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Need to Know: 2019 salary cap may drive some draft day decisions

Need to Know: 2019 salary cap may drive some draft day decisions

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, April 5, 21 days before the NFL draft.  

The salary cap and succession planning

It’s too early to panic, or even be concerned, but the Redskins are in a bit of a salary cap squeeze. No, not this year. They have about $15 million to work with after accounting for signing their draft picks. The problem is a year down the road. 

According to Over the Cap, the Redskins have about $9 million in 2019 salary cap space to work with, assuming that they exercise their fifth-year option on guard Brandon Scherff. Only two teams have less to work with. 

The Redskins will have options to create more by releasing some high-priced players. But if they are going to do that without creating a need to sign high-priced free agents to take their places they need to do some succession planning and that starts in the draft. 

Here are a few areas where they could be looking for eventual starters in the draft. 

Cornerback: The veteran who might have the biggest target on his back next offseason is Josh Norman. He will turn 31 in December and his 2019 cap number is $14.5 million. If they move on from him, they would create $8.5 in cap space. It would not be surprising to see them draft a cornerback. That player may not directly replace Norman; he could be a later-round pick who serves as depth behind potential starters Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar. It’s also possible that Orlando Scandrick will be one and done, saving $3.75 million. 

Inside linebacker: There was some celebration among Redskins fans when the team re-signed Zach Brown last month. And his salary cap number this year is a very manageable $2.95 million. But a year from now, Brown will be 30 and he will have a cap number of $8.75 million. The Redskins could trim $5.75 million in cap space by drafting Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds and moving on from Brown. 

Tight end: You need a crystal ball to figure out this one. Will Jordan Reed ($9.72 million cap charge) stay healthy for enough games in 2018 to warrant that salary? Will Vernon Davis ($6.33 million), who will be 35 next offseason, finally fall to the undefeated Father Time? Even if both play well this year, $16 million for tight ends may be too much for a team that is in a cap crunch. If the right tight end is on the board, the Redskins could grab him at any point after the first round. 

At this point in time, it is far from automatic that any of these players will be salary cap casualties. If they have good seasons, of course, the team will find a way to keep them on. 

Releasing players is not the only way to create cap space. The Redskins could get more breathing room by restructuring some contracts, although the cap space they can create this way is limited because the best candidates for such a move, Norman, Trent Williams, and Ryan Kerrigan, will only have two years left on their contracts. They also could ask some players to take pay cuts. 

But if you see a player picked a cornerback, tight end, or linebacker, there is no need to wonder what the need is. The Redskins would be anticipating needs for 2019.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 11
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 113
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 157

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Case Keenum isn't the Redskins problem, and Dwayne Haskins won't fix it either

Case Keenum isn't the Redskins problem, and Dwayne Haskins won't fix it either

The Redskins have lots of problems, but Case Keenum isn't one of them. Through two games this season, Keenum has thrown for 600 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. 

He hasn't been great, and he's missed some big opportunities, but Keenum isn't even close to the main reason why the Redskins are 0-2. Not even close. 

"I think he handled it really well. He might’ve miss a few throws here or there," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said of Keenum after the Cowboys loss. "He’s not taking many sacks, he’s getting out of the pocket, he’s making plays, and I love his competitiveness. I think that will rub off on the entire football team if it hasn’t already. Guys like to play for him and play with him.”

The Washington defense surrendered at least 30 points in consecutive losses to the Eagles and the Cowboys to start the 2019 campaign. The defense has given up at least 400 yards in both losses. The defensive front, the presumed strength of the Redskins team, has piled up a whopping two sacks through two games. Two. 

Offensively, the Redskins haven't been great, or even very good. Keep in mind, however, the expectations for Washington's offense weren't particularly high. Gruden has frequently talked how his team is built to "win ugly" and that the head coach is fine with low-scoring victories. 

Well, Keenum has delivered enough for those type of wins. The defense just isn't holding up their end of the bargain. In two games the Redskins have averaged 24 points with zero turnovers. That's more than enough to win ugly. 

And the truth is Keenum deserves almost all of the credit for the Redskins offensive production. The run game has been abysmal thus far. Through the first two losses, no running back has gained even 30 yards, and the Redskins collectively have less than 100 yards rushing. 

Whatever offense there has been has come from Keenum. He's missed a few big plays - a potential TD throw to Terry McLaurin in the second half of the Eagles loss and a blatant miss of a wide-open Paul Richardson against the Cowboys really stand out. But he's also made plenty of good throws and engineered some good drives. 

Keenum has also proved quite level-headed. He came to Washington knowing he had to compete for the starting job. His whole career he's been overlooked, and that has molded him into a veteran presence with a clear head. 

"Sometimes you must grind it out. It’s not always going to look pretty either, but I trust all those guys in that locker room and know that they’re going to fight no matter what," Keenum said.

Since this is Washington, there are always fans calling for the backup quarterback. In this case there is genuine excitement for Dwayne Haskins, the rookie 15th overall pick and Keenum's backup. Haskins has All Pro potential but hasn't hit the field yet. And frankly he shouldn't. Keenum has done plenty to keep a stranglehold on the starting job.

That said, late in both games this season the Redskins have been playing in situations where the result was mostly out of hand. Could Gruden give Haskins a drive to get him some real game action? Sure, but that would create a laundry list of postgame questions that Gruden probably wants to avoid. Plus, there are senior Redskins officials that are truly committed to Haskins spending the year on the bench to really learn the game. A random fourth quarter drive won't change that tremendously, in either direction. 

For now, it's Keenum, and it's the right call. He's been pretty good, and he's done enough for Washington to be in games.

"None of us expect to be average. We all want to score 100 points," Keenum said after the loss to Dallas. 

Of course the quarterback doesn't want to be average, but before the season started, the Redskins would have taken average from their QB. The plan was for low-scoring football that Washington wins with defense. 

Keenum has been better than average, the defense just hasn't shown up.

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The 0-2 Redskins say they aren't pushing the panic button yet, but they certainly should

The 0-2 Redskins say they aren't pushing the panic button yet, but they certainly should

The Redskins are 0-2 to start the 2019 season, with both losses coming to division foes. The defense, which was supposed to be a strength, is a major weakness. The running game, which was supposed to be a strength, is another major weakness. 

Furthermore, in each of their losses, Washington has looked putrid coming out of the locker room to start the second half. They're also committing crucial penalties on both sides of the ball and seem scared to take risks, do things unconventionally or make the necessary adjustments.

Yet, somehow, even considering all of that, Jay Gruden told reporters after Sunday's 31-21 loss to the Cowboys that he's not ready to overreact.

"I don't think we need to hit the panic button yet," the coach said. "We just have to continue to focus on what we can do better to win."

Josh Norman agreed.

"The season's young. It's our second game," Norman said. "We've got 14 more to go."

Well, if this team isn't ready to hit the panic button, then this young season is going to get old really, really quickly, and the next 14 contests are going to resemble the dreadful two that have already taken place. 

When a squad starts 0-2, they have about a 13-percent chance to make the playoffs. But these Redskins, with a defense that is apparently in no rush to get off the field on third downs or pressure opposing quarterbacks or play cohesive football in the secondary, figure to have much slimmer odds.

And that particular unit is precisely why everyone involved in the organization needs to be showing way more urgency than they are.

The Case Keenum-led offense isn't going to set any records, but through Weeks 1 and 2, that bunch has been better than expected. Despite having fewer than 80 total rushing yards so far, Keenum's moving the ball at a solid rate, he's helped the Redskins score first in both matchups and he hasn't turned the ball over.

The other half of the Burgundy and Gold equation, however, has fallen way short of what they claimed they'd be. They wanted to be a top-five defense, but right now, they should be worried about finishing out of the bottom-five.

The early rash of injuries, of course, don't help. Against Dallas, Jonathan Allen, Caleb Brantley, Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar were all sidelined. The D-line featured a pair of guys who haven't been with the franchise for three weeks between them and the secondary was relying heavily on seventh-rounder Jimmy Moreland and 33-year-old Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Regardless, this is a group that added an All-Pro safety and a first-round edge rusher and they're still clearly regressing. At some point, what Greg Manusky's doing needs to be questioned.

"We should be better than this," Gruden explained. "We're not reaching them."

Not reaching the players? It's mid-September and they already aren't reaching them? That alone is reason for alarm.

Overall, if this was a coaching staff and a depth chart who had proven in the past that their formula and their schemes and their style largely produced positive results, then yes, it wouldn't be time to panic. That's not the case.

This is a coaching staff and a depth chart who are coming off of consecutive 7-9 campaigns and who constantly are left promising that they'll get it together soon. It's always soon, and never now. 

So, they're saying they don't think they should press that panic button, and they're correct. They should actually smash it.

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