find this claim odd. The Redskins treat a lot of things like a virus (draft picks, wins in 2006, etc.) but money "management" isn't one of them. If anything one would need to square their alleged free-spending ways with their (mandated) ability to both remain underneath the salary cap and, perceptually at least, pursue whatever player they want. The Redskins operate under everyone's salary cap and still manage to allegedly spend-all-crazy relative to peers. That sounds like good money management.

Which is why I want to draw attention to what many sports commenters fail to realize, and that is that the NFL is sufficiently different from the MLB and other sports where franchise financial comparisons do not carry. Whatever else the Redskins do, they don't spend more money on players than other franchises are allowed to spend. Incidentally, sometimes they do not spend more on players than other franchises.

One recent and instructive example (hat tip: PFT) would be the Arizona Cardinals. Apparently they are edging closer and closer to the 109M league mandated 2007 salary cap:

The Cardinals need to clear some salary-cap space to sign their top draft picks, and the process could begin as early as next week.

The team's top picks aren't expected to sign until July, but the team could release some players next week to give them a chance to sign with other teams.

The Cardinals are about $2 million under the salary cap of $109 million and are expected to clear space by cutting players or restructuring contracts.

As recently as May 18th, per PC, the Redskins were 4.4M underneath the 2007 salary cap. For those taking notes at home, the Washington Redskins probably have spent less on players in 2007 than the Arizona Cardinals. There isn't anything unusual about this, as it would be difficult for the Washington Redskins to be the perennial big spenders in a 32 team league where virtually all the other teams recognize the advantage to playing at or near the salary cap. Even in the years (that surely exist) where the Redskins do spend more actual money than all other 31 teams, league rules dictate that need not be the case. The Redskins can spend no more on players than the Arizona Cardinals, or anyone else for that matter.

The Cardinals are instructive for another reason, in that they've been consistently one of the worst franchises in the NFL. I don't know what their salary cap situation has been prior to this week, though I suspect that they are an aggressive financial team that has at least demonstrated a willingness to pay up to the league's mandated salary cap. It has also been eight years since the Arizona Cardinals have had a winning season, just one since the Redskins did the same. If you measure success by wins, which I do, you might have to admit that the Washington Redskins have gotten more bang for their buck in recent history than the Arizona Cardinals, yet one never hears about their free-spending, wasteful strategy -- rather we just hear that the Cardinals stink. Even if we learn that the Cardinals were drastically below the cap in all those years, it appears that won't be the case in 2007. It is not outside the realm of possibility that the Washington Redskins outperform the Arizona Cardinals this year (I would call that a safe bet) in wins, though I doubt that will result in anyone lambasting the Cardinals for overspending. At least not to the degree your beloved 'Skins get taken to case for the same.

All that said there are legitimate criticisms of the Redskins "money management". One, perhaps, is that we tie up more money in our starters than most teams thus making us more susceptible to injury wridden disaster. That criticism will require financial comparisons with other teams, but could be valid (and perhaps we'll have another time). Or you could say that the Redskins overpay mediocre talent, which was the case in a few instances. I would retort that we also spend too little on outstanding talent, and would happily provide examples when pressed to do so.

Conclusion being that the Redskins failed last year for a lot of reasons, none of which were related to us spending more than the rest of the league on players. My main criticism with our front office has always been player evaluation first, and player pricing second (or third, or fourth...).

Post your thoughts below.