A frequent question since the flurry of announcements of roster moves by the Washington Commanders has been: how much cap space do they have now?
Curious myself, I thought I’d check our friends at Over the Cap and see if they had made progress towards answering that question.
Current available cap space
Looking at the Commanders team page, I see cap space of $19.873m listed, but I can see immediately that the roster is not yet fully up to date with Twitter announcements, so there should be more changes coming soon.
First of all, it doesn’t include returning veteran free safety Bobby McCain. It was reported yesterday that McCain will return to Washington on a 2-year, $11m deal.
Reports yesterday did not say that the team had reached agreement with Cam Sims, only that agreement was likely. It’s hard to know how big or small a contract to expect for the long time Washington receiver. In any event, the available cap space will change when and if Sims is extended.
McKissic blew up Twitter across the NFL, but especially in Washington and Buffalo, when he did a U-turn and decided to return to Washington after initially agreeing to terms with the Bills. Tweets indicated that McKissic’s deal with Washington will be on the same terms as the one he had planned to sign with Buffalo. He is not yet included in the OTC estimate of available cap space.
In ten minutes’ spent reviewing the OTC cap space estimate, these are the only three players I can see that haven’t been updated in line with the tweets announcing their status with the Commanders.
Adjusting the numbers for 3 contract extensions
Assuming the reports about these re-signings have been accurate, I’m going to further assume that the team will try to minimize 2022 cap hits on the contracts, so I will estimate (no real math used here) 2022 cap hits of:
- Bobby McCain $4.5m (cap hit ~$2.78m per John Keim)
- JD McKissic $1.91m (per John Keim)
- Cam Sims $2.56m (per John Keim)
If my estimates are anywhere near correct, then we can expect the existing cap space to be reduced by a further $9.5m when these three players are accounted for on Over the Cap.
That would leave about $10.4m ($19.87m - $9.5m) for free agency spending and signing draft picks.
Cost to sign draft picks
OTC estimates that the Commanders will need $4.4m to sign its 6 draft picks in April.
Available for free agency at the moment
That would leave an estimated $6m available cap space for free agency.
Note: I usually make it a point to stress that cap hits are lower than they appear because of the offseason “Rule of 51” which counts only the top 51 players’ salaries against the cap. This means that when you sign a player to a contract, the lowest paid player on the list of 51 is pushed off the list, creating an offset to the cap hit. For example, if the team signs a player with a 2022 cap hit of $3m and that pushes a guy off the roster who makes $800K, then the change to the cap is $2.2m, not $3m. I have not included the Rule of 51 adjustments here because I am just estimating cap hits. When we get actual cap hits for guys like Norwell and McCain, then I will include Rule of 51 adjustments.
Adding more cap space at the touch of a button
$6m may not seem to be enough to do what the Commanders need to do in the free agent market this offseason, but don’t fret. As I’ve written before, the team can “create” up to $18m at the touch of a button by converting some or all of Carson Wentz’s base salary to signing bonus, which they can do without having to ask him, and without increasing his guaranteed money.
If the team initiated such a restructure and then released Wentz after one season, it would not change the amount of money that Washington paid him for that single season (2022).
Obviously, the team won’t restructure the QB’s contract unless the money is needed. There is no hurry and no time limit; such a restructure can happen any time this offseason and its effect would be immediate. If the team comes to terms with a priority free agent but doesn’t have the needed cap space, a “just add water” restructure of Commander Carson’s contract will give them what they need.
Landon Collins - post-June 1 cut
Washington also announced that it had cut Landon Collins, but in an effort to maximize the 2022 cap savings, he was designated as a post-June 1 transaction. This means that the team will carry the veteran safety on the books through the end of May even though he will no longer be with the team. Collins is free to immediately sign with another team.
The advantage of the June 1 designation is that it spreads his cap hit over two seasons (2022-23) to maximize cap space now.
Collins’ release will add $11.88m in cap space on June 1.
That money can be used as contingency space for the regular season, and any cap space that remains unused will be rolled over to the 2023 season.
Of course, it could also be used to help fund contract extensions (like, say, for Terry McLaurin).
Daron Payne’s possible extension
When Jonathan Allen was scheduled to play on his 5th year option last year, the team signed him to a 4-year, $72m extension that had the effect of reducing his 2021 cap hit.
This year, the team is in the same position with Daron Payne, who is currently scheduled to play on the 5th year option at a cost of $8.5m for one year. If the team extends him (and loss of Tim Settle in free agency followed by the release of Matt Ioannidis indicate that they might), then the team would likely save a couple of million in 2022 cap space.
Once again, the fine folks at Over the Cap do the hard work of projecting compensatory draft picks, and they’re pretty good at it.
Four Commanders players have been on their radar for compensatory picks this week:
Originally, McKissic’s announced 2-year, $7m contract had been projected to qualify for a 7th round pick, but when the running back decided to return to Washington, the projected pick disappeared. I mention it only to point out that the $3.5m APY for his contract was expected to qualify for a comp pick. The last pick awarded (to another team) this year (2022 draft) was for a contract with a $2.5m APY.
Tim Settle’s 2-year, $9m contract with the Bills is projected to return a 7th round comp pick in the 2023 draft.
Scherff’s contract with the Jaguars has an APY of $16.5m, which is listed by OTC as the 3rd highest free agent signing in the NFL in terms of value this offseason, meaning that he should easily qualify the Commanders for a 3rd round pick.
It was announced late on Wednesday that RSJ had signed with the Giants. Details of his contract haven't been released.
Currently the Commanders have lost 2 qualifying compensatory free agents (Scherff, Settle) and are projected to qualify for a 3rd round pick and a 7th round pick in the 2023 draft. Andrew Norwell will be signed today, but won't count towards Washington's comp pick equation.
As a caution, these projections are not set in stone. The first rule of qualifying for comp picks is that the team must lose more qualifying CFAs than it signs. If the team were to sign 3 qualifying compensatory free agents (regardless of contract value), then both of these projected picks would disappear.
The effort to retain the projected 3rd round pick for Brandon Scherff, in particular, may affect the team’s decision-making during this year’s free agency period. As an example, one reason that Bobby Wagner could be an attractive free agent target even if he commands a large contract is that, because he was released by the Seahawks, he does not count towards the compensatory pick calculations — he would not offset the pick ‘earned’ by losing Scherff to the Jaguars.
It’s best to take any news of comp pick projections with a grain of salt until mid-May, when free agent signings no longer count towards the comp pick formula and the estimates become more “set in stone”.