Early in his tenure as Redskins owner, Snyder signed many veterans like Sanders, Jeff George and Mark Carrier whose best playing days were behind them. Many were not around long -- Sanders lasted one season -- but their large signing bonuses still counted against Washington's salary cap for years, eating up valuable room.
NFL people refer to this as "dead money" or "miscellaneous charges," and the Redskins faced as much as $27 million in such figures in one of Snyder's first seasons; last year the Redskins led the league with $14.5 million in dead money, according to league sources.
Upon his return to the Redskins, head coach Joe Gibbs underwent a crash course in salary cap management. Gibbs also has the added title of team president.
(Nick Wass - AP File Photo)
Snyder has altered his tactics in recent years. In the past two offseasons Washington has sought players in their mid-20s -- largely restricted free agents who require the Redskins to send their former teams a draft pick. Brunell, who turns 34 in September, is the lone exception. The 11-year veteran signed a seven-year, $43.36 million contract in February, including an $8.6 million signing bonus. The contract is prorated over six years, and will cost the club $1.43 million against the cap each year.
Redskins management projects a median age for the team of around 27 for the upcoming season; the league average in 2003 was 26.5.
"We've learned from our mistakes," one Washington team official said. "Look at the age of the players we sign now. There's the difference."
The Redskins generally have been able to steer clear of cap-induced salary purges under Snyder, although they have parted with pricey veterans with some regularity. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was cut in June to avert a more serious cap hit, and finances played an integral role in the decision to trade cornerback Champ Bailey to Denver for Portis. Quarterback Brad Johnson, tailback Stephen Davis and fullback Larry Centers have shined elsewhere after being salary cap casualties in Washington.
But those cuts have not deterred Snyder's spending this year. Snyder, who works on the salary cap daily and handles major contract negotiations, retains the final say on spending.
Gibbs, who is also the team president, said he took a "crash course" on the salary cap upon returning to the Redskins and knew he needed a sense of present day NFL economics after 11 years away from the game. His glory days in Washington came at a time when clubs could stockpile talent at all positions and retain players for virtually their entire career. Now, teams overhaul key players with regularity, and finances play a part in virtually every move an NFL club makes.
"I understand the basics of" the cap, Gibbs said. "I think I understand how to get more cap room, and I kind of see, 'Hey, we sign this guy now, and it impacts you down the road.' But like I've said, most of our stuff is a three-year plan, and I think I understand the general workings of it."