Looking at veteran free agency
I plan to spend much of the next 6 weeks taking a look at veteran free agents for 2019 with help from the Top-50 list from NFL Trade Rumors; the plan is to review positions of need on the Redskins roster, one position per article, over the course of this week and next, and then to revisit the position lists as we get closer to the start of the new league year.
Veteran free agent lists will be highly fluid once the Super Bowl has finished, and teams start to talk to their own players. Many of the top free agents will be re-signed by their teams during, or in the week following, the Scouting Combine, which will be held from 26 February to 4 March.
I plan to revisit lists of key available free agents again ahead of the beginning of free agency when it becomes clearer which players have decided to stay with their current teams, and which ones seem committed to testing their value in the open marketplace. Consider this a ‘warm up’ as we look at the very top tier - a selection of positions from a top-50 list. This is just the opening act.
Free Agent Frenzy starts 13 March
The league year ends at 4:00 p.m. ET, on 13 March, which is when teams are free to sign veteran free agents to new contracts. There is a two-day ‘legal tampering period’ prior to the end of the league year when players’ agents are allowed to talk to any team in the league to arrange contracts on behalf of their clients.
According to OverTheCap, the Redskins are projected to have $21.56m in cap space available this off-season. Using some ‘rule-of-thumb’ numbers, the team probably needs to allow about $2.6m for draft picks, and keep another $5m or so available to sign players as injuries occur during the season.
That would leave around $14m in available 2019 cap space to spend on veteran free agents in the upcoming off-season.
Remember that the first year of most NFL contracts typically has the lowest cap hit, so the Redskins would be able to sign one or more players with a cumulative APY that is greater than the available 2019 cap space due to the accrual accounting methods used in accounting for the salary cap.
To put a fine point on that, because the APY numbers are average numbers for the life of the contract, while the 2019 cap hits generally represent the lowest year of those contracts, it might be possible for the Redskins to, say, sign four veteran free agents whose APYs are $7m, 5m, $4.5m and $4m (a total of $20.5m) even though they have only around $14m available for 2019.
Of course, the team can clear space by cutting or trading players or ‘create’ space by re-structuring contracts in an effort to have more money available for free agency in 2019 and beyond.
Potential cap casualties
Here are the top-ten Redskins players who would have a significant effect on salary cap:
- Alex Smith - Restructure of contract could reduce 2019 cap hit by an estimated $9m by shifting cap dollars to the remaining 3 years of the contract. This is not a cap savings, but a mere deferral to allow more flexibility in roster construction in the short term. This idea was discussed in some detail in an article published in early December.
- Trent Williams - Trading Williams could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $9.34m, with and additional $12.75m reduction in 2020.
- Josh Norman - Trading Norman could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $8.5m, with an additional $12.5m reduction in 2020.
- Ryan Kerrigan - Trading Kerrigan could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $10.75m, with an additional $11.75m reduction in 2020.
- Jordan Reed - Cutting or Trading Jordan Reed could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $6.07m, with an additional $17.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). Alternatively, renegotiating Reed’s contract could probably create an estimated savings of $2m to $3m per season, while keeping Reed on the roster.
- Zach Brown - Cutting or Trading Zach Brown could reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5.75m, with an additional $8m reduction in 2020.
- Vernon Davis - Cutting Vernon Davis would save reduce the 2019 cap hit by $5m.
- Stacy McGee - Cutting or Trading Stacy McGee would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2.275m, with an additional $10.5m reduction in the remaining years of his contract (‘20 & ‘21). With a 2019 salary & roster bonus of just $4m, 3 years remaining and no guaranteed money, it’s not crazy to think that the Redskins might be able to trade McGee for a 6th or 7th round draft pick, or swapping picks to move higher in the draft order.
- Chris Thompson - Cutting or Trading Chris Thompson would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $3m.
- Mason Foster - Cutting Mason Foster would reduce the 2019 cap hit by $2m.
As you can see, the Redskins have a wide range of options available for attacking the salary cap and roster.
- They could simply stand pat on the existing roster and focus the draft and limited free agency;
- they could make selected salary cap moves, giving them sufficient room to make one or two key signings, or
- they could really clear out the roster, load up on draft capital and perform a complete roster teardown & re-build over the next two off-seasons.
The Redskins have a very large number of players under contract currently, as they ended the year with 24 players on IR, one player on Reserve/NFI, and one on the Commissioner’s exempt list in addition to the regular roster, practice squad players and futures contracts.
Still, the team will have holes in the roster, partly due to injury, partly due to expiring contracts, and partly due to the need to upgrade positions.
The front office expects to have 8 draft picks April in addition to the cap space available to sign veteran free agents starting 13 March.
Upcoming Redskins veteran free agents
The team can bolster the roster in a number of ways:
- Re-signing its own free agents
- trading for veteran players
- Drafting player in Nashville from 25-27 April (The Redskins will probably have 8 draft picks, the first being 15th overall)
- Signing veteran free agents, starting from 13 March
- Signing undrafted college free agents, starting the moment the draft ends on 27 April
Today’s article will focus solely on veteran safeties, and today I plan to only look at the top-ranked 3safeties that appear on the Top-50 veteran free agents list published this week by NFL Trade Rumors.
I’ve scanned the fifty names and found three 3-4 OLBs on the NFLTR list
#3 Dee Ford, Kansas City, 28 years old
Frankly, I’d be shocked if the Chiefs let Ford get away, and the Redskins probably can’t afford to pay him. Still, Ford would be an upgrade at OLB, and, playing for the top-seeded AFC playoff team, there’s a fair chance that he’ll be sporting a shiny new Super Bowl ring by the time the ‘19 season kicks off.
With 13 sacks this season, and 28 sacks in his last 37 games, Ford is a rising talent at 3-4 OLB, and one of the strengths of an inconsistent Kansas City defense. Probably his biggest downside is his age; he is a 28-year old free agent, just completing his 5th season, after being drafted 23rd overall in 2014.
#4 Jadeveon Clowney, Houston, 26 years old
With Clowney coming off of his 5th year option, one would expect the Texans, who drafted Clowney 1st overall in 2014, to retain him on the roster. I like Dee Ford better, but Clowney has been, outside of his rookie season, pretty healthy, and has produced fairly consistently, if not necessarily at the premier level expected of a player with his draft status.
Like Ford, Clowney would be an expensive addition for the Redskins, but I’m not sure how much of a true upgrade he would offer for the investment.
#17 Preston Smith, Washington Redskins, 26 years old
Smith, of course, is one of our own, drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft.
He’s been a good, if often inconsistent, player for the Redskins. There were reports of him being ‘lazy’ and not acting like a pro in his rookie season, and fans often complain of him disappearing for a half or a full game.
He has stayed healthy, but averages only around 6 sacks per season. Still, he and Ryan Kerrigan have made a good pair of OLBs for the Redskins, though the two of them will not dazzle anyone with speed.
Spotrac puts his projected contract value at $11.1m, which is probably just about the maximum most Redskins fans would want to see the team go to. It may be better to let Smith walk and draft a new, hopefully more consistently explosive replacement in April, though with the number of team needs, it is tempting to want to retain a player like Smith rather than using draft resources to replace him.
What should the Redskins do at OLB?
This poll is closed
Stand pat with Kerrigan, Ryan Anderson & Cassanova McKenzie (and re-sign Pernell McPhee, who is also a UFA)
Keep the band together by re-signing Preston Smith at $10m-plus
Sign a top tier veteran free agent (Ford or Clowney) to replace Smith
Sign a lower tier (cheaper) veteran free agent to replace Smith (or re-sign Smith at $8m or less if possible)
Draft a player to replace Smith
Trade Kerrigan for a draft pick, clear some salary cap space, and go younger & cheaper by drafting two new OLBs.