- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

The free agents keep arriving at Redskin Park and leaving with glittery contracts. Bruce Smith. Mark Carrier. Jeff George. Deion Sanders. The players keep re-signing. Marco Coleman. Larry Centers. Keith Sims. Cory Raymer. Andy Heck. Darrell Green.
And huge deals remain incomplete for franchise running back Stephen Davis and the second and third picks overall in the draft, linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has doled out more than $26 million in signing bonuses this offseason with the up-front payouts to Davis, Arrington and Samuels likely to push that total near $40 million.
Just how can Washington afford all this largess under the NFL salary cap of $62.172 million? And even if Snyder succeeds in buying the Super Bowl come January, is he ruining his team's future?
The key words are proration and renegotiation.
All NFL signing bonuses are prorated over the life of the contract. For example, the Redskins gave Sanders an $8 million check when he signed a seven-year, $56 million deal this month. However, for salary cap purposes, the bonus proration is a reasonable $1.14 million per year. Smith's $4.25 million bonus is prorated at $850,000 per year. Carrier's $3 million bonus is prorated at $600,000. And so on.
But Washington is playing with fire because of the age of the players it has added or re-signed. Green is 40. Smith will be 37 next week. Heck is 33. Sims will be 33 on Saturday, Sanders in August. George, Carrier and Centers are 32. Coleman is 30, but he has a six-year deal.
Few, if any, of these players will be Redskins for the duration of their contracts. When they're released before June 1, their signing bonuses accelerate onto the salary cap that season. When they're let go after June 1, the cap hit comes the next year. Either way, it hurts.
Take Sanders again, as an example. A bargain this year at $1.64 million on the cap, if he's still "Prime Time" in 2001, he's decently priced at $4.64 million. But Sanders won't return in 2002 at his slated $7.14 million. So the Redskins will either have to eat $5.72 million in prorated bonus or get Sanders to agree to redo the contract.
That means another signing bonus as was true this year for Green, who was given $2 million to lower his base salary from $1.4 million to the $440,000 veteran's minimum, and safety Sam Shade, who received $1.46 million to drop his base from $1.9 million to $440,000.
And contracts can keep getting redone only so long. There comes a point when the player just isn't good enough to make the team. That's when the impact of all those signing bonuses hits.
Washington's 2000 cap includes more than $6 million in prorated bonuses to such departed players as recently waived running backs Brian Mitchell and Larry Bowie.
Sanders, Smith, Green, Heck, Centers, Sims, Carrier, George (unless Pro Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson doesn't re-sign with the Redskins within the next year), Coleman and 37-year-old receiver Irving Fryar aren't likely to be on Washington's roster in 2002. If they're not, that's a staggering $15.3 million worth of wasted cap space about 20 percent of the projected $75 million cap for the remainder of their prorated signing bonuses.
"The Redskins see players get cut because of their salaries so they sign them to try to win the Super Bowl this year," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. "Whether that happens remains to be seen. And all that spending always catches up to you. Look at the [San Francisco] 49ers."
It's that kind of cap management that helped turn the 49ers for whom Snyder's top football adviser, player personnel director Vinny Cerrato, was then working from Super Bowl champions in 1994 to laughingstocks in 1999.
Eleven of San Francisco's 1994 starters were at least 30 on Super Bowl Sunday. If Washington gets to the big dance in January, a more reasonable eight of its projected starters will be at least 30. But defending champion St. Louis, NFC runner-up Tampa Bay and such AFC powers as Super Bowl loser Tennessee, Jacksonville and Indianapolis have as clear a shot at the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Washington does.
"The Redskins have done what other teams have done over the years," said former New York Giants general manager George Young, now the NFL's vice president of football operations. "When you think you have a chance to make a run, you do what it takes. You try to be the best you can now and you don't worry about 2002."
Will young-man-in-a-hurry Snyder change his ways if the Redskins fall short of a title or will he go on another spending spree next year that will mortgage even more of his team's future? Guess.


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