Offseason Questions: Will the Redskins get back any salary cap space?

February 13, 2013

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said after the season the team was not done with the salary cap case.

Redskins officials have said they were caught off guard last year when they found out just before free agency that the NFL would hit the team with a $36 million salary cap cut over two years.

With the team set to absorb the second half of that penalty this year, Coach Mike Shanahan said after the 2012 season that the team does not consider the matter closed. But several people familiar with the case said in recent weeks that there is little to no chance, in their view, of the Redskins recouping any portion of their lost cap space.

“The cap penalty remains in place,” one said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Redskins have refused to comment publicly on the details of the case and what they consider unresolved.

So the Redskins again are poised to enter the free agent signing period that begins March 12 with less cap flexibility than their rivals. They are attempting to restock a club that is coming off an NFC East title, but also one that must deal with the uncertain playing status of quarterback Robert Griffin III after his knee surgery.

The Redskins took $18 million of their reduction last year, according to officials in the sport, and must take the remaining $18 million this year. The salary cap will be an estimated $121 million per team.

The Redskins, according to salary cap records, carried over $4.2 million from last year’s cap to this year’s cap, as league rules permit when a team has unused cap room. But it’s not clear precisely where they stand against the salary cap. The final cap figure has not yet been determined, and there are other factors, such as the reconciliation of incentives in players’ contracts from last season, that have not yet been resolved. Some estimates put the Redskins about $4 million over the cap. Teams must be in compliance next month.

The league ruled last year that the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys technically violated no salary cap rules but attempted to gain an improper competitive advantage by the way in which they structured players’ contracts during the uncapped year. The teams denied wrongdoing. The Cowboys were assessed a $10 million cap reduction over two years.

Shanahan was asked at his season wrap-up news conference last month whether the team still was challenging the salary cap reduction.

“I can’t answer that at this time,” Shanahan said then. “So that means we’re still involved in it. Yes, we’re still involved in it. When I can speak about it, I will speak. But at this time, I can’t. I think that answers your question.”

The person with knowledge of the situation said the NFL Players Association is “continuing to press” its collusion case against the league and NFL teams. That complaint stems from the same circumstances during the 2010 season, when there was no salary cap, that led to the cap cuts imposed on the Redskins and Cowboys.

If the Redskins believe the outcome of the union’s collusion case will result in restored salary cap space, that appears to be a long shot, according to several people familiar with the situation. In December, a federal judge in Minnesota ruled that the union had agreed in 2011 not to bring such a collusion complaint against the league. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty wrote that “the NFLPA released the claims it attempts to assert in the underlying action.”

That ruling by Doty was subject to appeal. But several people familiar with the matter said they don’t think it’s likely that an appeal would be successful, and they don’t see any other way at the moment for the Redskins to regain cap space.

“I don’t think there’s anything left for them to try to do about it,” a person with knowledge of the case said recently. “To me, the case has pretty much run its course and the appeals have basically been exhausted.”

There was speculation last year that the Redskins and Cowboys might challenge their salary cap reductions in court. But the teams did not file a lawsuit and instead contested the reductions in an arbitration case brought under the sport’s collective bargaining agreement. That case was dismissed last May. The arbitrator ruled that the cap reductions, which were imposed with the consent of the union, amounted to a proper amending of the CBA and the teams could not challenge them.

The union filed its collusion complaint, which accused the teams of operating with a secret salary cap during the uncapped year, one day later.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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Mike Jones · February 12, 2013