Redskins’ salary-cap woes were a hometown production

The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, LaVar Arrington, Mike Wise and Jonathan Forsythe discuss where the Washington Redskins need free agents. (Post Sports Live)
Mike Wise
Columnist March 14, 2013

Without pause the verbal fusillade keeps coming from the team facility: Coach Mike Shanahan. General Manager Bruce Allen. Larry Michael, the in-house broadcaster. London Fletcher, the voice of the locker room. Really, every fan accustomed to competing for annual offseason championships has pot-shotted the NFL over what Allen calls “a travesty of fairness.”

From their perspective, Roger Goodell is the cruel and unjust parent, and the team is a bunch of helpless, furled-lip toddlers sentenced to timeout.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Please. Stop the sniveling. Enough with this selective memory or soon they’ll be renamed the Washington Revisionists.

There is a reason owner Daniel Snyder isn’t able to outbid every other owner and steal away a safety like Dashon Goldson or a right tackle such as Ryan Clady, or even an Aqib Talib or Reggie Bush. There is a reason the team can’t address its numerous defensive backfield needs, including Cortland Finnegan a year ago — why a $36 million deduction in spending over two years was leveled by the league last March.

Contrary to local belief, it’s not the dark forces of Emperor Goodell and his legal department of Sith Lords.

It’s called organizational hubris, and it was practiced most deftly by the team’s brain trust during 2010, the year the league did not have a salary cap in place leading up to its labor standoff.

The team has somehow convinced many of its legions these sanctions just appeared like white smoke over the Vatican.

Reality Refresher: Three years ago NFL owners agreed that teams would not be allowed to exploit the uncapped year to gain a competitive advantage. There was not a written edict violated or a binding contract broken. There were simply a few teams who made a mockery of a negotiated solution to preserve competitive NFL balance, and the most conniving and manipulative among those teams, the Redskins and the Cowboys (who suffered lesser penalties), basically got voted off the island by their peer group.

End of story.

No vendetta by a single NFL owner, maniacally plotting in New York.

No personal payback by the NFL commissioner.

Nope. Just a self-inflicted wound by another group of executives who foolishly believed they were the smartest guys in the room.

The good news is, Shanahan, Allen, fans and others can milk their victimhood, use the penalties as excuses for cutting or not re-signing players.

Lorenzo Alexander, who made his bones on special teams and developed into a Pro Bowl player — if Fletcher is the public conscience of the team, Alexander was its lesser-known veteran leader — was deemed unaffordable because of the cap penalties. The truth is the team wouldn’t ante up another million for his signing bonus so he could stay instead of leaving for Arizona. If they really wanted to keep the one-man gang, they could have found a willing teammate to restructure their deal or found another way.

But like with the release of DeAngelo Hall, the salary cap penalties gave Shanahan an alibi. Actually, if he feels creative, he can use the cap hits for just about any excuse now. Just imagine:

On quarterback Robert Griffin III’s return from injury: “Robert won’t be ready for Week 1 as we originally thought. Cap penalties did it to us again. They’re holding him out for a few more weeks. It’s the commissioner’s call, I’m afraid.”

On re-sodding FedEx Field: “Unfortunately the league office has decimated our ability to have a safe playing field; the position of groundskeeper has been eliminated. Nothin’ we can do until 2014, when we get that cap space back.”

On the recent arctic chill in the air: “These salary cap hits just sapped the warmth right out of the ozone. When you sign up to coach in the National Football League you don’t expect a bunch of lawyers in New York deciding not to heat your practice bubble.”

In fairness, some hard questions probably still need to be answered.

●Do I feel bad for the players who never had a say in their bosses’ clumsy decision to gamble future free agent dollars away? Yes.

●If the NFL’s oversight body was under the auspices of federal or state law — and not a private company of billionaires — would the team have a much better chance of legal recourse? Sure. But that’s the same consequence of self-governance many Fortune 500 companies abide by.

●Were the penalties somewhat arbitrary, subjective and harsh? Yes.

●More important: Were they warranted?

Reality Refresher II: In 2010 the team employed a deceptive loophole that allowed them to distribute all of Albert Haynesworth’s $21 million signing bonus and make it count against the 2010 salary cap, instead of rationing it over the length of his deal. This is doable in years the NFL imposes a salary cap. But it was forbidden that particular year, when the Redskins used it to create future flexibility, so they could spend like crazy in a year they happened to acquire Griffin.

Hall’s deal was similarly front-loaded, and suddenly a roughly $142 million payroll became $170 million, enabling the team to reap the benefits of more than $30 million as soon as the new collective bargaining agreement was signed between owners and players — far exceeding other team’s ability to spend.

Look, when rules aren’t merely bent but all but obliterated, something had to be done. That’s the reason they can’t afford to procure the talent upgrade they want at significant positions until next offseason. All the legalese and semantics won’t change that.

Add Haynesworth’s $21 million and Hall’s $15 million signing bonus and you get the $36 million penalty levied by the NFL. Giving D. Hall and the Round Mound of Facedown all those millions up front caused this predicament.

It’s fitting in a karmic way: The reverberations of Snyder’s unchecked shopping addiction over the years, which culminated in the just-past-midnight flight to wine and dine Big Al — only the worst free agent signing in the history of the NFL — are keeping it from hitting the market this time around.

In Ashburn World, this is a “travesty of fairness.” In real world, it’s called paying the piper.

For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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