- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

By focusing on modestly priced pickups and restructuring the contracts of young mainstays, the Washington Redskins have kept their current acquisition spree within the bounds of relatively smart salary-cap economics.

Obviously, obtaining nine players in three days and guaranteeing most of two players' 2003 compensation is going to have a significant financial impact. But Washington so far doesn't appear to be making major sacrifices to its future in trying to win now, several people who specialize in cap economics said yesterday.

The economic criticisms of Washington's signings so far are fairly benign. Some contend that the club overpaid for guard Randy Thomas not for his skill level but for his position. Some feel kicker John Hall isn't accurate enough to deserve the deal he got though, they acknowledge, Washington absolutely had to address the position. And some feel that a team should avoid restructuring contracts until it's absolutely necessary something, they say, Washington did not do.

"It's a constant juggling act to weigh how much to take away from the future to solve problems of the present," Redskins vice president of football operations Joe Mendes said, declining comment on any specific criticisms. "Each year you have a short-range plan and a long-range plan, and you have to juggle both."

It's easy for the casual observer to wonder how Washington is affording all these new players nine through Sunday night, with more on the way especially when reports preceding free agency described the team as having a tight cap situation.

But just one of the newcomers, Thomas, signed a blockbuster deal. And the Redskins, while being tight against the cap, had some young, cornerstone-type players whose contracts could be manipulated without too much downside.

Restructuring the deals of tackle Chris Samuels and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter saved Washington nearly $4.5 million of cap space, enough to fund the signings of six players: Thomas, defensive end Regan Upshaw, defensive tackle Brandon Noble, kicker John Hall, quarterback Rob Johnson and guard Lennie Friedman.

Two rules should be remembered in cap economics. First, the first-year cap figure is always small because the signing bonus gets prorated over the life of the contract and the player generally is paid the minimum base salary in the first year. Second, only the 51 highest-paid players count against the cap during the offseason, so every time a player is added to a team's ledger, another is taken away.

Use Thomas as an example. He received a seven-year, $28 million contract with a $7 million signing bonus. His first-year cap number would be $1.53 million $1 million for the signing bonus proration and $530,000 for the minimum salary. And on the Redskins' cap, it's only a $1.205 million increase because the 51st highest-paid player (at $225,000) would be subtracted.

Players like Upshaw ($1.055 million) and Noble ($980,000) have even lower cap figures. And guard Tre Johnson had barely any cap impact at all. He received a $655,000 minimum salary and $25,000 signing bonus; the veteran's cap rebate dropped his figure to $475,000, and after subtracting the 51st highest-paid player he accounted for just a $250,000 increase.

Restructurings can take many forms. Generally, teams will guarantee a player's new compensation, prorating it for cap purposes. In some instances, a player turns some of his scheduled compensation into incentives (meaning, if earned, they will count the following year). Or a player simply can reduce his compensation if the team has leverage. Or there might be some combination of the tactics.

Samuels and Trotter got straight guarantees. But the fact that Samuels, 25, and Trotter, 26, are young players expected to be around for a while makes the moves relatively smart. Although next year's cap impact will be inflated, it's not like they're going to be cut at which point all the delayed proration would come due.

Most people who work in cap economics accept restructurings as a necessary evil. However, they stress that repeatedly guaranteeing a player's contract can be a problem several years down the line.

Another problem is when teams run out of cap space and are forced to rework the deal of an aging player with an uncertain future. In Washington's recent history, an example is Dana Stubblefield. In 2001, when he finally was cut, the Redskins had a nearly $7.8 million cap figure dedicated to him even though he wasn't on the roster anymore.

As mentioned, Washington's remaining sources of cap room are dwindling. Sunday's four signings dropped the club back down to about $500,000 of cap space, though yesterday's cut of guard Brenden Stai boosted the figure back to about $1.5 million.

Next in line for a restructuring is defensive end Renaldo Wynn. Defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson also is expected to rework his contract, though that probably will involve something other than a straight guarantee. Linebacker Jessie Armstead could be redone but for minimal savings.

The only other viable sources of cap room are linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerback Champ Bailey, but there are obstacles in each instance.

In Arrington's case, his rookie contract was so rich and his performance in three seasons so good that his cap figure is immense. This year it's $9.7 million (not even including a $3 million incentive he earned, which counts against the cap but not technically against his cap figure). In 2004 his figure is $8.8 million with the potential to grow based on this year's play, and in 2005 it is scheduled to be over $10 million before any additional escalators.

Washington could restructure Arrington's deal, but that simply would accelerate the time at which he becomes unaffordable. A better idea might be to rewrite his entire contract by offering a huge signing bonus; another would be to leave his current deal alone and prepare to cut him in a year or two.

Regarding Bailey, he is in the final year of his contract. Technically Washington could create some voidable years to prorate his impact, but sources said Bailey is only willing to negotiate an entirely new contract. Like Arrington, he would command a signing bonus in excess of $15 million.

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