Redskins need to plan their cap spending carefully in 2017

After Washington announced they would be assigning the exclusive rights Franchise Tag to Kirk Cousins, the Redskins became the only team in the league with two players carrying a cap hit of $20m or more for the 2017 season. While having 25% of all cap tied up into two players isn’t an insurmountable position – it does bring an interesting set of challenges the team needs to navigate as it continues to try and build on its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1997.

Prior to assigning the tag, the Redskins were fairly flush with cap space with just under $60m free. It should be noted however, that while this may give the appearance of the team being in a fairly powerful position heading into free agency, the bulk of that space had been created by some of the teams most important players finishing the last year of their contracts.

Rank Hit
Kirk Cousins 1 $19,953,000
Pierre Garcon 2 $10,200,000
DeSean Jackson 3 $9,250,000
Chris Baker 9 $4,275,000
Total $43,678,000

The top three earners from 2016 (and four of the top 10) were all due to hit free agency this year. They accounted for 74% of the total cap space created for 2017.

The problem for the Redskins is that at least three of these players need to be replaced, and most if not all of their respective cap hits from 2016 would probably need to be at least matched but more likely bettered to ensure adequate quality on the team.

Position 1 – QB

Cousins has been assigned the franchise tag, which means for now he will play the season with a 20% rise on his 2016 salary. Possible options here will be visited later in the article.

Position 2 – WR

It’s highly unlikely both receivers are brought back. With a first round pick being invested in Josh Doctson in the 2016 Draft, there is no doubt some feeling from the team is that at least part of the gap can be plugged here. But Doctson alone can’t fill the entire void, and the team will need to spend money in Free Agency on at least one veteran receiver. If the Redskins want to get real here, they’re going to be looking at paying somebody a deal averaging an amount similar to what Garcon and Jackson earned last season.

If we go back to 2015’s free agency class for wide receivers, we can gather some comparable data to get an idea of Garcon and Jackson’s value.

Player FA Year Age Rec Yards TDs New Contract APY
Jeremy Maclin 2015 26 85 1318 10 $11m
Randall Cobb 2015 24 91 1287 12 $10m
Torrey Smith 2015 26 49 767 11 $8m
Marvin Jones 2016 25 65 816 4 $8m
Travis Benjamin 2016 26 68 966 5 $6m
Pierre Garcon 2017 30 79 1041 3
DeSean Jackson 2017 30 56 1005 4

What becomes immediately apparent is that there aren’t many recent examples of receivers hitting FA who are of a similar age, but there are for production – which is definitely favorable. Factoring that in along with the overall salary cap increase, it seems sensible to assume both Garcon and Jackson should be able to achieve a deal averaging around $9m at the very least, but quite probably more.

Position 3 – Interior DL

As for Baker, he’s the only player of quality in an otherwise pretty dire group of defensive linemen. The Redskins have to pay him, or somebody at least as good as him, to simply stand still. Baker is in line for his first, and possibly only big pay day of his career.  We can run the same exercise here to see comparable contracts from last year’s free agency class:

Player FA Year Age New Contract APY
Jared Odrick 2015 28 $8.5m
Dan Williams 2015 27 $6.25m
Derek Wolfe 2016 26 $9.17m
Damon Harrison 2016 27 $9.25m
Chris Baker 2017 29

Baker is a touch older than the other players here, and perhaps also suffers from having slightly less name value around the league. Nonetheless, $8m per year should be a very realistic target for him.

An estimate of how all three positions may pan out based on this data looks like this:

2016 Hit 2017 Hit Difference
Kirk Cousins $19,953,000 $23,944,000 +20%
Wide Receiver (average) $9,725,000 ~$9,000,000 -7%
Defensive Lineman $4,275,000 ~$8,000,000 +87%
Total $33,953,000 ~$41,944,000 +24%

Suddenly, the near-$60m cap space the Redskins had to play with originally has been reduced to a shade over $17m. This includes being one key player at Wide Receiver down, still having to patch up one of the league’s worst defenses, and having to get 10 draft picks signed. $17m may add new bodies but it’s going to be a struggle to attract the quality needed to keep the franchise heading in the right direction.

So here are some possible scenarios the Redskins could visit from here:

Scenario 1 – Do nothing

Assuming the team addresses the needs outlined above, they are happy having roughly $17m left over to address the rest of the roster.

Scenario 2 – Create additional space by restructuring

The most obvious candidate for a contract restructure to allow additional cap spend is probably Josh Norman. Norman carries a cap hit for 2017 of $20m. It’s a lot for a cornerback – in fact, the next highest cap for the position (excluding franchise tagged players) is Janoris Jenkins, who comes in with a hit of $15m.

Here is what Norman’s contract would look like should the Redskins decide to convert $6m, $8m and $10m of his 2017 base salary into signing bonuses respectively:

$6m

Year Old Cap Hit New Cap Hit
2017 $20m $14m
2018 $17m $19m
2019 $14.5m $16.5m
2020 $15.5m $17.5m

$8m

Year Old Cap Hit New Cap Hit
2017 $20m $12m
2018 $17m $19.6m
2019 $14.5m $17.1m
2020 $15.5m $18.1m

$10m

Year Old Cap Hit New Cap Hit
2017 $20m $10m
2018 $17m $20.3m
2019 $14.5m $17.8m
2020 $15.5m $18.8m

It seems unlikely the team would be as aggressive as to pursue $10m in extra space by back-loading the rest of the deal so heavily, but in an era with unprecedented cap growth year-on-year it could be seen as a viable one.

Scenario 3 – Long term deal for Kirk Cousins

Perhaps the most sensible of all options, if the team is committed to Cousins then signing him to a long term deal gives them the most flexibility in terms of creating a team-friendly cap number for year one of his contract.

Player Year Signed APY Year 1 Cap Hit
Joe Flacco 2013 $20.1m $6.8m
Aaron Rodgers 2013 £22m £$12m
Carson Palmer 2014 $21m $13m
Russell Wilson 2015 $21.9m $18.5m
Ben Roethlisberger 2015 $21.8m $17.2m
Eli Manning 2015 $21m $14.4m
Andrew Luck 2016 $24.6m $18.4m

As history suggests, year one should come in significantly cheaper than the average per year. With the franchise tag currently occupying $23.94m of the cap space the Redskins should easily be able to create at least $6-8m more in space here if they choose to pursue this option.

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