All discussions of the Redskins 2019 salary cap situation must be framed by the $20 million the team owes QB Alex Smith.
If Smith was healthy, the number would be normal for a starting quarterback. In fact, as quarterback salaries skyrocket, $20 million for a healthy Smith might have been advantageous for Washington.
But Smith isn't healthy, and his $20 million cap number is going to be a problem.
It seems highly unlikely Smith plays in 2019, and that means the Redskins highest paid player will be a drain on the team's salary cap. To stay competitive, Bruce Allen and the Redskins front office might need to create more cap space, and that could mean cutting other expensive players.
Who could that be? Let's take a look at five possible spots:
1. CB Josh Norman - 2019 cap number: $14.5 million:
In 2016, Norman signed the richest-ever contract for a cornerback at five-years, $75 million. The deal included guaranteed money for the first three seasons, but in 2019, the guarantees are done.
Washington could release Norman in 2019 and save $8.5 million against the cap, but that would come with a $6 million dead money hit. In 2020, the numbers tilt more favorably in Washington's favor. The Redskins could release Norman and take a $3 million dead money hit while saving $12.5 million against the cap.
Norman forced seven turnovers in 2018, and the team could use him next year on a defense that will have to carry the load.
2. TE Jordan Reed
2019 cap number: $9.6 million
There is no guaranteed money left on Reed's contract, and releasing him would bring a $3.6 million dead money hit against $6 million in salary cap savings. The money doesn't demand that Reed get cut, but questions about his subpar 2018 season might add to the discussion. Reed played 13 games for the first times since 2015, but managed only 558 receiving yards with just two touchdowns.
The Redskins expect more out of Reed and pay him to deliver like a top-five tight end in the NFL like he showed in 2015 and 2016.
This might not be the wise time to cut Reed, as he should be fully healthy for 2019 offseason work and could be a great option for Colt McCoy or whatever QB ends up starting for the Redskins this fall.
3. LB Zach Brown
2019 cap number: $8.75 million
Last season, keeping Brown was the Redskins' biggest priority on defense. The team kept their star linebacker with a three-year, $21 million deal in free agency, but only the 2018 season carried guaranteed money. A tackling machine in 2017, Brown fell off in 2018, not getting to 100 tackles after two straight seasons hitting that number.
Part of it was playing through injury, but it also seemed like frustrations boiled up. Washington benched Brown late in the year in favor of rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton, and now Brown could be on the wrong side of the Redskins ledger.
To cut Brown would cost $3 million in dead money but would account for $5.75 million in cap savings.
4. TE Vernon Davis
2019 cap number: $6.3 million
When the Redskins agreed to a three-year, $15 million contract with Davis in 2016, details of the deal revealed that the 2019 season would probably never happen. There is no guaranteed money due this year, and to release Davis would bring a $1 million dead money hit while saving Washington $5 million against the salary cap.
A 14-year NFL veteran, Davis has been really good for the Redskins. He's a model citizen and teammate, a relentless worker and one of the nicest guys in the locker room. For two seasons in 2016 and 2017, Davis was also quite productive on the field. He totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards in those two seasons and had more than 40 catches both years. In 2018, the numbers dropped. He grabbed just 25 passes and logged 367 receiving yards.
Davis has been great, but the dollars might not add up for him to stay in Washington.
5. QB Alex Smith
2019 cap number: $20.4 million
This is highly improbable but worth mentioning. If the Redskins don't believe Smith will ever return to play football after the violent broken leg injury he sustained in Week 10, maybe the team elects to release Smith. It would come with a massive salary cap penalty, north of $40 million, but then the team would be out from the Smith contract and he would not hinder the organization's salary cap in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
A move like this would be quite unconventional, but at least it would be over.
Again, this is highly unlikely.
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