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The 5 O’Clock Club: Don’t get too excited about that projected 2022 cap surplus of $60m just yet

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Football Team Off-Season Workout Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time 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.

At first blush, the 2022 projected raw available cap space numbers for the NFC East from Over The Cap probably are enough to hearten any Washington fan.

  • Washington - $60.599m
  • Philadelphia - $12.836m
  • New York - $2.713m
  • Dallas - <$24.157m>

It looks like the Football Team will have tons of flexibility, while its rivals will have little or none.

When we add some other factors, however, the picture isn’t really as sunny as it first appears.

There are three factors that level the playing field a bit:

No. 1 - Quarterback

Washington doesn’t have a starting quarterback under contract for 2022 and beyond (unless you are prepared to count Taylor Heinicke as that guy), while, to a greater or lesser extent, Washington’s division rivals do.

Dallas is locked in with Dak Prescott, the Giants drafted Daniel Jones in 2019, and, with 5th year options and franchise tags, can control his contract through 2025 at least, assuming they want to keep him. Philly has Jalen Hurts in the 2nd year of a rookie contract.

No. 2 - 2022 draft capital

Washington has only 6 picks in the ‘22 draft, having traded their 5th rounder to Philadelphia in return for the picks used to select LS Cameron Cheeseman and DE William Bradley-King.

The Cowboys have the normal 7 picks; the Giants are sitting on 9 picks, with extra selections in the 1st & 4th rounds.

The Eagles, who entered the 2021 draft with 11 picks, will enter the 2022 draft with 10 total picks, including Miami’s 1st round pick, either a 1st or 2nd round pick from Indy for the Carson Wentz trade, and the extra 5th from Washington.

No. 3 - Number of players under contract

Washington has only 41 current players under contract. With only 6 draft picks, the team will need to re-sign or replace between 6 and 10 veteran players, including the quarterback position. This will require a lot of cap space.

The Giants have 47 current players counted against their estimated ‘22 cap space. With their 9 draft picks, they are likely to have plenty of opportunities for roster restructuring to manage their cap space.

The Eagles have 52 current players under contract through 2022. Not all of them will make the team, and with ten draft picks (four in the first two rounds), Howie Roseman will have lots of opportunity to rebuild his roster without worrying too much about cap space constraints.

Dallas Cowboys v&nbsp;Chicago Bears Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, who love to sign long term contracts of 5 or 6 years with core players, have 61 players under contract through 2022. Obviously, at least 8 of those players will lose their jobs before the ‘21 season begins, so Dallas will probably see that projected deficit get reduced by as much as $10m before this year’s regular season kicks off.

With respect to the Cowboys’ projected cap deficit in 2022, a single big-dollar move like cutting or trading Demarcus Ware Lawrence prior to the start of the 2022 season could save Dallas around $19m. They could save a further $17m by moving Zach Martin; $12m for Tyron Smith, or $14m for La’el Collins after this year. In short, Dallas’ projected $24m cap deficit can vanish with a couple of easy 2022 decisions, leaving Jerry Jones with cap space and draft capital needed to keep the roster stocked.

Here’s a quick summary table to help you compare these key ideas:

Washington’s upcoming 2022 free agents

Here’s a list of the key WFT players that will become free agents in 2022 unless they are re-signed. Each of these guys is a potential roster hole that will have to be filled either in the draft, via trade, by re-signing the current player, or by signing a free agent to the roster.

I estimate that the front office will need to use between $40m and $50m in 2022 cap space to fill all of these positions except starting quarterback. That estimate includes signing a long-term extension with Jonathan Allen. If my estimates are in the neighborhood, that would leave the front office with around $10 to $20 million in cap space and 6 draft picks to find a quarterback.

While there aren’t a lot of high-dollar contracts that Martin Mayhew could easily exploit to create additional cap space, there are some. The most obvious would be Ereck Flowers’ non-guaranteed $10m salary in 2022. The fact is, however, that Washington’s roster is very different from that of a team like Dallas; the Football Team is comprised almost exclusively of players on short-term, mid-level free agent contracts or rookie contracts.

The roster construction under Ron Rivera has stressed youth and maximum flexibility to re-shape the roster from one season to the next. That may change over the next two or three seasons as players like Allen, Payne, McLaurin and Sweat reach the end of their rookie deals and the front office has to make high-dollar, long-term decisions about the core of the roster.

I’m not trying to sound a warning that the team is in trouble from a roster standpoint. Not at all.

My only point with this article is to raise awareness that — when several factors like the number of players under contract, 2022 draft capital, and available cap space are taken into account as an integrated whole — there isn’t really much separating the roster-building opportunities for the four teams that make up the NFC East, and the differences certainly aren’t as stark as the single data point of projected 2022 available cap space would lead many people to believe. Despite significant differences in approaches to roster construction, different amounts of draft capital, and different amounts of projected available cap space, the four teams end up pretty close together in terms of expected roster-building potential in February 2022. They will take very different paths, but should have similar overall potential when they get there.

The “big question” facing Rivera, Mayhew and Hurney in the 2022 offseason is likely to be the same “big question” they faced this year: Who will be the quarterback?

The options are likely to be similar to this year as well. There may be trade opportunities (Russell Wilson anyone?) or the same route they chose this year with players like Fitz and Heinicke.

Of course, next year, the front office will face that question in the context of a total team rebranding, and they may face a lot of non-football pressure from fans, media and franchise executives to go all in to draft a new young quarterback to add excitement to the re-launch of the Washington franchise as part of its new identity — a young gun who will end up finishing his rookie contract just in time to sign a long-term deal to go with the new stadium that should be under construction in 2027. The 2022 off-season vibe will almost certainly revolve around the new team name and all that goes with it, and that tidal wave may take on a power of its own to impact things like roster decisions and contract negotiations.

NFL: Washington Football Team OTA Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

I’m really excited for the 2021 football season, but, when it ends, I think that fans of the Washington franchise will be in for the most exciting off-season that any of us will have ever experienced, and I’m really excited to see what that brings as well.


What happens in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Washington has a top-5 pick and drafts a quarterback of the future.
    (9 votes)
  • 18%
    Washington trades into the top-10 to draft a starting quarterback.
    (190 votes)
  • 19%
    Washington trades for a top-tier veteran, like they tried to do with Matt Stafford this year.
    (204 votes)
  • 7%
    Washington signs the best free agent quarterback available in the market, regardless of cost.
    (77 votes)
  • 32%
    Washington re-signs Ryan Fitzpatrick or replaces him with someone similar to another economical contract (2020 redux).
    (338 votes)
  • 20%
    Taylor Heinicke, baby!
    (216 votes)
1034 votes total Vote Now