How would you like to be Eric Schaffer, the cap man for the Washington Redskins? Your boss is the combustible Dan Snyder and your cap is a mess, so much so that two cap experts from other teams who looked at it say it's as bad as they've seen.
We pity poor Schaffer, who isn't to blame. It's not his fault Snyder throws money around as if he prints it, snubbing the reality that cap jail will eventually swallow his team whole.
"I'm glad I'm not Eric," said one of the cap experts. "That thing is a mess."
According to NFLPA figures, the Redskins have $115.4 million committed in salary for their top 51 players in 2006. The cap is expected to be $92 to $95 million. That means they have to trim $20 million or so. And that's not counting the $2 million or so the team will need to sign its rookies (thankfully, they don't have a first-round pick to pay, or that would be higher).
The Redskins have done a decent job trimming their cap down in recent years, but this time it might not be possible -- certainly not without a new collective bargaining agreement. A new agreement could help relieve some of the cap problems, but even with one, the Redskins face a daunting task.
"If they reduced everybody to a veteran minimum, and that won't happen, they'd still be $4 million over the cap," said one of the cap experts. "That's before cutting anybody."
So how did it get this bad? The Redskins have paid out big money deals under Snyder, and some of them have blown up in the team's face, leading to the chase factor. You chase bad deals with more bad deals to compensate.
Thus, they have trouble.
When room got tight in the past, they extended players' deals to create room, spreading bonus amortization out over the years. Eventually, though, it becomes time to pay the piper.
That time is now.
Compare the Redskins' plight to a family that keeps putting off paying the credit card balance by paying minimums.
"All the deals, all the overpaying for years and moving money into future years has caught up to them," said the cap expert. "Last year they had to move $7 million in money into future years. That catches up to you at some point."
One cap expert said the Redskins might be forced to let good players walk, and could be forced to field a team with as many as 20 rookies -- or more.
If there's a new CBA, the Redskins might be able to get out from under the cap troubles a little easier, although it still will be a lot of work.
"Can you imagine the dynamics of what Schaffer is going through?" one cap expert said. "He has to go to Snyder and Joe Gibbs and tell them they have to cut players. That has to be ugly,"
Cap hell. It's as ugly as it gets in the NFL, and it's a jail that's hard to get paroled out of.
Still think the Redskins will be a playoff contender?
Joe Gibbs has his work cut out for him this season. Maybe auto racing never looked so good.
Around the league
- There is talk making its way through the league that NFL and the players association are close to agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement. There has been steady progress the past week, giving hope to both sides. The NFL has called a special owners meeting for next week in Dallas. All the doom and gloom of the past year regarding a potential agreement has suddenly been replaced by optimism. "There has been some good talks this week," said a league source. One issue that seemed to be clouding the talks was the improved revenue sharing between high- and low-revenue teams. But the word is the owners will wait until after a getting an agreement with the NFLPA before worrying about that problem. The players want a higher percentage of the total revenue, which is believed to be one point that the two sides are close to agreeing on. Don't be shocked to see a new agreement in place in the next week. If that happens, the free-agency period should begin on March 3 as planned. With no agreement, the opening of the free-agency period could get pushed back to April.
- A guy who should be a hot free agent when the period opens based on talks with some league personnel is Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El. He can do a lot of things, but here's something to consider for teams willing to sign him: He isn't a down-the-field deep threat. Randle El is outstanding on the medium-range routes, but he doesn't have burning speed. He's more quick than fast. At one point during last season, the Steelers were lamenting that they didn't have the vertical threat after letting Plaxico Burress leave. Randle El is a quality receiver, and he did have 10 20-plus plays, so there is some big-play ability there. It's just he's not a vertical threat, even though he had a 15.1 per-catch average. A lot of his success comes from the way the Steelers scheme up their offense. They use a lot of bunch formations in passing downs as a way to get receivers open in crossing routes. A lot of times this leads to busts in coverage and wide-open receivers. That helped the team lead the league in yards per attempt. That number is more about scheme than speed. Randle El is an interesting player in this free-agent market. He will help any team that signs him, but don't expect him to be a No. 1 receiver. He is a quality return man, which helps his value. But if you pay him top receiver money, do you want him returning punts and kickoffs? I like the guy, but if you're the Steelers, what do you do? Do you pay him or let him walk? Hines Ward is their go-to guy. They let Burress walk last year, so the feeling is they likely will let Randle El go too if the price gets too high.
- Look for the Jaguars to make a strong push to sign Saints free-agent center LeCharles Bentley when the signing period opens. The team would love to move Brad Meester back to guard to replace disappointing Vince Manuwai, who is a restricted free agent. Bentley would bring nastiness to an offensive line that needs it, and word is the Jaguars have him high on their wish list. The Saints would love to keep him but are believed to be unwilling to put the franchise tag on him. That would be fine with Bentley, who would love to test the market; word is he prefers leaving. Meester played guard his first two years in the league. Right tackle Maurice Williams recently said that he played much of last season with sore shoulders. Williams didn't use it as an excuse, but he didn't play as well as he had in the past, and he said that won't be the case in 2006. If the Jaguars are to get to the next level, they have to be better along the offensive front. Quarterback Byron Leftwich is a long strider who needs to have space to make his throws. In fact, one defensive coordinator who has faced Leftwich said part of their plan to attack him is to get pressure inside so he can't take the big step. "When that happens, his passes tend to sail," the coordinator said. "That's when he gets in trouble." It's also a reason why a player like Bentley in the middle of the line makes a lot of sense. The Jaguars are also believed to have a strong interest in Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Will Witherspoon, who played for Jack Del Rio when Del Rio was the Panthers' defensive coordinator three years ago. Del Rio, by the way, is still in talks to get a contract extension. Word is that he's asking for over $4 million per season. That's a good starting point, but he won't be getting that from Wayne Weaver. Look for the two sides to agree on a deal in the $3.2 million range per year with some incentives included. Del Rio is the lowest-paid coach in the league at $1.2 million, and clearly deserves a raise. But Weaver will be reluctant to give him the mega-deal he wants. One playoff appearance doesn't warrant that, but Del Rio does have this team headed in the right direction. Fair is fair, so he will get a new deal. It just won't be in the stratosphere.
- If teams are looking for a run-stuffing defensive tackle, check out the name Ma'ake Kemoeatu. He is a 350-pound power player who started for the Ravens last year. He won't bring much in terms of a pass rush, but he is a force against the run. Bentley, one of the NFL's strongest centers, raved about him after facing him during the 2005 preseason. He said Kemoeatu is the strongest player he faced. That's high praise. He's an ascending player, which makes him a good value on the market.
- Now that Mike Tannenbaum is the general manager of the New York Jets, there have been plenty of snickers around the league. Tannenbaum is not considered a football guy, which has some real football guys scratching their heads. Tannenbaum did have one important thing going for him in his power play -- yes, that's what it was. He was a good friend of new coach Eric Mangini. That meant something. Now Tannenbaum has the task of dealing with a serious cap issue. "That guy's ambitious," said one league source. "It's not a surprise he pulled a coup. That's his nature." Tannenbaum has made a meteoric rise from intern to general manager. It was only a few years ago that some in the New Orleans Saints organization considered him the coffee boy. This isn't to say Tannenbaum can't get the job done. But once again it's proof that when front office personnel and coaches tell the media they have no business writing things because they don't understand the game, we can point to the abundance of lawyer types now taking over the football side of things. Does law school make someone any more qualified to make football decisions than journalism school? I didn't think so. By the way, the Jets have hired a new senior director of football administration. They planned to talk to John Idzik, the Arizona Cardinals director of football operations, but they canceled when they decided to hire an attorney from a prestigious law firm in Washington D.C.
- The 49ers have interviewed 15 people for the front office position they are creating, but they haven't made a hire. They thought Mike Reinfeldt, the Seahawks vice president of football administration, would be taking the position, but he declined. Others who have interviewed are Ray Anderson, the executive vice president of the Falcons; Bob Wallace, executive vice president of the Rams; and Bob Ferguson, former general manager of the Seahawks. The 49ers are said to be looking for a person with 20 years experience in the league since they have such an inexperienced front office. Coach Mike Nolan is said to be pushing for an addition. Word is he's has come clashes with Paraag Marathe, the director of football operations.
- The five-year extension signed by San Diego defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire is a pretty good one for a guy who doesn't start. It includes a $1.25 million signing bonus and has escalators and incentives that can earn him $5.75 million more. For example, if he plays in 60 percent of the snaps and has 6½ sacks, he can earn some of that incentive money in each year. He also has a $750,000 Pro Bowl bonus in each year. Cesaire started five games last year at defensive end. His best game came in the season finale against Denver, when he had seven tackles, five solos.
- The Jets have told cornerback Ty Law he won't be back with them next year. He's due a bonus of $11 million in March, and there's no way the cap-strapped Jets can pay that. Now comes the interesting question: Does anybody give him a big-money deal? At 32, he went to the Pro Bowl after getting 10 interceptions, but he's clearly not the same player he was a few years back. Any team looking at Law will likely want to give him a one- or two-year deal. Anything more than that would be risky.
- Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said this week the team hasn't made a decision as to whether to bring back quarterback Aaron Brooks. The reality is that decision has been all but made. Just look at the numbers. Brooks will count $8.48 million against the cap this year with a base salary of $6.5 million. The team can save about $$4.5 million on its cap by releasing him. The Saints are expected to take a quarterback with the second overall pick in the April draft, with USC's Matt Leinart considered the favorite to land in that spot. Some of Brooks' Saints teammates have said they don't expect him back.
- Re-signing Kyle Vanden Bosch was a top priority for the Titans, and they have to be thrilled they got the deal done Thursday. But if reports of a $15 million guarantee are accurate, that's a lot of money for a guy who has had both his knees surgically repaired. Vanden Bosch is a try-hard player who exemplifies what coaches want. Jim Schwartz, the Titans defensive coordinator, loves the guy. But that's an awful lot to pay out for a player who came to the Titans on a one-year, $550,000 deal last spring. It's not like he's a speed rusher or anything.