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Playing GM: Mock Free Agency - How will Scot McCloughan and Eric Schaffer manage the Redskins roster and salary cap between now and the draft?

Bill-in-Bangkok projects off-season cuts and free agent signings and discusses the impact on the Redskins salary cap

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

This article is a companion piece to the Primer on Salary Cap Management, which discusses the basics of NFL player contracts and salary cap management. To read that article, click here.

As you can see from the graphic, the Redskins have around $15m in cap space to roll over to the 2017 season. Only the Browns, Jaguars, Titans and 49ers have more. (OTC) estimates that — with this rollover included — the Redskins will have a 2017 salary cap of $183m (the 5th highest in the league).

OTC also projects that, with the players that will be under contract following the end of the league year, the Redskins will have $60.979m in cap room going into the free agency period (good for 7th most in the league).

One reason that the Redskins have so much money available is that they don’t have a legitimate starting quarterback under contract for the 2017 season yet, but even after they get a quarterback signed, the ‘Skins should still be in the top-12 or top-15 in salary cap space available.

With key players like Kirk Cousins, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker reaching the end of their contracts and becoming unrestricted free agents, and with the obvious deficiencies the team had on the defensive side of the ball in 2016, the key questions for Redskins fans at the moment revolve around how the front office will handle free agency — both in re-signing the team’s own players, and in bringing in talent from other teams — between now and the draft.

What effect will free agency have on the salary cap?

How much will be left for improving the defense after the front office deals with the quarterback and wide receiver positions?

Can the Redskins afford to plug any holes via free agency, or does the team need to be solely reliant on the draft to stock the team with new talent?

The calculations involved in managing a team’s salary cap can be very complex, as each contract must be layered over a number of years. Fortunately, OTC provides a well-designed and easy-to-use calculator that any fan can use to see how different roster moves affect any team’s salary cap situation. Click here to get a look at the Redskins team calculator

In this article, I am going to play GM of the Redskins. I won’t just play the role of Scot McCloughan and decide who I want on the roster; I’ll also play the role of Eric Schaffer and structure the contract for each player as I go.

I’ll look at players to cut, players to let walk, players to re-sign, and — finally — some players available in free agency from other teams. My goal will be to build a better team for 2017, while maintaining the team’s good cap position for next year and the years that follow.

Step 1 - Roster Cuts

I’m going to cut the following players, saving salary cap money with each cut:

  • DeAngelo Hall - $4.25m (I’ll aim to re-sign DHall to a lower contract later in the process)
  • Shawn Lauvao - $4m
  • Kory Lichtensteiger - $3.5m
  • Derek Carrier - $1.075m

After making these four cuts, the available cap room stands at $71.927m

Step 2 - Players Not Re-signed

I don’t plan to re-sign the following players from the 2016 Redskins team:

  1. DeSean Jackson
  2. Donte Whitner
  3. Kedric Golston

Step 3 - Players Re-signed

I’m going to prioritize the re-signing of 5 players:

  • Kirk Cousins
  • Pierre Garcon
  • Vernon Davis
  • Chris Thompson
  • Chris Baker

and I am going to make an effort to re-sign several others:

  • Cullen Jenkins
  • John Sullivan
  • Greg Toler
  • Ziggy Hood
  • Nick Sundberg
  • Junior Gallette
  • Duke Ihenacho
  • Ty Nsekhe
  • Will Compton
  • Terrance Garvin
  • Vinston Painter

Here are the details of the deals I think I can do with each of these 16 players:

Kirk Cousins

I recently wrote an extended article called, Kirk Cousins: the $150m man?

That article details the reasoning behind the contract structure that I think the Redskins can use to re-sign their franchise quarterback. In that article, I worked with an APY (average per year) of $25m to show that even a very expensive contract could be signed without crippling the team, however I don’t really think the team is going to make Kirk the highest paid quarterback in the league.

For this exercise, I’m going to use an APY of $21.5m for Kirk.

After re-signing Kirk, the ‘17 cap space stands at $63.79m.

Pierre Garcon

After re-signing Pierre, the ‘17 cap space stands at $60.257m.

Vernon Davis

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is a Restricted Free Agent. For rules on free agency, click here

I will tender Thomson with a one-year, non-guaranteed contract of approximately $2.5m, which will impact the salary cap by $2.5m in 2017.

Chris Baker

When I look at Defensive Tackle salaries — and 3-4 DTs in particular — I think that Baker’s APY should wind up around $4.5m per year with a guarantee of about 40% of the contract value.

Last week I read a comment from a respected HH contributor saying that Baker should be worth $8m per year, which I personally think is unrealistic and way over the mark, but I’d rather be “conservative” in this simulation than otherwise, so I’m going to use the higher ($8m) number here.

So, after extending my 5 “priority” free agents the salary cap stands at $53.938m.

It’s time to re-sign the other returning 2016 Redskins. For the most part, these contracts will be modest and won’t require a great deal of structuring.

Cullen Jenkins

I’m expecting to sign Cullen Jenkins for vet minimum, which will carry a cap charge of $615,000. Click here to learn about vet minimum rules

John Sullivan

Sullivan signed with the Redskins on Vet minimum in 2016. I suspect he will do the same again. If he demands more, it will not be a number that will significantly change the team’s salary cap situation. Sullivan will count $615,000 against the salary cap, the same as Cullen Jenkins.

Greg Toler

One-year vet minimum - $615K cap charge.

Ziggy Hood

One-year vet minimum - $615K cap charge.

Nick Sundberg

Junior Gallette

One-year vet minimum - $615K cap charge.

Duke Ihenacho

One-year vet minimum - $615K cap charge.

Tye Nsekhe

Nsekhe is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA).

I will tender him with a one-year, non-guaranteed contract of approximately $2.5m, which will impact the salary cap by $2.5m in 2017.

Will Compton

Compton is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA).

I will tender him with a one-year, non-guaranteed contract of approximately $2.5m, which will impact the salary cap by $2.5m in 2017.

Terrance Garvin

One-year, Vet minimum - $615K cap charge in 2017.

Vinston Painter

One-year, Vet minimum - $615K cap charge in 2017.

After extending all 16 free agent Redskins from the 2016 team that I want to re-sign, the Redskins have $46.897m in available salary cap space for 2017, and a similar amount for 2018.

Step 4 - Set aside money for the “Rookie Pool” for signing the 2017 draft picks

The rookie pool is an estimated amount of money that needs to be set aside to sign the team’s draft picks. It is based on the number of draft picks the Redskins have, and their position in each round.

OTC estimates the Redskin rookie pool number at $6.999m for 2017, so I will deduct $7m from the available cap space.

After allowing for the “rookie pool” the Redskins have roughly $39.9 million in available cap space.

Step 5 - Identify veteran free agents from other teams that the Redskins want to sign.

Similar to our own free agents that we extended or re-signed, the veteran free agents brought in from other teams will fall into two categories:

  • “Priority” free agents, which I will refer to as “impact” free agents
  • “Other” free agents, by which I mean low cost ‘depth’ signings, rotational players and special teams players.

The second group has very little impact on the salary cap.

For the purposes of this simulation, I have identified two impact free agents that the Redskins can target to improve as a team in 2017.

To keep things simple, I did my free agent ‘shopping’ from the current list of 25 Top Free Agents compiled by Gregg Rosenthal published on 12 January on

Brandon Williams - DT

27 years old, 6’1”, 335 lbs

Rather than spend a lot of time trying to establish his value and develop a hypothetical contract structure, I’m simply going to copy the contract from Damon “Snacks” Harrison and apply it to Williams. Obviously, all the years need to be adjusted (ie. Year 1 = 2017 and Year 5 = 2021):

Dont’a Hightower - LB

26 yrs old, 6’3”, 270 lbs

Luke Kuechly recently signed a 5-year, $61m contract extension with the Panthers. I’m basing Hightower’s contract on those numbers.

After signing two high-dollar “impact” free agents on defense (DT Brandon Williams and LB Dont’a Hightower) the Redskins projected cap position would look like this:

The Redskins would have roughly $32.3m available to sign the remaining players to fill out the roster, and to add depth as injuries occur throughout the season.

Looking ahead

Any unused cap room remaining at the end of the ‘17 season would roll over to 2018, increasing the current projection of $27.7m available cap room. For 2018, the key free agents that are currently under contract with the Redskins will be:

  • Will Blackmon
  • Ricky Jean Francois
  • Mason Foster
  • Niles Paul
  • Dustin Hopkins
  • Spencer Long
  • Morgan Moses
  • Trent Murphy
  • Bashaud Breeland

I don’t see any names there that look like they will “break the bank” in 2018, so I expect that the projected cap space (plus any rollover from this season) should be more than sufficient to keep the team intact and allow the front office to add needed talent.

So, there you have it — my simulation of the Redskins free agency plans for the 2017 offseason... my mock free agency.

Like a mock draft, this is not an exercise designed to predict exactly what will happen; rather, it’s an attempt to explore what could happen and where it would leave the Redskins as a team if this simulation is even approximately right.

I’m encouraged.

This simulation tells me that the Redskins can give Cousins, Garcon & Baker top-dollar contract; that they can retain most of the current free agent Redskins; that they can add two impact players on defense; that they can select 9 players in the April draft, and they can head towards training camp with more than $30m in cap room for 2017, and a further $27m for 2018.

The Redskins salary cap has enough room for the team to improve its personnel this season before the draft, setting the team up for a strong run at the division title in the coming season.