Washington Redskins’ salary cap issues entering NFL draft aren’t as bad as they look


Mike Shanahan’s Redskins don’t have a first-round choice in Thursday’s draft, thanks to last year’s trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up in the draft order for quarterback Robert Griffin III. (Toni L. Sandys/Post)
April 21, 2013

Washington Redskins officials have dealt with their tight salary cap situation all offseason, managing to keep their division-winning team from last season basically intact even while absorbing the second half of their two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction imposed last year by the NFL.

The next major cap-related task for the Redskins — signing their draft picks — might look imposing. But it really isn’t, thanks to the way the salary cap works.

The Redskins have seven selections in the three-day NFL draft that begins Thursday in New York. They must sign whichever players they choose to contracts in time for training camp in late July. The Redskins, at last check, had just less than $30,000 in available salary cap space.The deals for their drafted rookies, barring any trades that would change the number of players the Redskins select and when they’re chosen, are expected to take up close to $3.6 million in salary cap room.

Impossible to fit that beneath the cap? No. Not even difficult, really. The Redskins will have to clear only a few hundred thousand dollars to get all of their draft choices signed.

Under league rules, during the offseason only the contracts of the players with the 51 highest cap values count against a team’s salary cap. On the lower end of that spectrum, the Redskins have several players counting $555,000 apiece against the salary cap.

Rookie contracts are relatively inexpensive, in NFL terms, especially after the sport’s new rookie pay system was implemented as part of the 2011 labor deal. That is particularly true of deals for non-first-round picks. The Redskins don’t have a first-round choice Thursday, thanks to last year’s trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up in the draft order for quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins have seven choices Friday and Saturday, two in the fifth round and one each in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds.

Under the sport’s rookie pay system, the length of drafted rookies’ contracts is set at four years (plus a fifth-season option for first-round selections). The precise value of each contract is not predetermined. But each team is given a rookie salary cap figure for the upcoming season and a cap figure for those rookies over the four years of their original contracts. Teams are given minimum contract values for each of the players they draft. So it is relatively easy to guess what drafted rookies will be paid and what they will count against the salary cap.

Unless the Redskins trade up or down in the draft, it appears the contracts for their seven drafted rookies will total close to $3.6 million in salary cap space this year. But only the deals for the two highest picks, it appears, will crack the top 51 and count against the cap. Those two deals apparently will count close to $1.3 million against the Redskins’ cap. Once the $1.1 million from the contracts of the two players knocked out of the top 51 is subtracted, the Redskins will be left needing to clear only about $200,000 in salary cap space to sign all their draft picks.

A person with knowledge of the sport’s salary cap figures confirmed those calculations as roughly accurate, while cautioning that nothing is final because the numbers could change based on any trades. A recent analysis by Comcast SportsNet put the figure for what the Redskins must trim from their salary cap at $211,000. The person familiar with the sport’s salary cap numbers said it’s possible it might even end up being slightly lower than that, at closer to $186,000. Either way, it would cause the Redskins little consternation.

The Redskins reworked the contracts of three veteran players — defensive end Adam Carriker, safety Brandon Meriweather and wide receiver Santana Moss — earlier this offseason to clear salary cap space. In each case, according to people familiar with the moves, the player agreed to reduce his salary; the players generally were given the chance to earn back lost salary through incentives. The Redskins have several players with relatively high salary-cap numbers whose contracts could be reworked to clear additional cap space. That list includes left tackle Trent Williams, linebacker Brian Orakpo, wide receiver Josh Morgan and cornerback Josh Wilson.

Coach Mike Shanahan stressed at the annual league meeting last month in Phoenix that none of the Redskins’ contract reworkings had put great stress on the team’s salary cap in future years, as some forms of contract restructurings — those not involving salary reductions — can do. He expressed satisfaction with the team’s ability to maneuver around the salary cap penalty.

“Going in, we knew exactly the penalty we had,” Shanahan said at the league meeting. “So when you know that going in, you know what to expect. So there was no surprises for us. . . . I’ve been very pleased with our game plan. We’ve been able to sign a lot of our players. I’m very optimistic with the players we have signed. A lot of these guys are the core players of our football team.

The Redskins released cornerback DeAngelo Hall before free agency but later re-signed him to a less costly contract. They also re-signed a group of unrestricted free agents that included tight end Fred Davis, guard Kory Lichtensteiger, right tackle Tyler Polumbus, reserve quarterback Rex Grossman and punter Sav Rocca. They made some relatively modest free agent additions, including cornerback E.J. Biggers, linebacker Darryl Tapp and right-tackle candidates Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood. The team’s one significant loss in free agency was linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, a Pro Bowl selection on special teams last season.

The NFL’s salary cap this year is $123 million per team but the Redskins are operating with a cap of about $109.2 million, with their $18 million reduction offset slightly by the $4.2 million they were able to carry over from last year’s cap. The NFL, with the consent of the players’ union, penalized the Redskins last year for the way in which the team structured players’ contracts during the sport’s season without a salary cap in 2010.

Note: The Redskins on Sunday hosted veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer as they continue to search for solutions to upgrade their secondary, three people with knowledge of the situation confirmed, though two of them said it didn’t seem like the Redskins were on the verge of signing him immediately.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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