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The 10 O’Clock Club: 2020 salary cap update

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It’s 5 10 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


The usual 5 o’clock club was delayed by my workload this week. Hope the mid-morning start still works for you.


OverTheCap recently published an article titled, The Atlanta Falcons Prepare to Enter Salary Cap Hell in 2020. Here’s an excerpt from that article to give you an idea how dire things are for the Dirty Birds’ front office:

The team currently has just 40 players under contract AND they’re already projected to be over by $18.3 million when factoring in draft picks!

After the Top 10 players, the team has 12 players making over $1 million. When factoring in those 12 players, the Top 22 cap hits for the Falcons consume all but $1.95 million of a $200 million cap.

So an NFL team has 53 players on a roster, the Falcons are spending $198.05 million on 22 players, plus dead money. This leaves the team with $1.95 million for 31 players, which leaves $62,903 per player.

If the team does a complete fire sale and moves on from Mack, Freeman, Sanu, Allen, Keanu Neal, and Allen Bailey, that saves $32.125 million, which brings that total to $34.075 million in cap space. That’s still just $1.1 million per player, which, especially considering all the talent they’d be ridding themselves of in that scenario, likely makes them one of the worst teams in the NFL next year.

I have no idea what the Falcons are going to do to right the ship right now and I don’t think they do either.

Yesterday, I saw a couple of tweets that added to the theme:

OTC backed this up with a chart and an article that took an interesting approach:

So here is a graph that shows on the X axis just how much in salary cap in 2020 is tied up in the top 5 players on a team and on the Y axis we see how much a team can save with releases from this group of players. The release side of the equation only considers players that result in a gain in cap space if a player is cut, so for a player like Jared Goff who would cost millions above his cap number to cut he just gets a value of $0 because there are no savings since he likely would not be released for cap purposes. The average cap sunk into the top 5 is about $76.5 million and the average that can be saved is about $30.8 million.

The worst place to be in the chart is the bottom right quadrant. The bottom right are teams that are well above average in cap dollars committed to just 5 players and have generally no flexibility. At least for 2020 the same top players the team had in 2019 are likely going to be back in 2020. Generally these are the WYSIWYG teams. The Rams, Falcons, and Eagles stick out like a sore thumb.

The top right means you have big money invested at the top but a lot of flexibility. So if you are a bad team it means you may have a chance to overhaul your roster and create some cap space in the process. However it also probably means you sunk a lot into 2019 and if it didn’t pay off its going to lead to two lost seasons. The Jaguars, Bears, Panthers, and to a lesser extent Redskins it that category.

This made me realize that I hadn’t really looked at the Redskins salary cap situation in a while, so I thought today might offer an opportunity to do that.

Source: OverTheCap

As you can see, OverTheCap currently estimates the Redskins to have $50.7m in available cap space in 2020 based on current contracts.

To estimate how many players the Redskins will need to add in free agency and the draft, and how much money will be available to work in free agency, we need to account for:

  • How many current players are under contract for 2020
  • How many of those current players are likely to be cut, resulting in cap savings
  • A list of players that are currently on the roster that may be re-signed

Let’s deal with these issues in order:

2020 Roster Numbers

OverTheCap lists 47 players under contract for 2020. That creates a starting point for the analysis. Right now, we have:

  • 47 players rostered; and
  • $50.7m in available cap space (estimated) for 2020

Projected Roster Cuts

Trent Williams

Whether he’s traded, holds out, gets put on the NFI list or retires, I’m assuming that Trent will not be on the payroll next season. Savings = $12.7m

Alex Smith

People have made noises recently about Alex Smith playing in 2020. I’m not buying it.

If he doesn’t play, there are a number of possibilities:

  • He is carried on the roster all year = no change in cap impact
  • He is cut with a post-June 1 designation (only possible if new CBA is signed prior to the release) = approximately $3.4m savings
  • Out there, somewhere, is a $12m insurance policy that will provide cap relief at some point, but I don’t know when.

All things considered, it seems the best assumption right now is that there is no net change in the 2020 cap position for Alex Smith. The other assumptions would provide a better outcome in terms of 2020 salary cap.

Josh Norman

Cut or traded, Norman should be gone.

Cap savings = $12.5m

Ryan Kerrigan

I think there’s at least a chance that Kerrigan is cut or traded to save $11.75m against salary cap.

Right now, I think that chance is too low to count.

I’m assuming Kerrigan plays out his Redskins contract, with no impact on salary cap.

Jordan Reed

To paraphrase the 1980s rock band, the Eagles, I believe Reed is alll-ready gone.

Cap savings = $8.5m

Morgan Moses

I know Moses hasn’t been playing well, but I think the Redskins will have their hands full with offensive line roster changes already. Whether he starts or sits on the bench, I think Moses stays on the roster, with no net salary cap impact.

Paul Richardson

A new coach or GM might want to move on from Richardson, but cutting him saves only $2.5m against salary cap, which would be quickly spent on a replacement anyway, so I’ll assume for this exercise that he remains with the team, with zero change in salary cap situation.

Adrian Peterson

Similar to Paul Richardson, cutting Peterson saves only $2.25m, which would disappear to pay for a replacement, so for this exercise I’ll assume AD plays out his contract with Washington, with no change in salary cap situation.

In this section, I’ve got the Redskins front office releasing or trading three players: Trent Williams, Josh Norman and Jordan Reed, creating $33.7m in cap space, but also opening up 3 starting roster spots.

I now have the Redskins projected available salary cap space at $84.4m (50.7m + 33.7m) with 3 new roster spots to fill, most likely via veteran free agency. With the 6 roster spots already existing, this means we’re at 9 total roster spots to fill with draft and free agency.

Players that are currently on the roster that may be re-signed

I find annually that this is the hardest part of my salary cap projections, as the front office typically re-signs a different group of players than I expect. Most often they surprise me by re-signing special teams and backup players that I thought might go, while allowing current starters to walk.

I will give my best estimate of what will happen with the most recognizable upcoming free agents in this section.

Here is the full list of upcoming free agents:

Case Keenum / Colt McCoy

Keenum’s only real value above and beyond any other quarterback the Redskins could sign is his familiarity with the current offensive system. Unless Kevin O’Connell is retained as OC or head coach, that means very little. The Redskins will need to sign or draft a backup QB. Given Haskins’ youth, signing a veteran seems more likely, but drafting a mid-round signal-caller would be a way to limit the salary cap impact and show commitment to Haskins.

Keenum could be re-signed, but I’ll assume here that the Redskins allow both Case and Colt to hit the free agent market. Colt may very well end up wherever Jay Gruden ends up, playing the same role Rex Grossman played for the Shanahans.

Brandon Scherff / Ereck Flowers

I wrote an article once before that led me to the conclusion that the team can’t afford to bring both of these veteran guards back. Prior to writing it, I assumed that Scherff would be re-signed to a top-tier contract and Flowers would be signed to a pretty cheap one, locking down two starting positions.

My belief is very different now. Flowers has played the best of any offensive lineman this year. He knows it, the team knows it, and other teams will be able to see it on film. While fans will think Flowers should be signed at a discount, I don’t see that happening unless he does so on a short term deal that allows him to hit free agency again in 2 or 3 years. If the Redskins want him to sign a longer deal, I think they’ll need to pay the 26-year-old at least $10m per year.

I think the team is going to opt to sign Flowers, who has outplayed Scherff this season, and let Brandon go to free agency rather than increase the $13m offer he’s reportedly already rejected.

The ultimate total value of a contract for Flowers isn’t really very critical in estimating the 2020 salary impact, which will, in any event, be lower than the overall APY.

  • Flowers re-signed
  • 2020 salary cap impact = $6.5m

Vernon Davis

Even before the concussion, I thought Davis would retire. Now, I’d probably bet money on it. It’s been good to have him as a Redskin, but his most recent contract paid him too much. It’s time to hang up his cleats and start his acting career. He’ll undoubtedly get his gold jacket before 2030.

Chris Thompson

I love Chris Thompson. He has turned out to be a wonderful value for a 5th round draft pick, but the former Mason-Brennan award winner has reached the end of the line. Like Colt McCoy, I suspect CT will land on his feet next season as part of Jay Gruden’s attempt to install his complicated offensive scheme with a new team in 2020.

Donald Penn

Penn, an undrafted free agent in 2006, has made a very good career in the NFL. He came in and bailed out the Redskins this season. He won’t be back.

Dominique Rogers-Cromartie

It was a terrible decision to keep him on the roster at the end of the preseason in 2019, and I don’t think DRC will be back on an NFL playing field as a player. He and Donald Penn will both be watching games from their sofas next year.

Jon Bostic

Bostic has played surprisingly well, and he’s basically a vet minimum kind of guy. At 29 years old, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in 2020 — at least in training camp.

  • If it’s not Bostic, it’ll be a similar player
  • estimated $1m cap hit

The rest

There are 12 more veteran free agents on the list above. Whether any of them are or aren’t re-signed is insignificant. They are “replacement level” players who will sign commodity-priced contracts. It doesn’t really matter whose name is on the deal — it will simply be a roster spot and a dollar amount.

In this section, I’ve re-signed two players:

  • Ereck Flowers and Jon Bostic
  • 2020 cap impact of $7.5m

I now have the Redskins projected available salary cap space at $76.9m (84.4m - 7.5m).

With two roster spots to be filled by Flowers and Bostic, the Redskins should now have 7 roster spots to fill via free agency and the draft.

My estimate of the seven roster holes that will need to be filled:

  1. Backup quarterback
  2. Starting left tackle
  3. Starting tight end
  4. backup tight end
  5. Starting right guard
  6. Slot CB
  7. Backup DL

This doesn’t mean that the Redskins can’t upgrade other positions (WR, RT, FS spring to mind), but these seven spots would complete the 53-man roster and give us an idea of how much the salary cap will be affected.

The Rookie Pool

Every year in March I publish an article that reviews the Rookie Pool in detail. If you want to read the 2019 version, click here.

For the 2019 draft, I estimated that the Redskins would need $2.85m in cap space to sign their draft picks.

For the purposes of a working number at this early stage, I will estimate that the Redskins will need $3m in cap space to account for the Rookie Pool in 2020.

I’m going to further assume that the draft class will be able to cover 3 of the 7 open roster positions:

  • Starting left tackle
  • Backup tight end
  • Backup DL

Veteran Free Agency

The result is that the Redskins will have (estimated) $73.9m (76.9m-3m) available cap space to start free agency.

I will suggest that the team needs to keep roughly $6.9m in reserve as contingency for signing replacement players to cover injuries during the 2020 season.

This would give the front office (estimated) $70m (maximum) available 2020 cap space to go shopping for four players:

Backup quarterback

Looking at a universe of players like Keenum, Tannehill, Jameis Winston, Chase Daniel, Nate Sudfeld, A.J. McCarron, or Mike Glennon, the cap hit could range from $2m to $10m per year. The ‘sweet spot’ for the Redskins recently has been around $3-$4m. With Alex Smith still accounting for $21.4m, the team will want to keep their investment in the position low, and likely look for just a one or two year contract.

I suspect that the team will target $4-$7m for a proven backup for 2020. The choice of backup may largely depend on who is hired as head coach, as whomever it is may want to bring a guy with him.

Starting tight end

This is likely to be a competitive market, and the Redskins may well have to pay top-dollar to get the guy they need.

Some of the veteran players who are not currently under contract for 2020 are:

  • Eric Ebron
  • Jack Doyle
  • Tyler Eifert
  • Garrett Celek
  • Charles Clay
  • Hunter Henry

The market price for a decent starting tight end appears to be in the range of $5 - $8m. Remembering that the first year cap hit is normally the lowest in the contract, the Redskins should be able to target a cap hit of $3-$6m for a veteran tight end capable of starting.

Starting right guard

The Redskins may be able to rely on Wes Martin or Ross Pierschbacher, both selected in the 2019 draft. Assuming that they aren’t confident in either of them, and are unwilling to pay top-dollar to retain Brandon Scherff, then I think they will be looking to sign a vet free agent on a fairly short-term, low-dollar contract. I’m thinking $2m - $4m APY, with a 2020 cap hit of around $2m-3m.

Some interior linemen who are currently not under contract for 2020:

Slot (nickel) cornerback

I won’t list any names for this position, but a decent veteran slot corner should be available in a range of $3m - $7m per year, depending on how decent he is. I would expect the player to, again, be on a short-term contract with the idea that he would be replaced by a young developing player in a season or two.

Summary

In the scenario I’ve painted, the Redskins, with $70m in available cap space in mid-March, would be able to replace four veteran roster spots for between $12m and $23m.

This would leave the team with a full roster and in the neighborhood of $53m in cap space to spare.

There are a few takeaways from that idea:

1. The Redskins could afford to spend more to find higher quality players — particularly at RG and TE

2. The Redskins could make an impact signing at a roster position in an attempt to upgrade the roster talent. Examples might include:

WR - A.J. Green, Amari Cooper, Robbie Anderson

OLB - Jadeveon Clowney, Dante Fowler

ILB - Cory Littleton, Joe Schoebert, Blake Martinez

CB - Daryl Worley, Byron Jones, James Bradberry

3. With a new head coach, and potentially a re-organized front office, the Redskins could hold onto the salary cap space as a “war chest” that could be rolled forward into 2021, when they would be in the 2nd year with the head coach, the third season with Dwayne Haskins, and a maturing team that would feature Derrius Guice, Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, a solid defensive line, Montez Sweat and Landon Collins all in the prime of their careers. The Redskins could go shopping in 2021 with (potentially) $100m or more to fill out the roster in free agency.

I guess the message that I want to convey is that the Redskins will be in pretty good cap shape in 2020, despite the ongoing Alex Smith cap hit. The roster needs a lot of help, but the team is not bereft of talent. Whether the front office wants to target 2020 or 2021, they should be able to use the draft and free agency to give the new head coach something to work with.

Poll

Which is the wiser course?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Spend what we have to load the roster in 2020 for the new coach.
    (77 votes)
  • 75%
    Keep the powder dry; spend cautiously in 2020, and target 2021 as the year to swing for the fences in free agency.
    (377 votes)
  • 8%
    I have a different idea.
    (43 votes)
497 votes total Vote Now