The Redskins hold the opportunity to help their team and potentially help their salary cap, but the clock is ticking.
While the focus will remain on what happens next at quarterback, the Redskins need to do everything possible to solidify their right guard situation before free agency opens on March 13th.
Currently, Brandon Scherff is slated to play on a one-year, $12.5 million guaranteed contract. It’s the standard fifth-year option that comes with all first-round pick contracts, which the Redskins exercised last June.
All of that money counts towards the Redskins 2019 salary cap total too, and the team is hard-pressed for available space. Of the projected $190 million salary cap, the Redskins already have more than $170 million on the books.
Keeping Scherff on the option is good for now, but the Redskins need to work out a long-term deal as soon as they can with the Pro Bowl right guard.
There’s the obvious: He's a very good player and he’s homegrown, a 2015 first-round pick. Washington needs Scherff to get the best of their offensive line, particularly in the run game.
Then there’s the less obvious: Getting a multi-year deal done with Scherff could actually help the Redskins navigate the salary cap this year.
Last June, the Cowboys worked out a contract extension with their Pro Bowl guard Zach Martin rather than let him play out his rookie option. Dallas and Martin agreed to a six-year, $84 million deal with $40 million in guarantees. Of that guaranteed money, $20 million was in signing bonus money, and his largest cap hit won't come until 2022.
Scherff will land a mega-deal similar to Martin's, but the deal can look different. Washington could move more cash to a signing bonus, which would be spread out throughout the contract term.
Why does that matter?
The Redskins find themselves in a tough situation with the cap due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding QB Alex Smith. For 2019, the quarterback will count $20 million against the books even though it seems highly unlikely Smith will play after breaking his leg last fall. Even if the Redskins can lower Scherff's 2019 cap total by a few million dollars, that could be a big boost in getting additional help at wide receiver or safety.
If Bruce Allen can get a new contract worked out with Scherff that delivers plenty of guaranteed cash via signing bonus, the team can keep a star offensive linemen and possibly create some cap room for 2019 that the team desperately needs.
Right now, there are 10 NFL teams with more than $50 million in salary cap space. The Colts and the Jets have more than $100 million in cap space.
Right now, the Redskins have $17 million in cap space.
That’s a significant disadvantage. Significant.
That’s a big hole to try and dig out from, and it’s probably not something that can be completely fixed. There are players the team can release for cap relief - Zach Brown and Stacy McGee come to mind. Other players could possibly restructure, but that’s never a sure thing either.
What few Redskins fans would want to consider is what happens if the team doesn't get a deal done with Scherff. Should negotiations drag on throughout the summer, at some point, it becomes possible Scherff will opt to not look for an extension, play on the one-year deal and instead hit free agency in 2020.
At that point, it could get ugly.
In 2020, the Redskins still have more than $20 million of their salary cap locked in on Alex Smith. Should Scherff get offers from other teams, they could front-load a deal in a manner that would be very hard for the Redskins to match.
Yes, the franchise tag is an option, but it will carry a significant price tag. In 2019, tagging an offensive linemen costs more than $15 million. By 2020, that figure will only be higher. And after the Kirk Cousins saga, Redskins fan surely have franchise tag fatigue.
Getting a deal done with Scherff is one of the few options Washington has that benefit both the team and the player.
Scherff gets more guaranteed money and gets it without having to play on a one-year deal, particularly coming off surgery last season. The 'Skins get a potential All Pro guard locked up long-term, and maybe give themselves a bit more cap space for 2019.
That’s why they should get it done. ASAP.
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