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Hunkering Down

Feb 25, 2006, 2:49 AM EDT

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Hunkering Down

The clock is ticking at Redskins Park with a week left to go before free agency. That happens every year in late February, but the difference in 2006 is that nobody knows what’s going to happen when the clock strikes midnight.

Vinny Cerrato said a lot about the Redskins cap situation on Thursday by saying very little on WTEM in Washington.

If there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement, we can answer a lot of our questions in free agency. If there’s not a Collective Bargaining Agreement, which we should know hopefully in the next few days, then we’ll be doing most of our [player acquisitions] in the draft.

In other words, the Redskins will have plenty of cap room to spend should the CBA get extended. An extension would likely carry the dual benefits of a higher cap, probably in the neighborhood of $110 million, and an easier environment in which to redo contracts. Washington could file a little paperwork, perhaps release a player or two and then start the preflight checklist for Redskin One to start ferrying prospects to Ashburn

Without a new CBA, however, the Redskins will be severely pinched to squeeze in under the cap as we talked about here earlier this week. First the Turk, normally a staple during training camp, will be making premature visits to perhaps as many as a dozen players, telling them that the coach wants to see them and, oh yes, bring your playbook. Players’ agents will be in the lobby and on the phone, as they try to hammer out new deals that will shuffle enough money in the right way so as to provide cap relief but still remain within the guidelines of the CBA. It will take every bit of creative accounting to get the Redskins under the cap and have enough room to sign their draft picks and leave room for an injury replacement or two.

If one were to listen to what NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw said today it’s would appear that the latter scenario is the one that the Redskins will be dealing with. After speaking with a group of player agents today, Upshaw seemed quite pessimistic that a deal would be reached:

Unless something is going on … that I’ve not seen in the last day or two, we’re just not there yet. I’m not putting a lot of faith in that we’re going to reach agreement in the next couple of days.
Of course, all of that talk could be just that, talk, a negotiating tactic. There are rumors that the deal is close and it would take just one breakthrough to get it done

Complicating the matter further is the fact that the NFL has yet to announce exactly what the salary cap for 2006 will be absent a new CBA. It could be anywhere from $92 million to $95 million. Those three million dollars make a big difference for a team that will be needed to squeeze every dime. On top of that, every contract signed and renegotiated will have ramifications through future years. The 2007 season may be uncapped, it may not be if a CBA is reached sometime in the next few months. The Redskins will have to take their best guess at what will happen down the line.

All of this means that the Redskins not only have a Plan A and a Plan B, but because of all of the possible dimensions and permutations their stacks of plans likely run through most of the alphabet. The Excel spreadsheet used to calculate the cap must have entries in Row 782, Column CZ.

And those are just the contingencies dealing directly with the salary cap. Cerrato, Joe Gibbs, and the rest of the scouts and coaches have to evaluate free agents that the Redskins may or may not be able sign and start figuring out how to replace players that they may or may not have to cut.

Some are seeing other teams releasing players and redoing contracts already and wondering why the Redskins have yet to announce anything more than the signing of long snapper Ethan Albright. The complexity of the Redskins’ situation dictates that virtually everything takes place at the last minute. The elements of each plan are intertwined and it’s likely that very few if any potential moves are common to all of the plans. There is no point in playing your cards early when the potential gain is minimal and the possible consequences of making the wrong move are very damaging.

Those of you who have been complaining that it’s been too dull be patient. Things will begin to heat up in the next several days as the clock keeps ticking.

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