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Strange new world: Jon Jansen no longer starting for Washington Redskins

I was something like 16 years old when Jon Jansen was drafted and subsequently immediately thrust into the starting lineup of Your Washington Redskins. Over 1/3rd of my life has proceeded with at least the certainty, that barring injury, Jansen would remain starting at tackle. Even considering injury, someone else was always just renting. Yesterday that era ended:

Right tackle Jon Jansen, the longest serving player in the Washington Redskins' organization... was demoted to second string yesterday, and Stephon Heyer will take his spot in the season opener Thursday against the New York Giants.

Bloggers, predictably, had little to say on the subject. Starting with Sportz Assassin at AOL Fanhouse: Zorn said, Heyer has shown a much better ability to protect Campbell. With Campbell's habit of fumbling the ball once he gets hit ... it is a big deal if you can be the guy that can prevent him from getting nailed.

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that Jansen didn't look too sharp this preseason and as a result Jason Campbell didn't look so sharp, either. No in the sense that if ever Jason Campbell revealed his proclivity for putting the ball on the ground after sacks, he did so last year, in 2007. Campbell claimed 7 lost fumbles last year which, I believe, was a league high. And though we certainly wouldn't want to return a right tackle into the lineup who is responsible for that ghastly number of protection breakdowns, it can hardly be blamed on Jansen. Because he only started one game last year, against Miami. And although current Redskin Jason Taylor did record a sack and a fumble, it wasn't against JC.

Stephon Heyer did start some games in 2007. For instance:

@ Tampa Bay: Campbell had 1 fumble, lost.

vs. Chicago: Campbell had 1 fumble, lost. Todd Collins copied him with one lost fumble.

I presume Heyer played quite well for the remainder of the season (which he started) because Todd Collins was so phenomenal during that period. What I know is that Jon Jansen certainly can't be blamed for Campbell's fumbling problem in 2007.

Ben says:

This is the way things work in the NFL, I suspect when we look back at this decision at the end of the 2008 season it may well be one of those Stephon took the job when Jon was a bit weakened and never gave it back situations...

A final thought on the changing of the guard tackle. When a guy like Jon Jansen who has played as solidly as he has for ten seasons gets displaced by a second year guy that was not even drafted, there is a problem in your organization. It is the natural progression of things that older players are supplanted by younger players, that is the way it works.

Ben also touches on the contractual stuff, which I'm going to address more below.

Yesterday I answered some questions from Big Blue View regarding "surprises" this offseason and which one stood out. My answer was:

Training camp is all about surprises as we've been sitting about ringing hands over the coming season long enough now where every event, no matter how trivial, is new and fascinating and worthy of excessive print. I could rail off 10 things about this team that I wouldn't have thought to actualize at the end of last season. Of those things, off the top of my head, word that undrafted free agent Stephon Heyer is actually pressuring starting tackle Jon Jansen for playing time is baffling to the extreme. Barring injury, Jansen has started every single game of his Redskin career since his rookie season in 1999. That Jon Jansen is now being troubled for his starting spot is simply not something Redskins fans have had much experience with over the last 10 years. Does not compute.

Per Redskins 360, Jansen is upset but utterly professional about the entire affair:

Said Jansen: "There were some reasons thrown around, nothing I felt was reason enough but they’re the coaches and I’m the player. I’ll go out there and do what I’m supposed to do."

Redskin Report:

Juding from what we saw in the pre-season, this is the right move.  Heyer may not be a top tier tackle at this point, but Jansen was getting run over by no-names in virtually every game this August.

Mark Newgent stays optimistic:

While I feel for Jansen, I am glad to see an elderly offensive line get a bit younger with Heyer. Heyer impressed last year as an undrafted free agent. In the near future he can be the anchor of a younger stronger offensive line with Chad Rhinehart and Justin Geisinger.

The bad news is that he might very well have to be. This moment was bound to happen because Jon Jansen couldn't simply play forever. The best case scenario is that he clung to his starting job for just a few more years (with no additional restructures) and managed to close out the lion's share of his contract as a player -- opposed to as a sitter, which is what backup linemen do most of the time.

The good news is, at least in March via Warpath Cap Summary: our starting right tackle will cost the team just 373K in 2008. Good on Stephon Heyer.

Uh, bad news... After restructuring his contract in February, Jansen went from an over 5.5M cap hit in 2008 to just an ~750K cap hit. Meaning he spread around a lot of his formerly unguaranteed salary (that we would not pay if, say, we cut him as a too-expensive backup right now) into guaranteed bonus money which was then prorated over the course of his contract.

The following release fees were taken from Warpath Cap Summary although they reflect his old 2008 cap hit of over 5.5M. That tells me that the numbers don't factor in the money since turned into guaranteed bonus, which would actually increase the release penalties. They are:

Over 14M if released this year

Over 9M if released next year

Over 6.5M if released in 2010

Around 3.3M if released in 2011

That should give you a pretty good idea of the future dead cap hit we're going to necessarily take from Jon Jansen. He's set to cost the team somewheres between 4.6M to 7.7M for the next three seasons after this one. That means his release fee exceeds his cap hit at least until 2010. Savings (admittedly this depends on how you cut him, since the cap is spread differently depending on what part of the year you do so) for cutting him won't happen for the next 2 football seasons. And by "savings" I mean it will cost us less to pay him than it will to suffer the dead cap hit from releasing him.

The problem with dead cap hits are that they cost money for no or little return on the investment. Incidentally, under ideal circumstances, that's also the problem with backups; if they see the field that means someone is injured. Typically you'd prefer your backups not be among the 10 highest paid players on the team for that precise reason. Suffice to say, Jansen is atypical in that regard.

The hidden danger of restructuring players with large contracts is that you wake up the next day, or, say, you wake up in September, and you realize the guy you thought had long-term value with the team... didn't. But you're still holding the bill that says "Amount Due" next to "2011" and there's lots of zeroes and you're wondering whether or not it wouldn't have just been better to take your cap licks in 2007 to better position yourself to make a roster decision without a proverbial salary cap gun poking right up against your temple. And when the trigger does activate it's gobs and gobs of green moneys spilling out the side of your head and there isn't a team doctor about (too busy fixing hamstrings, I 'spose) to stuff all that cash back where it belongs.

This is especially difficult because Jon Jansen is one of my favorite Redskins. I really couldn't have imagined a world where he wasn't the starting offensive linemen for the 'Skins. Neither did the front office, apparently.