The Washington Redskins had stayed on the sidelines of free agency, not flush with much cap space and knowing big paydays awaited their own free agents in 2017 -- notably quarterback Kirk Cousins. Josh Norman's signing Friday certainly went against those plans, but it won't prevent them from affording to sign Cousins next offseason.
According to Spotrac.com, Norman's cap hit will be $20 million in the second season of his contract, a year when the Redskins had $58 million in available cap space before Friday's deal. The Redskins only have 16 players signed through 2018 -- they haven't been pushing money into the future by redoing deals -- so that helps.
The Redskins hope they end up having to pay Cousins a big contract because it would mean he matched his 2015 success. For now, they're not yet willing to meet his asking price of $20 million per year, so he'll play under the franchise tag of $19.95 million.
But if Cousins plays well, he'll be costly. However, the cost to Washington would be much greater if it failed to re-sign him. And, because of the position he plays, Cousins would be the top priority. Landing Norman doesn't alter those plans.
The question, though, becomes: What happens to the other free agents in 2017?
The Redskins have a few: receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive end Chris Baker and linebacker Junior Galette. All would potentially be costly to re-sign, if their years go as they hope. Because Galette is a pass-rusher, a big year by him would put him at a different level.
Could the Redskins really pay three players -- Cousins, Norman and Galette -- a huge sum? If spread out the right way, they could. Again, there's not much money pushed into the future. And Norman's contract gives them an out clause after two seasons if they desire.
At one point, the Redskins had hoped to sign extensions with some of their key pending free agents (Reed, perhaps). But, depending on what moves they make next, Norman's signing complicates that desire. They now have around $3.4 million in available cap space, and they must free more to pay for their rookies. They can easily free up cash with a handful of cuts or restructured deals. Those moves remain to be seen.
Even before Norman, there was a chance not all would be re-signed. Though the Redskins like both Garcon and Jackson, it might be too costly to invest that much in the receiver spot with big bills elsewhere. Signing Norman probably makes that even more true.
Keeping Reed is another top priority; their passing game is centered around him and that's not about to change. While Cousins might be the team's most important offensive player, Reed is the one who dominates the passing game.
Just as the Redskins can free up money this year, they can do so in 2017 as well. If left guard Shawn Lauvao either loses his job or his play is impacted by the multiple surgeries he had in the past six months, they could cut him and recoup $4 million in cap space. As of now, Andre Roberts will count $5 million against the cap in 2017 -- but there's a chance he's cut this spring. That frees up another $4 million next offseason.
Also, center Kory Lichtensteiger counts $4.05 million in 2017, but if he's not around they'd save $3.5 million. If Chris Culliver somehow isn't on the roster in 2017, then it saves another $8 million.
This is where the draft comes into play. Washington is coming off two solid drafts and would like to add picks to the eight it has this week. If the Redskins draft well, releasing other players won't hurt them. This is how it should work: Replace expensive players with younger, cheaper players just entering their prime.
If, for example, Spencer Long continues to improve or they develop guard Arie Kouandjio, then losing Lauvao won't be damaging -- and will save them money. Or if they draft some good defensive linemen this week, perhaps it enables them to move on from one of the older linemen -- Ricky Jean Francois ($3 million in savings) or Stephen Paea ($4.5 million in savings). They don't have to because both might still have value, but the option is there. So there's an opportunity to save more in order to re-sign not only Cousins but other players.
Perhaps they draft a receiver this week, eyeing him as a potential replacement for either Garcon or Jackson next year.
That's how good teams often operate. In the past, the Redskins signed players because they failed to draft and develop their own. But drafting wisely now will enable them to afford Norman -- and keep their own high-profile players.