Brunell Restructures His Contract Again

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006

Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell agreed to restructure his contract yesterday, providing some potential salary cap relief to the team, while team officials negotiated with other key players in hopes of reaching similar deals in case the NFL and players fail to extend their collective bargaining agreement today.

The NFL is preparing for what could be an unprecedented day of high-profile player cuts if the labor accord is not extended. The salary cap problem could be particularly acute for the Redskins.

Barring a last-minute delay to the start of free agency, or an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, all teams are required to be under a salary cap of $94.5 million by 10 p.m. today. The Redskins would need to trim about $20 million from the $115.4 million in player compensation they currently have counted against the salary cap. If there is an extension to the labor accord, the cap would rise to about $110 million per team.

Some agents and other NFL executives believe Washington might have to release 10 or more players, although likely not any of its stars.

The Redskins are attempting to complete contract renegotiations with many of the players they acquired when Coach Joe Gibbs took over in 2004. Brunell would save Washington roughly $1.8 million in 2006 cap space, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, but only if there is no new CBA.

"Mark and other team members have worked cooperatively with us in renegotiations, approaching the matter like the veterans and team leaders that they are," Gibbs said in a statement yesterday.

Finalizing deals with players such as tackle Jon Jansen, guard Randy Thomas, linebacker LaVar Arrington, running back Clinton Portis or cornerback Shawn Springs -- who carry some of the highest salary cap figures on the roster -- would be essential to minimizing the number of players the team would have to release outright to get under the cap.

Gibbs, also the team president, has said the Redskins have contingencies in place should the league fail to agree to a CBA extension with the union, but it is a situation the club was hoping to avoid.

"I'd sure hate to see us go into free agency without [a new CBA] done," Gibbs said over the weekend from the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "The other thing I'm hoping is for the date to [comply with the salary cap] be extended. We're hoping that we don't go into free agency" after midnight tonight.

Even with a new CBA, several players faced the possibility of being released, at least in part because of their high salary cap figures. That group includes cornerback Walt Harris, a starter much of last season; safety Matt Bowen; injured defensive lineman Brandon Noble, who is considering retirement; reserve center Cory Raymer; and punter Tom Tupa, who was injured all of last season. Releasing those players would account for about $7.5 million in cap relief, not including the salaries of the players who would replace them.

Place kicker John Hall, whose injuries have put the team in a roster crunch the last two seasons, is another candidate; his release would save $1 million. The Redskins had hoped to get at least a fourth-round draft pick in a trade for backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey, but might end up releasing him to save $1.7 million. Wide receiver James Thrash, with a $1 million base salary, could be gone, too. Former second-round draft pick Taylor Jacobs failed to capitalize on a chance to be a starting wide receiver in 2005, and Pierson Prioleau provided depth in the secondary and excels on special teams, but could save the team $550,000 if cut.

Beyond that, the team may be forced to trim some starters. Cutting starting defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels would save a combined $1 million, although Washington is already thin at that position.

If the situation turns dire, the Redskins might have to release Jansen, which would save $800,000, or Thomas, who would provide $2.1 million in savings. They are two of only a few players who could provide significant relief from the salary cap crunch simply by being cut.

The Redskins generally invest heavily in signing and roster bonuses and keep non-guaranteed base salaries low. The bulk of the big earners are in the first year or two of their contracts, meaning that their salary cap figures are generally higher if they are cut rather than retained.

Rules pertaining to a lack of a CBA extension, including curtailing the length of time contracts can be amortized and preventing a player's salary from increasing by 30 percent or more per year, also affect Washington more than other teams. They have made what once appeared to be simple contract restructurings into major negotiations.

One football executive who spoke to Eric Schaffer, the Redskins' director of football administration who oversees the salary cap for the team, said Schaffer was "working feverishly" with agents trying to get deals done by the deadline. "He's in an unbelievably tough situation," said one agent who has spoken with Schaffer frequently. "I don't know how they're going to finagle it."

Teams also face a deadline to make offers to certain free agents to retain their "restricted" rights, but those tenders apply immediately to the 2006 cap as well, which might prevent Washington from making an offer to starting guard Derrick Dockery.

But given what could be a glutted free agent market, it seems unlikely too many restricted free agents would sign with new teams right away, and some might ultimately re-sign for less than their offers. The Redskins have long sought to re-sign unrestricted free agent safety Ryan Clark, defensive lineman Demetric Evans and tight end Robert Royal as well, but their ability to do so now would be complicated without an extension.

"I'm just waiting this thing out," Clark said yesterday as he left Redskins Park. "I'm waiting just like everybody else."

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