The Washington Redskins, for years derided as champions of the offseason, positioned themselves Monday to legitimize that title in a salary-cap showdown with the NFL.
The league has penalized the Redskins a total of $36 million in salary-cap space over the next two years for moving expensive contracts into the uncapped 2010 season in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
However, the Redskins insist they did nothing wrong and are proceeding toward the start of free agency and the new league year Tuesday afternoon as if there were no penalty.
This could get very interesting.
"Every contract entered into by the club during the applicable periods complied with the 2010 and 2011 collective bargaining agreements and, in fact, were approved by the NFL commissioner's office," Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said in a statement.
A salary-cap penalty could hinder the Redskins' plan to fortify their roster this offseason. They can choose how they prorate the $36 million penalty over 2012 and 2013, a league source said. However, Washington has not been informed in writing of its adjusted 2012 salary cap, Allen stated Monday night.
The Redskins entered last weekend with approximately $40 million of 2012 salary cap space. Such financial flexibility would help them address several needs in free agency.
Adding a premier wide receiver, offensive linemen and defensive backs would help them withstand the net loss of the two first-round draft picks and second-rounder they recently agreed to trade to St. Louis for the second-overall selection in the 2012 draft.
It's part of a master plan the Redskins intend to execute in the face of the $36 million salary cap penalty.
"We look forward to free agency, the draft and the coming football season," Allen stated.
The Redskins' penalty is part of an agreement reached Saturday between the league and NFL Players Association. The union, therefore, will not appeal it, a source said.
The Redskins in 2010 restructured Albert Haynesworth's and DeAngelo Hall's contracts to include $36 million of bonus money in the uncapped season, according to the National Football Post.
The NFL Management Council Executive Committee "determined that the contract practices of a small number of clubs during the 2010 league year created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance, particularly in light of the relatively modest salary-cap growth projected for the new agreement´s early years," the league said in a statement.
The league's retroactive condemnation of those contract practices ostensibly contradicts its decision to approve them at the time.
The league confirmed it reached an agreement with the union, but the terms were not disclosed. A union spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
According to a source, owners were displeased by how the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys restructured contracts to dump salary into the uncapped 2010 season despite the fact neither team was found to have violated the collective bargaining agreement.
Owners would not set the 2012 salary cap and move forward into the new league year until the union agreed to one of two options: either a lower salary cap in 2012 than in 2011, or salary cap penalties against the Redskins and Cowboys, with that cap space distributed equally among 28 other clubs.
Because the NFLPA represents players employed by all teams, not just the Redskins or Cowboys, it agreed to the option that pays the most money to players throughout the league, even though that came at the expense of Washington and Dallas.
"To remedy these effects and preserve competitive balance throughout the league, the parties to the CBA agreed to adjustments to team salary for the 2012 and 2013 seasons," the league said in a statement. "These agreed-upon adjustments were structured in a manner that will not affect the salary cap or player spending on a league-wide basis."
The Cowboys have been penalized $10 million in cap space. In a rare show of solidarity with the archrival Redskins, they released a similar statement Monday night defending their contract maneuvers in 2010.
The agreement between the league and union established the 2012 salary cap at $120.6 million, a slight increase from 2011. It established an additional $7 million in player benefits, including performance-based compensation.
While the Redskins' salary cap situation was under attack Monday, they cleared approximately $5 million by releasing safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and fullback Mike Sellers
Releasing Atogwe saves Washington $3.4 million in 2012, and he will not account for any dead money, according to a source with knowledge of his deal.
Atogwe, 30, failed during his only season with the Redskins to live up to his reputation as a ball hawk who consistently forces turnovers. The seven-year veteran was slowed by hamstring and knee injuries. He lacked explosiveness in changing directions and in making plays on the ball. He had three interceptions in 13 games (eight starts).
Sellers, 36, lost his starting job to Darrel Young last season and played mostly on special teams. The 12-year veteran was scheduled to make a base salary of $1.05 million in 2012.
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