- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Some salary cap creativity will be needed to dodge the aftereffects of the $100 million bust.

The Washington Redskins must rework the contracts of several high-priced veterans or release them to fit under the 2001 salary cap, let alone pursue big-name free agents.

The 31 Redskins under contract for 2001 plus due incentives and the penalties of released players like Brian Mitchell are above the projected cap for the entire team. Washington is scheduled to consume $72.1 million in cap value, according to calculations by The Washington Times, just over the projected $67.4 million cap.

That means the Redskins currently have no room to sign the 22 players who will fill out their roster, let alone others who will be added during the season because of injuries. NFL teams must be under the cap by March 2, the day free agency is scheduled to begin, and remain below it as they add players.

The cap calculations demonstrate that the frustration of the Redskins' failed $100 million run at the Super Bowl, among the biggest disappointments in NFL history, won't stop when their 7-8 season mercifully ends Sunday against Arizona.

Washington's current status above the projected cap isn't unique in the NFL, but the club has an uncommonly rich taste for free agents and several players at the top of its cap list (particularly defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson) whose reworked contracts make them virtually impossible to release.

The Redskins want to make another round of offseason acquisitions mostly to improve the offense but they could further damage future caps if they aren't careful.

Washington's $72.1 million cap figure does not include two starting linebackers (Shawn Barber and Derek Smith), a kicker, a punter, a backup quarterback and likely replacements for offensive starters such as Albert Connell and Keith Sims.

The offense has dropped from second in the NFL in 1999 to 10th in 2000, and the team ranks 24th in points scored. Pro Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson is expected to depart this offseason to free agency. Team sources say there is virtually no scenario in which the club will place the franchise tag on Johnson, which would generate compensation but require another $6.5 million or so in cap room.

At wide receiver, Michael Westbrook is returning from season-ending knee surgery, and Connell is not expected to be re-signed. Westbrook is a candidate to reduce his salary or be released. Irving Fryar might retire, which would cut $3 million from the $72.1 million figure. Even if Fryar stays, his salary will be reduced $1.75 million because of a de-escalator clause and $2.2 million if he gets one or no catches against Arizona. James Thrash, however, is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and re-signing him would inflate the current figure.

On the offensive line Sims, fellow guard Tre Johnson and center Cory Raymer are returning from season-ending surgeries. Johnson and Sims are candidates to reduce their salaries or be released. Stopgap starter Andy Heck could be released; Jay Leeuwenburg and Mark Fischer are unsigned.

Releasing Westbrook, Tre Johnson or Sims likely would require an injury settlement.

On defense, cornerback Darrell Green and safety Sam Shade are candidates to reduce their salaries. Shade could be released. Otherwise, the NFL's fifth-ranked unit (up from No. 30 in 1999) should remain largely intact.

The Redskins' costliest acquisition is expected to be a marquee wide receiver obtained through free agency or the draft. The bright side of Washington's recent slide is its improving position in a fairly well-stocked first round at wide receiver. In terms of free agents, team sources say there is organizational interest in San Francisco star Jerry Rice.

Washington also is interested in signing a standout returner for its beleaguered special teams, perhaps Carolina Pro Bowl pick Michael Bates.

The Redskins can renegotiate contracts like Stubblefield's and Wilkinson's to create cap room, but such reworkings are why Stubblefield and Wilkinson are so unwieldy now. Further renegotiations will place even more stress on future caps and compound already precarious situations in 2002 and '03.

Stubblefield, with the club's highest cap figure, counts $8.351 million to keep in 2001, $7.766 million to release and $2.589 to release after June 1 (with $5.178 million coming due in 2002).

Cornerback Deion Sanders is another key figure on the cap. He would cost $6.858 million if he retired after this season; $1.143 million after June 1 (with $5.715 million due in 2002).

Note Rookie defensive tackle Delbert Cowsette was signed to the active roster to fill the final opening following Monday's flurry of moves. Cowsette, the Redskins' seventh-round draft pick out of Maryland, was on Washington's practice squad before being released. He then was on Indianapolis' practice squad before yesterday's signing.

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