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Extending Brandon Scherff - a good idea with its own (salary cap) reward

The magic of accrual accounting means that the Redskins can create immediate salary cap space by simply doing the right thing in extending Brandon Scherff’s contract

Washington Redskins v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Redskins will owe Brandon Scherff $12.5m in 2019, with every dollar of that salary being charged to the salary cap. This is true every year for every former first round draft pick who is playing on his 5th year option. This also means that there is no dead cap hit if the team decides to cut the player, as the Redskins did with RG3 in 2016.

Let’s be clear about one thing - Brandon Scherff is one of the best players on the Redskins team. He should be extended — not because it will provide salary cap benefit — but because it is the right thing to do.

Personally, I count the beginning of the end of the Redskins playoff-bound 2018 season, not from when Alex Smith was so dramatically injured in Week 11, but from when Scherff’s season came to an end in Week 10. That was when the Redskins offensive line was so weakened that the team was no longer able to execute its offensive game plan. Yes... the Redskins right guard is that important to the team.

It was a no-brainer to give Trent Williams a 5-year, $66m extension in 2015, six years after the Redskins had drafted him, and it should now be a similarly simple decision for the Redskins to extend Scherff on a similarly lucrative contract.

It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also the smart thing to do from a salary cap standpoint, and some time between now and March 13th, the Redskins should finalize a contract extension with Brandon Scherff.

For a year or two, it’s been common for comments to appear in threads saying that the team needed to keep an eye on the cap space for the purpose of extending Scherff, Crowder and/or Preston Smith when the 2018 season came to an end.

We’ve gotten so used to the idea being repeated in the comments section that many people have lost sight of the fact that the 2019 salary cap situation is different for Scherff than it is for the other two because the Redskins have already exercised the 5th year option that came with his status as a first-round draft pick. People still think in terms of a contract extension for Scherff eating into the Redskins salary cap. On the contrary, an extension for Scherff will reduce the 2019 salary cap and increase the available cap space for the franchise.

In the cases of the slot receiver (Crowder) and the outside linebacker (Smith), extensions will certainly cut into the Redskins’ already limited cap space, but extending Brandon Scherff won’t put pressure on Washington’s 2019 cap space. In fact, through the magic of accrual accounting, the extension will change the distribution of Scherff’s cap charges, and actually give the Redskins more money to spend on other players, not less, if that’s what they want.

The “extension” of Scherff’s contract will, in effect, involve the ‘tearing up’ of his current 1-year, $12.5m deal, and replacing it with a long-term agreement that will redistribute his money and cap charges.

It’s always hard to project the exact effect of a contract on the salary cap without knowing the structure of the deal. The only way to reasonably project the salary cap impact is to make an educated guess as to what the new contract will look like, year-by-year, in order to assess its overall cap hit, and — most importantly to the Redskins — the immediate impact on the cap in 2019 and 2020, when the team needs to negotiate the difficult salary cap situation created by the Alex Smith injury.

I have found that it is often good to have a “proxy” contract to guide my thinking for the purposes of projecting what the Redskins are likely to do with any given contract. Eric Schaffer, who is responsible for negotiating Redskin player contracts and managing salary cap, follows patterns that do not often vary, although he has shown the ability to adapt to specific circumstances, as he did with the large Josh Norman contract that was structured to be molded around the franchise tag(s) of Kirk Cousins, and leave the Redskins with a tradeable commodity in the final two years of Norman’s contract.

While contracts for guards have traditionally not been as rich as those of offensive tackles in the NFL, the guard market was reset last season, and the years that have passed since the Trent Williams extension was signed in 2015 have resulted in a situation where Trent’s 5-year, $66m contract provides very good approximate value for a Brandon Scherff extension, with the added advantage, for our purposes, of also providing a model for the structure of the contract itself.

There’s every reason to believe that the Scherff 2019 contract extension will be similar in structure to the Trent Williams 2015 contract extension, but that it will be tailored to help the Redskins get past the unusual and specific cap and roster challenges they face as a result of the Alex Smith injury.

First of all, let me clarify that — because Brandon Scherff is already signed to a contract in 2019 via the 5th-year option that exists under the current CBA (which did not exist when Trent was extended) — I’m talking about adding 5 years and $66m of new money to his current contract.

The effect of this is that the contract that I am proposing for Brandon Scherff will equal his current deal + the proposed new money, resulting in a 6-year, $78.5m contract that will run from 2019 to 2024.

Let’s look at the structure of the projected Scherff deal, with the cap hits from the 2015 Trent Williams extension laid in for reference.

The Williams contract came with a $20m signing bonus on a $66m contract, meaning that TW received 30% of his contract money at signing, but the first two years of his contract had higher base salary numbers than I am proposing for Scherff and were fully guaranteed, meaning that he received 47% of his contract money (fully guaranteed) in the first two years.

I have increased Scherff’s signing bonus to 38%, but reduced his base salary numbers in order to give the Redskins as much salary cap flexibility as is practical in ‘19 and ‘20. I am not addressing the structure of guarantees (beyond the signing bonus) in this model, since my purpose is simply to assess the salary cap impact of the extension.

Overall, under this proposed structure, Scherff will receive 43% of his total contract money in the first two years. The slight differences between the Williams & Scherff deals are intended to work around the Alex Smith cap hits in 2019 & 2020.

The immediate net effect of this contract extension in 2019 is to reduce Brandon Scherff’s cap hit from $12.5m to $8m, adding $4.5m to Washington’s available cap space.

Based on salary cap projections from OverTheCap, this is what would happen to the Redskins available cap:

To put a fine point on it, the Redskins do not need to cut, trade or restructure any other players to “make room” for Brandon Scherff’s extension. On the contrary, the extension itself should free up available cap space that can be used for signing other players to contracts in 2019.

Not only is the extension the right move for the Redskins roster, it is also the right move for the Redskins salary cap. Signing Brandon Scherff to a multi-year extension in the coming weeks will have the effect of helping to solidify the Redskins offensive line for years to come, as well as increasing the Redskins available cap space in the season ahead.

It’s the very definition of a no-brainer, win-win decision.