- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Washington Redskins might find some of their key players too expensive to keep next season.

The Redskins already are about $1 million over next season’s $109 million salary cap with just 41 players under contract. Each team has 53 roster spots, and the 51 highest-paid players count against the salary cap. The Redskins are still 10 players shy of that number.

As a result, players like cornerback Shawn Springs, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels and quarterback Mark Brunell — “core Redskins,” as coach Joe Gibbs calls them — all likely won’t return without a major reduction of their salary cap numbers through contract renegotiation.

The Redskins can restructure some contracts. That approach, however, would push the salary cap problem into the future, and it’s not feasible to take big cap hits on more than a couple of players each year.

The Redskins faced a similar situation after last season but managed not to cut or lose to free agency any player they wanted to keep. That success, however, was due in large part to a significant increase in the salary cap after the league signed rich, new television contracts and extended its collective bargaining agreement with the players association.

The increase in this year’s cap, however, is modest, and the offseason that begins next week appears likely to be more difficult.

The Redskins’ NFC East rivals — the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants — will have plenty of room under the salary cap to re-sign their own players and make free agent acquisitions. The Redskins, however, will have to make many personnel decisions based on considerations of money, not talent.

Springs ($7.3 million cap number) and Griffin ($6.16 million) have admitted to concern about their futures with the team. Both have a big cap number, both had injury-marred seasons and both are over 30.

Each, however, also remains among the most valuable players on the defense. Griffin still is the most feared player on the line, and the secondary was beaten badly over the first five games of this season when Springs was sidelined by a groin injury. That unit was blistered again by the St. Louis Rams on Sunday after Springs left the game because of a season-ending shoulder injury.

Gibbs said yesterday he plans for Springs to return, though not necessarily at cornerback.

“Shawn has a real future with us,” Gibbs said. “He can play a number of spots back there. We’re counting on him being part of our future.”

Jettisoning reliable veterans like Springs and Griffin would necessitate the signing of solid veteran replacements like cornerback Nate Clements (who played for the Buffalo Bills for Redskins assistants Gregg Williams and Jerry Gray) or using the valuable first-round draft choice on a player the team hopes can start immediately.

Brunell knows his $6.84 million cap number is prohibitive now that he no longer is a starter. That’s also true of Wynn ($4.03 million), who lost his job to newcomer Andre Carter, and receiver David Patten ($3.01 million), who has caught just one pass this season.

Gibbs and his assistants say they want to retain all their players other than safety Adam Archuleta, who signed a $30 million contract as a free agent this year but now rarely plays. But with just 41 players under contract, the Redskins must make some difficult choices to fit under the cap and reshape a roster that has produced just five wins.

Tackles Chris Samuels ($8.85 million) and Jon Jansen ($5.85 million) and guard Randy Thomas ($5.54 million) remain the foundation of the offensive line, but their contracts might have to be restructured.

Renegotiated contracts also could be in order for top linebacker Marcus Washington ($6.02 million), Daniels ($3.27 million) and running back Clinton Portis ($7.09 million), whose importance to the offense diminished with the tremendous performance of backup Ladell Betts after Portis was sidelined by a season-ending injury.

Archuleta and receiver Brandon Lloyd, who performed poorly this year after the Redskins acquired him from the 49ers, both have $5 million in guaranteed base salary for 2007. The Redskins likely will have to use one of their two exceptions to the June 1 rule to cut Archuleta this winter and take only a prorated $1.83 million charge against the cap next year and the remaining $7.1 million in 2008.

Lloyd, 25, is four years younger than Archuleta and has remained a regular in the lineup. The Redskins likely will keep the receiver and hope he can redeem himself next season.

The Redskins do have a few bargains on the roster, however: tight end Chris Cooley ($624,000 in the final year of his rookie contract), quarterback Jason Campbell ($1.6 million), safety Sean Taylor ($1.95 million), fullback Mike Sellers ($720,000) and Betts ($1.4 million).

The Redskins don’t have picks in the second, third and fourth rounds of the April draft and therefore will save some money. They do, however, have a first-round pick that will be a relatively expensive top-10 selection.

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