- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

The Washington Redskins' salary-cap future has undergone a major reversal under first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer. Once bleak and getting bleaker, it is now manageable and, in the long term, healthy.
Ironically, the dismal performance of this year's Redskins (0-4) might keep the coach from enjoying the future he elected to create.
In his first offseason, Schottenheimer cut a number of high-priced players and held off on high-priced free agents to immediately address the club's cap problems, which largely had been created in 2000 by a record payroll approaching $100 million.
In other words, Schottenheimer increased the likelihood of short-term frustration in order to prepare for long-term success. Now the short-term problems are being realized, but the long-term situation is solid.
The Redskins have 35 players scheduled to count $57.8 million against a 2002 cap projected to be about $72 million. And a more realistic number would be 33 players for $53.5 million, assuming cornerback Darrell Green retires, defensive end Bruce Smith departs and both moves occur in cap-friendly (i.e. post-June 1) fashions.
Those figures aren't great, with just five offensive starters under contract and already $10.4 million in "dead money," thanks to the retirement of cornerback Deion Sanders and the releases of quarterback Jeff George, safety Mark Carrier and others. Dead money refers to cap charges for players no longer on the roster.
But Schottenheimer's low-cost solutions and youth movement help neutralize the dead money and create an attractive long-term scenario. Starting this year are rookie wide receiver Rod Gardner, cornerback Fred Smoot and linebacker Antonio Pierce, as well as inexpensive veterans like linebacker Kevin Mitchell and guard Matt Campbell.
With the Redskins about $15 million under the cap when the season ends, they will be in reasonably good shape to lock up current starters whose contracts are expiring (among them defensive lineman Kenard Lang and quarterback Tony Banks) and pursue midrange free agents.
Last season ended with Washington having 31 players scheduled to count $72.1 million, or about $5 million over the 2001 cap. The club was forced to renegotiate the contracts of Smith, George, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, cornerback Champ Bailey and defensive end Marco Coleman. Those moves took cap dollars out of 2001 and moved them into 2002.
Next offseason there should be fewer renegotiations and few, if any, cap-induced cuts, which would create an even better situation in 2003.
All this isn't to promise that the future is bright. There is considerable debate about whether Schottenheimer got bargain talent or simply what he paid for. And if he is fired at season's end, the next coach might dislike the talent under contract, clean house and have to reconstruct with limited cap space.
But if Schottenheimer stays, he will have a core of young, experienced, cost-effective talent in Gardner, Smoot, Pierce, safeties David Terrell and Ifeanyi Ohalete, and defensive tackles Jerry DeLoach and Delbert Cowsette not to mention Bailey, linebacker LaVar Arrington and tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.
"With the young talent that we have, we could be building a dynasty," Arrington said yesterday. "It's just taking some time to develop."
Playing prospects like Gardner and Smoot "is the key" to long-term success, Smoot said, explaining, "I can say from preseason to right now, I'm a whole different player."
A year of experience for Smoot, Gardner, Pierce, et al, when next season begins is "going to make all the difference," Smoot added, "because if you look at it right now, we're the core of what's to be. I understand what [Schottenheimer is] doing, because I don't care how good your play is. If you don't get experience, you aren't going to be good in this league."
Schottenheimer, for his part, believes his decision to go low-budget was a no-brainer.
"Frankly we had no alternative," Schottenheimer said. "When we started the process in early February, we had to clear over $18 million to be able to get compliant. That entailed, as we all know, some tough decisions. The process is ongoing, but the only way to be competitive is get the thing back in order."
But Schottenheimer's thinking begins with the fundamental opinion that the future could not be mortgaged as it had been in 2000.
"If you go try to mortgage the future, then where are you?" Schottenheimer said.
The coach, however, wanted to make clear that, although he has chosen a cap-friendly path, "we are not abandoning in any way this season in any form or fashion."

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