The Washington Redskins have finally returned to a position of strength when it comes to the salary cap.
According to NFLPA records, the Redskins will carry over $15,055,131 into their 2017 salary cap (ESPN Stats & Information has it around $16 million).
If the cap reaches $168 million, as predicted, the Redskins could end up having approximately $65 million in available cap space -- the best spot they would be in since before their cap penalty years of 2012-13. For a team that needs to improve its defense, that’s a good place to be.
They’ve reached this point by striking smart deals in terms of length and structure -- you can credit cap guru Eric Schaffer and president Bruce Allen when it comes to contract; Scot McCloughan finds the talent. They have signed free agents, but have not set the market the way they did once upon a time -- with the notable exception of corner Josh Norman last April. Other deals that have not worked out well haven’t destroyed their cap. They’ll have nearly $7 million in dead cap space this season thanks to failed deals with corner Chris Culliver and Stephen Paea, among others.
So it’s not a given that Washington will lead the way in free agency this offseason, though this cap space does allow the Redskins flexibility if they do want to pursue certain players. Of course, if they have to use the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins, that automatically takes $24 million of space. They could easily free up more money through cuts or pay reductions.
The Redskins also could sign Cousins to a long-term deal. Even if it averaged around $22 million a year, chances are it would not reach that figure for a couple of years. If they still have cap room at the end of next season, they could convert bonus money into salary, thereby increasing their hit in 2017 -- at a time when they can absorb it -- but limiting it in future seasons.
But this cap room is why any decision on keeping free-agent receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson won’t come down to being unable to afford them. Both will have multiple suitors, so their price tag will start around $9 million per year, with Jackson likely being able to command more.
Still, money isn’t the primary reason they’d leave. It’ll be a combination of factors: Their desire to remain; their ages (both are 30) and whether or not the team truly wants to keep them. The feeling around the league has been both will play elsewhere, but each player still has fans in the organization so nothing has been finalized. Garcon will be helped by having two new coaches who need receivers and who have coached him: Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams and Kyle Shanahan, the expected next coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
The Redskins have 15 unrestricted free agents overall, some of whom will cost more to re-sign. They also could opt to extend deals at some point this offseason for key young players entering the final year of their contract, notably tackle Morgan Moses.
Regardless, the Redskins will enter the offseason in a much better spot. But, remember, they reached this point by not spending crazily.