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Like all NFL teams, Redskins play a zero-sum game in free agency

Feb 11, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT

Brian-Orakpo-INT

Saints coach Sean Payton recently talked about the challenges the team faces in trying to keep pending free agent tight end Jimmy Graham on their team.

“The first thing that comes to my mind with free agency is your own roster,” Payton told Fox Sports 1 (via the Times-Picayune). “I think often times that gets overlooked. The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with [Saints G. M.] Mickey ]Loomis] or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on year nine, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham.”

Teams all around the NFL are making similar choices. In many ways, the NFL’s salary cap creates a zero-sum game. Money that is paid to one player can’t be used to attract or retain another player.

The Redskins are not in quite as tough a situation as are Payton and the Saints. New Orleans is about $12 million over the 2014 cap so they will have to release some players and restructure others just to be able to afford the $6.8 million tight end franchise tag for Graham.

Washington has some $30 million in salary cap space and the key player there is Brian Orakpo. Although he isn’t quite in the top tier of NFL pass rushers he’s pretty good and the Redskins believe they need him if they are going to turn around their defense.

But using the franchise tag on Orakpo will eat up almost $11 million in cap space and even a long-term deal with him won’t take up very much less than that. That’s over a third of their available space with major holes on both sides of the ball yet to be filled. That may force the Redskins to let go of some veterans and it certainly will prevent them from signing any other big names in free agency.

It’s about choices and if the Bruce Allen and company choose to keep Orakpo they will close off other options that may have helped the team. This will require them to be resourceful, find some lower-priced free agents to fill some holes, develop some of the 24 players they drafted from 2011-2013 who are still on the roster, and draft well.

It’s important to note that even if the Redskins do decide to let Orakpo walk there still will be choices to make. Who replaces him, how much do you pay that player, how do you best utilize the money saved? The resources are still finite.

Redskins fans need to hope that they choose well.

  1. kenlinkins - Feb 12, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Some play the “Zero Sum Game” better than others. It is all about value vs. the market price! The key seems to be finding starters in the draft, sign rookie / middle level Free Agent deals for less than their the value, and allowing them to leave when they try and make up ground in next contract. This takes a great scouting department and coaching staff working together to build a NFL team and not just a coach’s system / style. It seems to be all about VALUE!

    • Rich Tandler - Feb 12, 2014 at 2:22 PM

      You’re close, but winning teams re-sign their own players at positions that are hard to fill i. e. QB, left tackle, and pass rushing DE/LB. Sometimes you overpay to do it and squeeze other areas. It’s the cost of doing business. If you can’t deal with a player taking up, say, 9 percent of your cap as opposed to 7 percent then you have no business being a GM/capologist.

  2. alextwrs - Feb 12, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    That 9%-7% may be true for a stable organization, but for the skins not so much. Yes DE is a vital role and can be hard to fill, but if so much is invested in players that we are waiting to produce, we might as well be fishing without bait. The site has stated that RAK is not ELITE. Therefore we cannot go down the road of waiting for a 15 sack yr from him. Sorry, but with the amount of downs a team passes the ball compared to years ago, an ELITE or even well payed DE should have a sack per game. Not seeing it, put somebody young out there let em make mistakes and well have a def like carolina, where all of america cant name one player on the def roster but they know they are great because of results not because of what they are getting paid or the name on the back of their jersey. We have way to many holes to fill to invest in anybody big this yr.

    • Rich Tandler - Feb 12, 2014 at 3:18 PM

      This just in–$11 million for a 10-sack player is not “big”. It’s apparent that Redskins fans aren’t used to eight-figure cap numbers. They’re all over the NFL and you have to swallow them sometimes.

  3. alextwrs - Feb 12, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    No were used to paying them and cutting them and eating all the money.

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