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Cap Penalty Hampers Redskins Offseason

 

The Washington Redskins have already suffered through half of the preposterous $36 million salary cap penalty (spread over two seasons) imposed on the team by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last season. That penalty potentially cripples the team's efforts to add talent this offseason -- they currently need to trim nearly $2 million in salaries for next season to get under the cap.

The situation is worth reviewing, at least once more. The previous collective bargaining agreement between the teams and the players included a clause that permitted the owners to opt-out of a final year on the deal. If the owners chose the opt-out option, which they did in 2008, there would be an uncapped season in 2010. The league has had a salary cap in place since 1994, which put a limit on player salaries.

That collective bargaining agreement explicitly called for a salary cap in all years covered by the agreement except the final season, which was to be uncapped. The league and the owners tried to circumvent that provision, however by telling teams that they needed to operate within the "spirit" of the salary cap. There was a "gentlemen's agreement" that teams should not spend a lot in that uncapped year.

There are a couple basic problems with that "gentlemen's agreement." First, there was no provision in the collectively bargained agreement with the players that allowed owners to reach a private agreement of their own to limit player salaries. And second, that private agreement to limit player salaries is a form of illegal collusion.

To make Washington's punishment even more absurd, the league approved each contract at the time. Contract reviews, which must occur with every player contract, is intended to ensure that every contract complies with the CBA. Every contract was approved by the league -- essentially a declaration that the contracts fully complied with the collective bargaining agreement.

And oh yeah, even while imposing this punishment, the league admitted the Redskins had broken no rules and done nothing wrong.

I thought last year that Washington needed to strongly consider the "nuclear" option of filing for an injunction to stop the league year from starting. Put a freeze on free agency and the draft and generally make life difficult for the league and the owners. Yeah, I know it's a classic "cut off the nose to spite the face" thing, but sometimes it's worth making a stand, even if the stand is largely symbolic.

I'm still of a mind that the Skins should go nuclear this offseason.

Let's review one other aspect of this case just so the details are clear: While it's been reported that Washington lots its appeal of this punishment when it went to arbitration last year, the arbitrator never actually ruled on whether the Skins did anything wrong or got into the issue of whether the owners engaged in illegal collusion.

The arbitration hearing came down to a technicality based on two documents. The first was a "reallocation" letter signed by Goodell and players union executive director DeMaurice Smith. That letter was an agreement between the NFL and the union to redistribute $46 million in cap money from Dallas and Washington to the rest of the teams. The second document was a resolution stating that the letter was valid and that its terms would be ratified into the collective bargaining agreement. That resolution was approved 29-2 (Dallas and Washington being the two dissenting votes) with one abstention.

The arbitrator, Stephen Burbank found this legal trick persuasive. In his decision, he wrote that if those documents were found to be valid, the teams' appeals "must fail as a matter of law." Then he decided the documents were valid.

The players union eventually grew enough of a spine to file a collusion charge against the league, which they lost because of that reallocation letter. See...kind of a funny story...but when Goodell got Smith to agree to the reallocation he...umm...forgot to mention that the owners had illegally agreed to a $123 million salary cap for 2010.

So, here's what's rankling me now. I sat down to write about what the Skins could do to bring their salaries down and maybe sign a right tackle, a safety and a corner, but I instead spent all my writing time rehashing this preposterous, illogical and illegal salary cap imposed on the team. Yay, NFL.

Basically, the options for Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan boil down to this: release players and/or renegotiate contracts. Here are some veterans (and their scheduled 2013 cap hit) whose deals could be reworked or who could be cut because of this inane salary cap penalty:

  • DeAngelo Hall -- $8.2 million
  • Trent Williams -- $8.0 million
  • Barry Cofield -- $6.3 million
  • London Fletcher -- $6.2 million
  • Santana Moss -- $6.2 million
  • Stephen Bowen -- $5.5 million
  • Josh Wilson -- $5.3 million
  • Brian Orakpo -- $5.1 million
  • Jammal Brown -- $4.6 million
  • Adam Carriker -- $4.0 million
  • Will Montgomery -- $2.7 million

Williams, Hall and Moss would seem like good candidates for renegotiated deals. Hall has already expressed publicly a willingness to take less to stay. My inclination would be to leave the deals for Cofield, Fletcher and Bowen as is. 

The Skins could save almost $4 million by releasing Wilson. They could make that almost $4.7 million by waiting until June 1 to cut him. He'd have to be replaced, of course.

Brown has struggled to overcome that injured hip, and it's past time to move on. Unfortunately, he'll still cost Washington $3.3 million in cap room if they release him before June 1. If they wait, they can spread the cap hit over two years and Brown will count half that amount in 2013.

Carriker is a prime candidate for outright release. His $4 million would be straight savings. The Skins would likely be able to bring him back at a reduced price.

Orakpo is an interesting case. He's been good, but not as dominating as the team expected given his physical tools. And he's entering the last year of his rookie contract. This may be an opportunity for the team to work out a longer-term deal with him that would keep him in town and increase their flexibility this offseason. 

So, even with this preposterous cap penalty, I think Washington has a chance to create enough cap room to address their key needs -- safety, cornerback and right tackle. The deadline to be under the cap is March 12. Expect a flurry of stories between now and then about Redskins veterans agreeing to reworked contracts.

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