Click through to read about Stephen Bowen’s pay cut with the Redskins
Our second team in the series is the Washington Redskins.
Best Contract: Chris Chester
Much like last year I am having a very difficult time coming up with a real “good” contract for the Redskins, so I’ll keep the choice as Chester. Overall I don’t have a good feel for the way the Redskins operate with their contracts and for the most part almost every veteran player on the roster I feel was overvalued. I am sure that many will state that Pierre Garcon should get the nod as he had a tremendous season in 2013, but again a great player does not necessarily equal a great deal. My take on Garcon remains the same in that he was a “B level” talent when he left Indianapolis and the Redskins paid him as a low level one.
As for Chester he is a solid starter and never misses a game. He is affordable at $4 million a season and the deal was a standout for Washington for all the right reasons. His contract contained no large signing bonus and no voidable year provisions while also having relatively large injury protection bonuses in the contract. These are all features of deals that I don’t associate with the Redskins, specifically at the time he was signed to play on the team.
If for whatever reason they choose to cut him this season the cap hit is negligible which is due to the low signing bonus and the fact that they had no reason to go to him for salary cap relief since his highest cap charge never exceeded $4.8 million. A contract that simply benefits both sides.
Worst Contract: Jason Hatcher
One can not deny the great season that Hatcher had in 2013 when he seemingly found himself at the age of 31 in the Cowboys new 43 defense. Hatcher was incredibly disruptive and posted 11 sacks on the season after just 16 sacks in his prior seven seasons in the NFL. There was no doubt he would get a raise in 2014 but the Redskins went above and beyond when they signed the free agent defensive tackle.
Washington went out and paid Hatcher $6.875 million a year, which ranks in the top 10 among veterans at the position. They guaranteed Hatcher over $10 million including a $9 million signing bonus that would leave the Redskins with nearly $5 million in dead money in 2016 when Hatcher will be 34. There is also no protection in the contract in regards to tying salary to injury which is something that the Redskins have used with other players. Why it would not be negotiated with a player in his 30’s is a mystery.
For a 32 year old lineman this is a pretty ridiculous contract. This is the age where teams begin to sign such players to one and two year contracts with minimal salaries and guarantees. Hatcher is a solid pro for $3-$4 million a year with annual outs out of the contract. 31 other teams would never be fooled by a one season explosion at this age to dive in this deep, but some things never change and the Redskins contractual decisions will always rank up there among the worst in the NFL. This will be a very difficult contract for Hatcher to ever live up to and Washington has little recourse but to pay him even if he fails to do just that.
2013’s Best and Worst Redskins Contracts:
2013 Best Contract: Chris Chester (Remains on Redskins roster)
2013 Worst Contract: London Fletcher (Contract expired and player retired)
Key Additions: DeSean Jackson ($8M per year), Jason Hatcher ($6.9M), Shawn Lauvao ($4.3M), Andre Roberts ($4M), Tracy Porter ($3M), Darryl Sharpton ($1.8M), Clifton Geathers ($1.6M), Ryan Clark ($1M)
Key Re-Signings: Brian Orakpo ($11.5M per year), Perry Riley ($4M), Santana Moss ($1.02M), Brandon Meriweather ($1M)
Key Losses: JD Walton (Giants)
Major Cuts: Adam Carriker ($5M cap savings), Will Montgomery ($1.9M)
Free Agency Thoughts:
After two years of cap penalties the Redskins were finally able to get back into the free agency game without having to worry as much about cap costs in the first year of the contract. The team got busy in February re-signing some players long before the start of free agency and then were one of the most active teams in terms of quantity of signings.
The biggest signing came in the latest stages of free agency when they grabbed DeSean Jackson as soon as he was released by the Eagles. $8 million a year was probably a little on the high end considering there may have been lack of interest from the rest of the NFL at that point, but its not egregiously high. Surprisingly they used a void provision to further lower the cap costs, but maybe the three year cap cost represents where they wanted him at contractually (about $7.6M per year).
While it is disappointing that the Redskins could not come to terms with Brian Orakpo, it was imperative they keep him in 2014 and they blocked him from leaving by using the franchise tag. Orakpo has the talent to be one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. If they can come to a long term agreement with him by the deadlines that would be a good move for the Redskins.
The next two highest priced signings were questionable. Jason Hatcher at $6.9 million a year is arguably the worst free agent contract signed this offseason. Hatcher will be 32 years old in 2014 and is coming off his first ever truly great season. He’ll earn $13.5 million over two years and likely leave the Redskins with $4.5 million in dead money in 2016. This is not a position that traditionally gets paid this much at this stage of a career.
Shawn Lauvao ended up getting a contract on par with the best offseason signings at the position. Lauvao is coming off a poor season and it’s doubtful any other team would have been as high as the Redskins were. They need to get two good years out of him to justify this deal.
In light of the Jackson signing the Andre Roberts contract is going to look bad. The Redskins paid him to be a second receiver based off his 2012 season when he was starting in Arizona. Now he will be a third target which is going to make the salary seem on the high side.
Tracy Porter’s contract is fair within the market, but I tend to think he was on the lesser end of the players who received a similar salary. That said it’s a justifiable deal because he doesn’t have the injury concerns that some of the other players do.
The team did ok with the bargain signings. Sharpton is a reasonable cost and should bring more speed than what they had before. Behind him is Akeem Jordan, a very low cost signing, who may be one of the steals of free agency. Clifton Geathers can bring decent depth to the position while Ryan Clark is certainly someone who can bring leadership to the team.
Overall Grade: C
This is a tough team to grade because I like some of the moves they made, but some of the contracts they doled out are terrible. When the season is complete the performance of Jackson probably makes or breaks free agency for the team. He brings a dimension they did not have and we’ll get a better idea of how RGIII can play with a deeper passing game. Since Griffin is eligible for an extension next year I think the Redskins have to give him as much as possible to get the best idea for him. What you don’t want is to be in a position like the Jets or Rams where every season the question is “if only he had…” when referring to the highly drafted but disappointing QB.
Hatcher is the worst deal of the group and they could have upgraded at safety or corner with some of that money rather than going so much with the quantity approach in the secondary. They may not have had to go into the upper echelon but if they did I would have preferred a Vontae Davis over Porter and Hatcher. In terms of talent I think a C+ or B- is fair but the way they go about many of their contracts and valuation process is something that just knocks it down for me.
Brian Orakpo #98 OLB, Washington Redskins
Potentially the most sought after free agent at the end of this season. Orakpo combines supreme production with the pedigree of the #13 pick of the 2009 Draft. A Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in ’09, Orakpo racked up a Redskin franchise record 11 sacks and added 51 tackles. In 2010 the Redskins moved to a 3-4 defense and he responded with very similar numbers in 2010 and 2011 (8.5 sacks, 56 tackles 2010; 9.0 sacks, 60 tackles 2011). In the Week #17 loss to Philadelphia, Orakpo tore his left pectoral muscle. Consistently drawing double-teams, he dedicated the offseason to come back stronger in 2012. The Redskins took it easy on their prized OLB in the preseason but to no avail as Orakpo re-tore the left pectoral muscle only two games into the 2012 season.
A healthy Orakpo is a Top-10 OLB in the NFL. If he produces on his stated goal of Defensive Player of the Year he stands to bring in a haul of $11mm+ APY. That is a big “if”, however, head coach Mike Shanahan feels that his 27 year old star “looks good as ever”.
Estimated New Contract: 4 years, $41.5mm
A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts. Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.
Best Contract: Chris Chester
Washington is a difficult team to come up with a best contract for. Their best players are all young and on rookie deals. Most of the veteran contracts are either overpaid or structured in ways to be much more player than team friendly. It’s nothing like it used to be in the past with this team and the bad contracts, where players were paid above top dollar to play out of position, but they still have a way to go before they are considered a franchise people model themselves after. Their cap should be more in order next season once the penalties have been taken into account so from a team perspective we’ll see where there are with these deals, but for now it’s a team missing many good veteran deals.
So with all of that in mind I selected Chester as the best deal. Why? He’s a pretty good Guard, doesn’t have the void structures in his contract, and his deal has some protection in the event of injury. At $4 million a season the contract is fair market value and didn’t contain excessive guarantees that would have hurt the Redskins in the future. By the time Chester is 31 the Redskins can walk away with only $1.6 million in cap charges. Every year he has $400,000 in roster bonuses that are tied to being on the gameday active roster further protecting Washington in the event of injury.
This wasn’t a contract where Washington tried to hide charges or structure it in a way that forced restructures for cap relief at any point. The highest his base salary would reach is just $3.5 million with a high cap charge of $4.8 million, both numbers coming in the final year of his contract. His cap numbers are always more or less middle of the pack in every season resulting in a very straightforward contract for a team where that is not always the norm.
Worst Contract: London Fletcher
I went back and forth on a few names before I decided this one. The Redskins have their fair share of really bad contracts and the other names right at the top of the list were WR’s Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. The Redskins nearly pushed Garcon into “A level” salary despite never proving to be that kind of talent while Morgan carries a ridiculous salary and a guaranteed dead money charge for his skill level. Still both are young and have some upside, Garcon in particular, and the Redskins may be able to avoid the dead money on an extension with Morgan after the season. None of that can be said for Fletcher.
Fletcher is a name value talent that, at this stage in his career, gets by on name value. Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the worst linebackers in the NFL in 2012, but what should you really expect from a 37 year old trying to man the middle of the field in a game that gets faster every year. The fact that the Redskins signed him is not that stunning as he had spent the prior five seasons with the team, but the price they signed him at was stunning.
Had Fletcher become a free agent, even after a “Pro Bowl” season in 2011, he would not have been hotly pursued simply because he was going to be 37. At best he would be signing for a minimum salary type contract with limited guarantees. Washington convinced themselves that they needed to sign him to a two year contract that contained over $5 million in fully guaranteed salary. Even worse they included $1.5 million in injury guarantees in 2013, almost unthinkable for a 37 year old where serious injury could be much more likely.
In order to fit Fletcher under the salary cap the Redskins went to the void structure, throwing three dummy years at the end of the contract for the sake of proration. Unlike Morgan, whose deal also contains the same void structure, there is no chance that the Redskins will extend a 39 year old linebacker. Even if they did his base salary would be so high that the cap relief would be almost nothing. So the Redskins are now carrying a $6.2 million dollar cap hit for a guy nobody else in the NFL would want and will carry another $2.1 million in dead money for the same player next season.
Fletcher may be cut during the preseason, provided he does not get injured, to save the team $5.5 million in cap room, which they may need due to a tight salary cap situation. Still that means the Redskins will be carrying $5.25 million in cap charges over a 3 year period for a player who should have cost somewhere around $600,000 per year in cap dollars.
Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles
NFC North: Chicago Bears
I had a question/request from Scott last week in regards to the Dallas Cowboys. I planned to do a podcast on the topic but just didn’t have time to do it so instead we’ll write this out and examine some of the harsh criticism I have and others have for the Cowboys handling of their salary cap. I’ll break it up into two parts, one of which deals with a cap violation and the other of which deals with future cap issues.
The Cap Penalties
First of all I should state that I don’t think either team really deserved the penalties that they received. There were plenty of teams that took advantage of the uncapped year in ways that may not have been exactly “within the spirit” of the rules, but the Cowboys and Redskins I believe got singled out because of who their owners are. It should be noted that two other teams received semi-penalties- the Saints and the Raiders. While their cap was not adjusted downward they did not receive any of the prize of the Cowboy/Redskins troubles. The Saints many of us always felt was because of the use of something called a completion bonus and the Raiders due to their handling of JaMarcus Russell, plus the fact that the league I think was done with Al Davis at that point. In hindsight I now question whether or not this was the first slap on the wrist for the bounty scandal in New Orleans, but that’s another topic.
The question here was why I often discuss the Redskins penalty, but rarely discuss the Cowboys one as a reason for the cap issues. The basic reason I discuss the penalty for the Redskins is because the number itself was so high that it has a material impact on any cap planning that a team can do. The Redskins never tried to “band aid” the team together to deal with the penalties, at least not to the extent the Cowboys have, but really it just comes down to overall cost. An $18 million downward adjustment kills your team. A $5 million one doesn’t come close to that. That said the actual penalties themselves were overblown for both organizations. Had the NFL done the right thing and not allowed the deals to be accepted, the actual cap charges would be very close to the penalty amounts. The penalties kind of brought the salary caps back to where they should have been had no violation occurred.
The damage that happened to both teams was not the penalty itself but the fact that they never could have planned on receiving them. The league allowed the contracts in question to be approved and then waited a full season before hurting both teams. That is not right. If the league informed the teams in 2011 that they would be taking action against them they could have planned accordingly, but instead they were blindsided by the decision.
Playing the “what if” game we can see how the penalties are not so severe in reality had they been able to plan for the penalties. The Redskins most likely never would have traded Albert Hayesworth if the league had not allowed them to make the change in his contract. IMO, the Redskins would have voided his guarantees in 2011 and designated him a June 1 cut.
No Contract Change
All in all the Redskins only lost about $1.2 million in cap room due to the penalties, assuming that his guarantees would have voided due to his personal conduct. Had they been aware of this in 2011 it would not have been nearly as tough a blow.
DeAngelo Hall likely would have been a June 1 cut this year or at the very least would see his prorations charged that way since he ended up back with Washington on a minimum salary deal. Here are the differences with his deal:
No Contract Change
Again the actual loss is not as great as people believe, but these charges greatly impacted the way the Redskins could plan for the cap taking far more losses in 2012 and 2013 than they would have had the void provisions not be accepted by the NFL. In this respect the penalty for Hall was much more severe than the one for Haynesworth despite Haynesworth’s deal being larger.
The Cowboys were assessed a $10 million dollar penalty, which I would assume was the determination of what past history said they should have paid Miles Austin in a signing bonus. Going back to his original untouched contract you would get the following cap changes.
|No Contract Change||Actual Charges||Gain/(Loss)|
Its actually more of a penalty than the Haynesworth deal and pretty close to the Hall one. It is not as bad on the front end as the Hall penalty, specifically in 2013, but the overall impact is close.
All told the effect of the penalties is actually small on both teams, with the disclaimer being that they had some idea of them coming in 2011. The Redskins have made noticeable changes in their contracts and negotiations due to the penalties in order to be cap compliant. The Cowboys have not, which is another reason why I often avoid the Dallas penalty effect.
Overblown Cap Problems
Scott also pointed me to a link over at Blogging the Boys, going over the Cowboys salary cap. It’s a good article and worth a read so please read it if you get an opportunity. That said one of the difficulties in working with the salary cap is thinking short term. Decisions made in 2013 and 2014 impact you years down the line. The Cowboys 2014 salary cap is a problem but not as much of a problem as the 2015 one. Really when I talk about “paying the piper” or “bills coming due” that is the period of time we should be looking at, not the immediate future.
So since I’m not as familiar with the Cowboys roster as I am the teams of say the AFC East, I decided to use the BTB articles roster decisions to look ahead at Dallas’ salary cap for the upcoming years. Based on the projections made the Cowboys should enter the 2013 season with around $10.5 million in cap room. You would need to adjust for the Practice Squad ($1 million) and some misc costs ($1 million) to come up with the final cap total which we can guess to be $8.5 million if they avoid the injury bug.
While the original article mentioned signing Sean Lee we’ll just leave that be for the time being. In 2014 the suggestion was to cut Mackenzy Bernadeau and Justin Durant so I did that. We would then restructure Tony Romo’s and DeMarcus Ware’s contracts. I just assumed a reduction to a minimal type salary of $1 million with $12.5 million being prorated over 5 years for Romo and $11.25 million over 4 years for Ware. That creates $18.4 million in cap room. All of those savings now become potential dead money in future seasons. Assuming the cap rises to $124 million and they carry over the $8.5 million, the Cowboys will have around $18 million in cap room going into the 2014 League Year.
That assumes Dallas signs no futures contract players as the $18 million is for a 41 man roster. The team needs to get to 53. If we earmark a rookie class of 7 that counts for around $4.5 million (right about the Cowboys total this season) and take into account the workout bonus money the Cowboys are looking at spending $13 million for 3 players to reach the 51 man limit. I’m not sure what Lee would cost (7 mil or so a year with a low year 1 cap?) but he will eat into that total a bit. Still I would call that a workable number after going further in on Romo (which is planned) and Ware (which likely is not).
The problem is as we turn into 2015. In 2015 Doug Free and Kyle Orton will have their contracts void, immediately jumping into the dead money pool. I also made the assumption that the team will cut Jay Ratliff. If we throw the 7 rookies in the mix from the year before and assume they all stick at $5.5 million we have a roster with a $122.4 million dollar payroll with only 29 players under contract. The Cowboys would likely be about $10 million below the cap limit after the 2014 carryover and need to sign 24 players with that money. The minimum salary in 2015 is $435,000, meaning they would not even have enough to sign 24 undrafted free agents to complete the roster.
Those totals don’t include Lee or WR Dez Bryant, who would be a free agent in 2015. It also doesn’t include the Cowboys 2011 first round pick who will either be on an option season or need to be re-signed. You can go to a 35 year old Romo for more cap relief (again his deal is designed that way) but where else are you going? A 33 year old Ware? Doubtful, though through all the restructures you are now at a $20.3 million dollar hit so maybe it’s a must. You can cut Austin and Orlando Scandrick to save $8 million. That’s still not enough to do anything but at least you can begin to field a team. Most likely the team is stuck reworking Romo’s deal again to free up $12.8 million or so. That gives you $30 million, give or take a little, to sign 26 players to the team. With at least three big free agents not counted in that figure that is a tall order to overcome.
The one constant in all of this is that there is never a point where I can look at Dallas thru 2015 and simply say “they can leave things alone”. Every season it’s reworking contracts for stars or deciding players that can save some money by being released. Even all the way out into 2016 the base roster would still have $72 million in cap charges for just 14 players. Throw in a Bryant and Lee and you may be looking $87 million for just 16. The 2014 and 2015 rookie classes can bring that up 28 players for $102 million. It is just not that much to work with.
There are few, if any teams, that have these issues year after year. Usually every team has a breakdown year. One year where you see a number of players come off the books with little or no dead money. The average dead money per club this year is $9 million. Just in our base assumptions that number is a starting point in three of the next four seasons just to “get by”. That is going to put the Cowboys at a competitive disadvantage relative to the NFL each year. The lack of money to spend doesn’t allow them to get much better via any mechanism besides the draft. They will only be getting older on the top.
Maybe that’s not as bad as it sounds since successful drafting teams will be better than the teams built thru free agency, but it is often nice to be able to add some parts to complete the puzzle. I cant see ways for Dallas to do that.
That’s not to say Dallas is the only team in a bad cap position- the Panthers, Saints, and Lions are all a mess for various reasons as well- but Dallas is consistently in the worst position. They have also been a team that had various ways to avoid some of these charges. Franchising Anthony Spencer will cost Dallas over $10 million in cap that they could have put to better use. Signing Orton to a contract nobody in the NFL would have signed him to adds to the problems. Adding void years onto players contracts with no regard for the future have led to unnecessary excessive cap charges. Overpaying Austin as a one year wonder and extending an old defensive tackle to a league high contract when he had two years remaining on an existing deal are typical of the Cowboys woes.Did the cap penalties hurt the team? Sure but almost any other team would have made choices to take that into account. Dallas just kept on going as if nothing happened.
It might be one thing if this strategy ever worked, but the last time Dallas truly had a successful season Wade Phillips was the head coach. The last time people regarded Dallas as a legit threat for a title Terrell Owens was catching passes from a 27 year old QB with great potential. That 27 year old QB is now looked at as an overpriced failure more in part because of the Cowboys poor cap management and failure to surround him with a cohesive team than anything he has done to deserve that label.
If Dallas wins this year, and barring a game changing home run in the draft this to me is the year they have the best chance, it’s going to be in spite of the way they run their franchise. It’s not a sustainable business model and I’m not sure you could find one NFL executive outside of Dallas that would recommend running the franchise this way. Right now they are either on the path to having a Raiders like implosion in a few years or fielding the oldest team in the NFL.