Since the offseason started the Redskins have been quite busy spending money. They put the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, signed free agent cornerback Josh Norman, gave Jordan Reed a contract extension, and decided to retain wide receivers Pierre Garçon (cap number $10.2 million) and DeSean Jackson ($9.25 million).
And they did it without busting their salary cap. They have a shade over $11 million in cap space left this year. The Redskins also are in good shape next year with about $40 million on hand next year.
Cap management primarily falls on the shoulders of Eric Schaffer, the Redskins’ vice president of football administration. The Washington Times summarized what Schaffer told them about how to sign and retain talent and still stay under the cap:
A successful team has approximately half of its roster signed to rookie contracts to supplement premium-priced established players, and the goal should be to have enough cap space to extend home-grown players when their rookie deals expire.
It should be noted that the Redskins aren’t just paying home-grown players; three of their six highest-paid players (Garçon, Jackson, and Norman) are premium free agents from other teams.
So where to the Redskins sit now in terms of contracts? Are they paying half of their roster on rookie deals? Well, technically they are not quite there but they are very close and they have enough contracts that are similar to rookie deals to make their cap work.
Of the 53 players projected here to make the final roster (offense, defense) there are 25 who are either on the contracts they signed as rookies or first-year players (either drafted or undrafted) or on exclusive rights free agent contracts, which are one-year deals at around the minimum salary.
The rookie deals are not all cheap. Four players on their rookie deals have cap hits of over $1 million this year led by Brandon Scherff, who has a $4.8 million cap number. The other 21 rookie contracts all have cap hits under $1 million.
The Redskins also have some veteran contracts that carry a cap hit of less than $1 million and combined with the 21 rookie deals in that range they have 27 players who have cap hits of less than $1 million. So that gets the Redskins where Schaffer wants them to be in terms of lower-end contracts with just over half of the projected roster (50.9 percent, to be exact) playing for something near the league’s minimum wage.
That structure allows the Redskins to handle six contracts with cap hits of $8 million or more, led by Kirk Cousins with his franchise tag number of $19.953 million and still have some cap space to spare.
The key to keeping the plan on track is the draft. It’s possible that Bashaud Breeland and Morgan Moses will sign contract extensions next year, moves that may push their cap numbers into the $5 million range, perhaps higher. But as long as the Scto McCloughan keeps a steady supply of inexpensive, quality players in the pipeline through the draft they will be able to absorb those contracts without any problem.
Here are the 2016 cap numbers of the projected 53-man roster (Rookie/exclusive-rights free agent contracts are in red; all cap information via OvertheCap.com):