Earlier this week, I published a CBA Nugget article that focused on what might happen if the NFL cancels games in 2020, or is forced to play games with reduced attendance. The potential negative outcome is that every team in the league could face reduced salary cap limits in 2021 and even beyond.
If this were to come to pass, with 32 teams scrambling to construct rosters with limited cap space, the teams who enter 2021 with the most cap space available would arguably be in the strongest position.
In that article, I quoted a recent article from OverTheCap:
[A]s teams become more aware of this season’s outcome, they will likely begin cutting veterans with non guaranteed contracts left and right to cut down on costs for the year and to maximize cap carryover for 2021. Almost every team in the NFL has already met the spending threshold for the current four year spending period so they can almost all run like the Dolphins did last season without worry.
But would there really be a reason to carry the player who is going to earn between $3 and $9 million who may be a situational player or one only on the team due to some cap considerations in 2020? Teams keep players sometimes hoping they can get one last year out of them if the cost to cut and cost to keep are close, but you can probably throw all of that out the window if you are expected to lose $100 million on the year and still face a situation next year where you have to make crazy decisions to be cap compliant and to find ways to make up for all the money that was lost in the Covid crisis. Cutting now and saving the salary lessens your losses on the year and increases your cap room the next year assuming the player was a likely cut anyway.
In addition if there is no season there is no reason to even consider paying players in the last year of their contract if their contracts will expire anyway or paying players who are of limited contribution anyway to the team.
If the 2020 season ends up being cancelled, it could become the equivalent of the Great Depression for NFL players, with huge numbers of them rudely and unexpectedly out of work, with no realistic prospects of re-employment before 2021, if ever. NFL careers are short, and the cancellation of the season could end hundreds of them prematurely.
Right now, the Redskins have the 2nd highest available cap space in the NFL, meaning the team is poised to enter 2021 with an advantage. When you take into account that this is the final year in which Alex Smith has guaranteed money on his contract, and that it is almost inevitable that the Redskins will release him next year (adding $13.5m to the available cap space), that advantage is probably even greater than it appears at the moment.
With Alex Smith, the Redskins are projected to have the 6th most available cap space in the NFL at the start of the 2021 league year; without him, they move up to the 5th spot.
We’re talking about some huge differences here. The Eagles are projected to have the highest cap charge in the league in 2021 (based on current contracts) at $265m, while the Redskins, without Smith, should be around $124m. This means that the Eagles are currently slated to spend more than double the cap space in 2021 compared to the post-Alex Smith Redskins.
Of course, the numbers for the Redskins in this 2021 calculation are only for 40 players, but Kyle and Ron have 8 draft picks and potentially a lot of cap room to fill up the 13 or so roster spots that should be available.
The question I want to ask is this: should the Redskins try to maximize that advantage by “dumping” some salary cap space now? In other words, should they get ahead of the curve by implementing the program outlined in the OverTheCap article quoted above?
Specifically, should the team either cut or trade players with an eye toward being better prepared for the possibility of a reduced salary cap in the 2021 (and maybe longer)? The lower the salary cap is, the more important every available cap dollar is, and the greater the advantage for the teams with low-cost rosters that have greater cap resources available.
To be honest, the way the Redskins roster is constructed, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to make significant impact on the salary cap for 2020. For example, the three players with the largest cap hits, Alex Smith ($21.4m), Brandon Scherff ($15m) and Landon Collins ($14.2m) are all on fully guaranteed contracts for this season. That’s $50m that’s locked in.
In addition, the Redskins also have a lot of players on low-cost rookie deals and low-cost veteran free agent deals. The number of players in the middle — guys with significant cap hits that could be moved off the roster — is limited to just a few names.
What I’m trying so hard to say here is that, even if one thinks that the team should cut some players this season to maximize 2021 cap space, there are damned few opportunities to do so.
However, if the Redskins decided that the priority was to lighten the salary cap load, there are a few targets. The most commonly discussed is Ryan Kerrigan. In an article published yesterday, I said this about Kerrigan’s situation:
He is a hard worker, a good leader, a charismatic guy, and a good player. In short, he’s everything the organization could have asked for when they drafted him.
But there may not be a good “fit” between Kerrigan and the Redskins in 2021. Kerrigan doesn’t look ready to retire, but the reality might be that he needs to accept lower pay and fewer snaps to remain in Washington given that the Redskins drafted first-round talents Montez Sweat and Chase Young in the past two drafts.
Many fans have visualized Kerrigan as a career-long Redskin, but he may very well seek out a team more in need of his talents, and more willing to pay for them, in 2021.
I’m a huge fan of Ryan Kerrigan, and if he can retire a Redskin, I’d love to see that happen. It’ll be interesting to see how the “family” versus “business” tug-o-war plays out over the coming year with regard to Kerrigan.
Kerrigan is in the final year of his contract, and is scheduled to count $11.69m towards the salary cap. The thought here is that if Kerrigan is likely to leave in free agency next year anyway, then the Redskins should maximize the potential return in trade, as well as taking advantage of the cap space an immediate move would free up.
Adding back his cap hit on top of the Alex Smith savings by trading or cutting Kerrigan this off-season would push the Redskins up to the 3rd most available cap space in the league in 2021, with salary cap charges of just over $111m for 39 players.
Obviously it would be ideal to trade Kerrigan for an additional 2021 draft pick, but even the $11.7m cap savings achieved by releasing him would be welcome.
A lot of fans would be resistant to the idea of parting ways with Kerrigan — I know I am, But he is 31 years old and in the final year of his contract. With the drafting of Montez Sweat and Chase Young, Kerrigan appears to be destined to play fewer snaps in a rotational role for the Redskins, though he has the talent to start for many NFL teams.
Since some of you all forgot. Ryan Kerrigan has been one of the most consistent edge rushers in the NFL.— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) May 12, 2020
Since he entered the league in 2011, his 587 pressures and 103 sacks are both in the top 4 of the NFL.
Here are some of the biggest impact plays he's made in his career. pic.twitter.com/vVEyptbNDD
Of course, no one is going to trade for Kerrigan if they believe the season is not going to be played, so, while he could be released any time prior to the home opener against the Eagles, a trade would be most beneficial to the Redskins if it happened sooner rather than later — before the fate of the 2020 season is known for sure.
But, what if the team traded Kerrigan and the NFL ended up playing a regular 16-game schedule with no negative impact on league revenues, so no reduction in salary cap in 2021? Wouldn’t that be a disaster?
This could be a move that would be consistent with the direction that Ron Rivera seems to have set for the team.
The Redskins are a young team with a low-cost roster. They have focused on 1-year and short-term contracts in free agency, mostly with high-floor veterans that offer some upside. There are muted expectations from fans for 2020, with many people saying that a 6 or 7 win season would be perfectly acceptable.
The moves of the front office and coaching staff to date look like they are focused on competing for a division title in 2021, using the 2020 season to evaluate the roster and instill a specific culture.
Kerrigan could be part of all that if he remains with the Redskins; he is known as a high-character professional who does things the right way — a great example to younger players. But is that worth the $11.7m cap hit? Would it be wiser to save that money until next season, when the ‘Skins could put it towards a younger player, and perhaps even pick up an extra draft pick along the way?
Kerrigan is a great Redskin — a guy the organization drafted and a guy that the fans love. But business is business. It might be time to part ways with one of the few players on the roster over the age of 30, and the player who provides the single greatest amount of 2020 cap space if he is traded or cut.
But Kerrigan isn’t the only guy who the Redskins could consider trading away.
Cutting Morgan Moses would actually be a huge salary cap move, since he is under contract through 2022. Not only would the Redskins reduce the 2020 salary cap charge by $4.85m, but there would be a further savings in 2021, adding a total of $14.5m to the Redskins 2021 salary cap space, which is even more than they gain by moving on from Ryan Kerrigan. The three-year savings from moving on from Morgan Moses would total $22.25m. The problem is that the offensive line appears to have less depth than the defensive line. The Redskins may need to rely on Morgan Moses to either continue as the starting right tackle or fill the role of “swing” tackle on the roster.
Another guy who offers some savings is Adrian Peterson, who, if cut (I doubt he has any trade value) would provide a savings of $2.48m against the cap that could be carried over to 2021. Some of the same arguments applied to other players above exist for Peterson being retained — he’s a high character professional playing at a position with many question marks. Still, the opportunity to improve the salary cap position combined with a possible numbers-squeeze if the team decides to keep a limited number of running backs makes AD a possible cut prior to Week 1.
Cutting 37-year-old Thomas Davis prior to the start of the season would save $2m but would require the team to eat a dead-cap hit of $1.75m for essentially no return. Rivera brought Davis in specifically to help him institute the coach’s culture and philosophy, and the Redskins linebacker group is paper-thin. While Davis might look like a cap casualty candidate on a lot of rosters, I think he’s a roster lock for the 2020 Redskins.
Cutting Jeremy Sprinkle can lead to a $2.13m savings. I don’t think salary will even come into play in that decision; I believe Sprinkle will fail to make the 53-man roster simply by virtue of being beaten out by other players in camp.
Jonathan Allen is younger than Ryan Kerrigan, but his situation is similar in some ways. He plays in a position group where the Redskins have a lot of depth, and trading him would trigger a dead cap hit, but would actually increase the team’s 2021 available cap space significantly ($10m savings - $3.7 dead cap), meaning the Redskins could add another $6.3m to their available cap space for 2021, and, with two years remaining on his contract, Allen is likely to have trade value that Ryan Kerrigan doesn’t possess. You wouldn’t consider this on the cap savings alone since Allen’s contract in guaranteed for 2020, but if the Redskins could get strong draft capital in trade this season, could it be enough to tip the balance?
Trading Allen is a strategic move that I don’t think a lot of fans would support; in fact, I doubt I would support it, but it does fit the strategy of aggressively seeking to reduce the salary cap, but only makes sense if there is a strong return in future draft picks in the trade.
After these few players, It gets very hard to make the case for cutting any other players on the basis of salary cap, as they either don’t offer substantial cap savings, or they fill a critical role on the team that can’t be reliably replaced for less money. Even those discussed above are all pretty borderline calls. The Redskins salary cap situation is pretty lean, with very little fat to trim. Still, given the current COVID situation and the downside risk for salary cap, it might be prudent for a team like the Redskins who have low expectations in 2020 to do what they can to be proactive.
The team’s options for making roster changes solely for the purpose of improving salary cap position ahead of a potentially problematic 2021 season are limited, but the competitive advantage gained might make it worthwhile.
Should the Redskins cut or trade any players from the current roster simply to increase available cap space for 2021?
This poll is closed
Yes, it’s a good idea
No, that’s a bad idea
Which of these best describes your attitude?
This poll is closed
Cutting players to create salary cap room is just a bad idea
Ryan Kerrigan is the best candidate to trade or cut (adds $11.7m to 2021 cap space)
Morgan Moses is the best candidate to be cut or traded (adds $14.5m to 2021 cap space)
Adrian Peterson is the best option - he shouldn’t make the 53-man roster at the start of the season (adds $2.48m to 2021 cap space)
Jonathan Allen is the best option and should be traded if we can get a good draft pick in return (adds $6.3m to 2021 cap space and)