Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The most important Redskins employee of the offseason isn’t new acquisitions like Antwaan Randle El or Andre Carter. It’s the man who made those signings possible: Eric Schaffer, Washington’s director of football administration.

As the Redskins’ salary cap specialist, Schaffer is responsible for reworking contracts for holdover players and negotiating deals for free agents that keep Washington below the NFL spending limit.

In February, the Redskins were at $115.4 million in total player costs for 2006, $20.1 million over the projected cap (which would count only the 51 highest-paid players). Safety Matt Bowen, cornerback Walt Harris, defensive tackle Brandon Noble, center Cory Raymer and punter Tom Tupa were cut to save $7.455 million, but that still left Washington $12.645 million over the cap. So Schaffer furiously re-worked contracts with the agents for 12 expensive veterans, converting roster bonuses for 2006 into signing bonus that could be pro-rated for up to four years, and got the Redskins below the limit by the March 3 deadline despite tendering offers to restricted free agents Chris Clemons, Derrick Dockery and Ade Jimoh and re-signing snapper Ethan Albright.

However, those renegotiations were contingent on the NFL and the players association failing to extend the collective bargaining agreement, thus keeping the cap at $94.5 million. When the CBA was extended and the cap rose to $102 million, those reworked contracts were null and void. In the interim, the Redskins had saved $4.28 million when linebacker LaVar Arrington accepted his release in order to test the market now rather than in the summer when a $6.5 million roster bonus would have caused him to be cut when other teams had little money to spend.

On top of the $7.5 million cap increase and the savings from waiving Arrington, incentives for offensive tackle Chris Samuels ($3.5 million), receiver David Patten ($600,000), center Casey Rabach ($1.6 million) and defensive end Renaldo Wynn ($425,000) all came off the cap under the terms of the CBA extension for a whopping savings of $6.125 million.

But with Redskins owner Dan Snyder eager to sign free agents to bolster the receiving corps and the pass rush, Schaffer was back at it with agents again, redoing some contracts a second time. Linebacker Marcus Washington ($2.562 million), defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin ($2.327 million), cornerback Shawn Springs ($2.325 million) and running back Clinton Portis ($2.3 million) saved the Redskins a collective $9.514 million with the roster bonus to signing bonus conversion.

With nearly $14 million to spend, Snyder went wild, trading for Brandon Lloyd and signing Randle El, Adam Archuleta, Carter, blocking tight end Christian Fauria and backup quarterback Todd Collins in the first five days of free agency. Those new Redskins cost $8.268 million. Re-signing linebacker Khary Campbell, running back Rock Cartwright and defensive tackle Cedric Killings cost another $1.715 million but trading quarterback Patrick Ramsey to the New York Jets saved $1.194 million.

After all of these calculations and machinations, Washington is at $97.574 million, leaving $4.426 million to spend on adding a starting linebacker to replace Arrington with room for: its six draft choices (a moderately expensive second-rounder and five cheap, low-round picks); the final two roster spots, which count against the cap once the season starts; the eight-man practice squad; and a reserve fund for replacing injured players this fall.

And if the Redskins need more savings, they could wait until June (when only a pro-rated share of signing bonuses counts against the cap for former players) and cut Wynn (saving $1.5 million), oft-injured kicker John Hall ($1.5 million) and receiver Taylor Jacobs ($500,000) and trim another $3.5 million off the cap in order to afford a third cornerback, a reserve offensive lineman or another player let go by another team after June 1.

Note — Guard/center Jonathan Goodwin, who spent the last four seasons with the Jets, visited the Redskins yesterday. Cornerback Kenny Wright, who has been with Jacksonville, will visit today.

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