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John Riggins: Clinton Portis has team "over a barrel."

From various sources comes an emerging and troubling potential Clinton Portis vs. John Riggins duel the likes of which have not been seen since, well, the last time Clinton Portis got into it with anoter former Redskin. Remember this?

Portis: What you go on TV and say, what you sit on your radio show and say, 'Portis need to shut up?' Portis gonna keep talking.
Mitchell: You keep talking. Keep talking, bro.
Portis: So the fools saying Portis need to shut up, they can kiss Portis's ass. I'm saying that. Ain't nothing gonna change, my man....
Mitchell: Clinton, I'm gonna tell you like this bro. I always talk. I'm an analyst. I analyze positive and negative. If you can't handle the negative....
Portis: You're a hater, that's what you are....
Host John Thompson: "Both of y'all are guys that we're both proud of, and when you see one another, eat a sausage sandwich, sit back and put your toes up and laugh about this crap."

That was just months ago and was widely reported as escalating dangerously towards a physical altercation. Now John Riggins is piling on though, thankfully, no one's pockets are losing their straightness as a result. Net yet, at least. Pro Football Weekly and Mark Maske provide the potentially offending quote:

"I don't think there's any turning back now because obviously to a certain extent Clinton Portis has the team over a barrel from my understanding of the amount of money that he's owed, guaranteed money that becomes really cost-prohibitive to get rid of him over a [salary] cap issue. There's not that many teams that would be interested in Clinton Portis, I don't think, and so they have a bad situation on their hands. [That's] my personal take on it."

We'll talk more about the salary implications in a moment, but what's all this noise about, anyways? Something like:

Redskins RB Clinton Portis spoke with a small group of media, including PFW, in Tampa before the Super Bowl and said he still isn’t sure if he’ll be a part of the team’s offseason workouts in the D.C. area or if he’ll work out in Miami, as he has become accustomed to doing — but something the coaching staff would rather he not do.

“I’m going to play it by ear,” he said. “I’m going to be taking my time. I know I’m winding down. I’m going to take my time and make the decision best for me to help carry this team.”

Part of me wants to know more about this "winding down" and wonders why it is that NFL employees get to "play it by ear" when it comes to what their employers want whereas the likes of me do what we're told. Part of me also recognizes that this is hardly business as unusual, and that Clinton Portis (and others) routinely trains outside of Washington in the off-season. So I'm somewhere between lamenting one of our best players effectively telling the staff that what they want may or may not matter, and really being disinterested in his off-season workout destination so long as he shows up healthy. (Mark Newgent correctly points out that perhaps John Riggins isn't the appropriate task-master for this, as he was hardly a boyscout.)

But about this being over a barrel business... Just start adding zeros. Although slightly dated, I don't think much of Portis' contract has changed since January 1st of this year, and Warpath's figures have Clinton as:

  • The highest compensated player on the team through 2013, escalating dramatically in 2010 to over 10M a year.
  • His release fees start at 13M in 2009 and go down about 2.5M-3M a year as additional guaranteed moneys are prorated out of his contract. Keep in mind this number is just as likely to increase as decrease, because the preferred solution for solving every Redskin salary cap problem is renegotiating formerly unguaranteed money into guaranteed money prorated over the course of the contract, thereby increasing the penalty for early release.
  • Cursory examination shows that Portis is just above Chris Samuels and just below Chris Cooley in terms of release penalties over the next 3 years.
  • Incredibly, the team is in the unenviable position of taking a 7 digit penalty for cutting Portis at any moment before 2013. I love Clinton Portis, he's one of my favorite players on the team. I am incapable, though, of defending our decision to tie so many funds into his contract necessarily. Fates change rapidly in the NFL and you're better off not marrying yourself to (virtually) any player for that much change. I think this is especially true of running backs, as the position is one of the more fungible ones in the game.
  • Because he's set to cost the team an alarming 10+M in 2010, the team can actually save money by cutting him (with a penalty of around 8.5M) which would then give us the largest individual dead cap hit that I can recall seeing in Washington (for a nice comparison, we paid ~ 6M in total dead cap hit last year) though I could be wrong about that.

I harp on it too often and will forget the point for now, but briefly: I do not think restructuring unguaranteed moneys into guaranteed money is a wise strategy generally, and the sheer volume in dead cap hits that we'd suffer from cutting Clinton Portis at any time over the next 3 years is partial evidence of that, in my opinion. Having said that I urge everyone to fall back in love with Clinton Portis, because whatever happens he's either going to be here for a while, or haters should exercise caution over what they wish, as Portis cut and sent packing out of town represents (relatively) dire financial consequence for the team. In other words: Yea, over a barrel sounds about right.