- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Thirty-six million dollars? Thirty-six million?

(We pause here while millions of Washington Redskins fans do a group spit take.)

The Redskins just can’t help themselves, can they? They pull off a big deal designed to land Robert Griffin III, the wondrous quarterback from Baylor, and the Era of Good Feelings doesn’t even last a week. By Monday afternoon, we were hearing that they stood to lose $36 million in cap space because they front-loaded contracts during the uncapped 2010 season, even though the NFL told them not to.

That’s no small sum, $36 million, even if it’s divided over two years — an option the team will have. With the cap at roughly $120 million, $18 million represents a 15 percent payroll deduction. No wonder Peyton Manning doesn’t want to make a visit here.

This is simply … a disgrace — even for a franchise that seems to know no shame. It’s also negligence of the highest order. What right-thinking organization ignores the warnings of the league, which was concerned about clubs creating a competitive advantage with this behavior, and draws up questionable contracts nonetheless?

Here’s what it really smells of: George Allen. He was the guy who, when he was orchestrating things for the Redskins in the ‘70s, traded three draft picks twice. For that cute little maneuver, he was hauled before the owners, reamed out by the commissioner, and the team was fined the maximum amount. He also had to make amends with the clubs he had wronged, which in one case involved upgrading a second-rounder to a first-rounder.

Allen, a micromanager who paid attention to every chin strap and paper clip, copped a predictable plea: “The dog ate my draft list” (or some such silliness). Problem was, it wasn’t the first time he’d pulled the stunt. He’d also done it when he was with the Los Angeles Rams, though it didn’t become public knowledge until he lapsed again with the Redskins.

Anyway, 40 years later, the Redskins run afoul of the NFL once more, and who’s their general manager? None other than Bruce Allen, George’s son. Of course, he and Mike Shanahan are essentially collateral damage. The buck really stops with Dan Snyder and his previous GM, Vinny Cerrato. They were the ones who tempted the fates by green-lighting these strangely structured deals. And let’s face it, Snyder has always had a reputation, deriving from a fair amount of documentation, for making it up as he goes along.

One time, if memory serves, the Redskins traded a draft pick to New England, then tried to pull a fast one on the Patriots and tell them the deal actually was for another pick, a lower one in the same round (that also belonged to Washington). Also, wasn’t there some sort of “misunderstanding” about the practice squad rules a while back that got the Redskins in trouble with the league?

And now this latest “Oops” Moment. What’s truly galling, from the fans’ point of view, is that Albert Haynesworth’s deal is one of the contracts in question. Few players in Redskins history have done less to earn their keep than Haynesworth. And while Shanahan and Allen inherited Albert from the Vinny regime, they could have cut their losses with the reluctant defensive tackle and not paid him a $21 million bonus in the uncapped year, money that now will be taken away from the Redskins. (The other $15 million at issue, The Washington Times’ Rich Campbell has confirmed, went to DeAngelo Hall, who made the Pro Bowl in 2010 but hasn’t exactly been an elite player.)

We’ll find out more in the days ahead. The Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who got socked themselves with a $10 million cap penalty, might have some basis for a lawsuit. It would be interesting to know, if these contracts were objectionable, why the NFL didn’t just invalidate them when they were sent in.

Redskins supporters are crying collusion, accusing the other owners — in collaboration with the Players Association, which had to sign off on it — of sticking it to Snyder and Dallas’ Jerry Jones. But the NFL is built on collusion. The draft is collusion. The rookie salary scale is collusion. The league’s TV contracts require an antitrust exemption. Collusion helped make the NFL great. This is just one instance where it happened to work against the Redskins. They played with fire, and they got burned.