Commentary

Financial hurdles in NFC East

Mailbag: Tricky cap situations have limited Cowboys, Redskins and Giants

Originally Published: April 15, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Bill in Stafford, Va., leads off the mailbag by asking how angry the Washington Redskins were at the New York Giants for being the driving force behind Washington's well-documented cap penalty over a two-year period.

Of course, the Redskins are furious, but not just at the Giants. The Giants were among more than two dozen teams that wanted to get back at the Redskins and Cowboys for making aggressive moves in the uncapped year of 2010. (The league warned teams about such maneuvering.)

The Redskins lost $36 million over two years. The Cowboys lost $10 million over two years.

Because the NFLPA signed off on the dual penalty, both teams have virtually no recourse in trying to repair the situation legally. The Redskins and Cowboys had to do the best they could with less. For example, the Redskins are working a $110 million cap this year, $13 million less than the $123 million league cap. The Cowboys have a $120 million cap.

The sad part of the story is that 75 percent of the NFC East -- one of the highest-spending and most aggressive divisions in football -- is operating on tight budgets. Two years off their second Super Bowl victory since 2007, the Giants have also been restricted in trying to keep their core group together. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have had enough room to do whatever they would like.

What's fascinating is how each team has handled its cap.

Seven of the eight free-agent additions by the Giants have been one-year deals. Tight end Brandon Myers signed a one-year, $2.25 million, but six others signed for the minimum salary exception that lowers the base salary cap number to $555,000. That gave the Giants the chance to add kicker Josh Brown, wide receiver Louis Murphy, safety Ryan Mundy, cornerback Aaron Ross, linebacker Dan Connor and defensive tackle Mike Patterson.

Only defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who signed a three-year, $8 million deal, got more than a one-year contract.

To make that work, the Giants needed concessions from veterans. Guard Kevin Boothe signed for the minimum. Tackle David Diehl took a $3.7 million pay cut. Cornerbacks Corey Webster and Tarell Brown took huge pay cuts.

Give the Redskins credit for making the best of a bad situation. Although they currently have only $29,000 of cap room (they'll eventually have to make some moves to free up space for draft picks), they were able to keep most of the team together by striking smart deals. Tight end Fred Davis signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal. They were able to get cornerback DeAngelo Hall back for one year at $1.25 million. They added bargains such as cornerback E.J. Biggers, tackle Jeremy Trueblood and linebacker Darryl Tapp.

To their credit, the Redskins haven't restructured too many contracts to eat away future cap room, although some of that will be needed soon. The Redskins have $11.8 million of cap room next year.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kept the team together by replacing base salaries with signing bonuses. That creates problems. By doing restructured deals the past couple of seasons, the Cowboys lose about $14.9 million of cap room in 2014 and 2015.

They are already $27.9 million over next year's cap, putting them in a position to keep restructuring deals going forward.

From the inbox

Q: I was wondering why the NFL does not do an All-Rookie team? I think it would add motivation for some rookies and I think it would be fun to argue about which players should be on it. For example, which quarterback would you have had in 2012?

Amandeep in Vancouver, B.C.

A: The NFL doesn't select an All-Rookie team, but those who cover the NFL pick an All-Rookie team every year. The NFL accepts that as the team. The vote is organized by Pro Football Weekly. One of the things you will see in the future is an expansion of the awards show that is presented on the eve of the Super Bowl. Like it or not, Robert Griffin III beat out Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in this year's voting.

Q: I hear a widely differing range of opinions on CB Xavier Rhodes. My team (Miami) is moving away from a press style, but that is what I hear is Rhodes' specialty. I wonder if Kenny Vaccaro isn't a better fit to upgrade the secondary. This all assumes the top-five offensive linemen are gone at No. 12 and the Dolphins decide not to move up.

Dave in Conover, N.C.

A: I would think they would consider Rhodes over Vaccaro. General manager Jeff Ireland understands the value of the positions. The five costliest positions are quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, left tackle and pass-rusher. With the trade of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith going to Kansas City, the Dolphins lost two young corners. If they can't get the tackle with the 12th pick, I can see them going for a corner. Rhodes would fit. It wouldn't surprise me if they end up drafting two corners in the first four rounds.

Q: I don't understand why everyone has tried to give Manti Te'o a free pass from his issues at the end and after the season. Although I don't think it is a character concern, Te'o admitted the stress from the hoax affected his play against Alabama and that stress affected him at the combine. Do teams worry about his ability to push the off-the-field issues aside and perform? He seems to be a good player, but if he can't master the mental toughness, can he really be consistently effective in the NFL? I am a Bucs fan and I wouldn't want the Bucs to draft him any higher than the second round at best.

Jordan in Tampa, Fla.

A: I think Te'o has answered enough questions about his mistakes to satisfy most NFL teams. That's allowed them to concentrate on how he would translate into an NFL player. I don't think you have to worry about him coming to Tampa. Mason Foster does a very good job at middle linebacker. Te'o translates into being a middle linebacker, not an outside linebacker. I don't question his toughness. He was naive. He's young. That happens. The Bucs draft 13th and he's not going to be taken that high. The bigger question with Te'o is his speed. He made it easier for him to be taken in the first round by running a better time at his Notre Dame workout.

Q: With the amount of picks that the 49ers have, what kind of moves do you expect them to make on draft day? Also, why would they pay so much for a free-agent kicker when they could have drafted one for much cheaper?

Chris in San Jose, Calif.

A: They can still draft a kicker, but Phil Dawson came in with a $2.35 million salary, which isn't too bad. That's $650,000 less than David Akers, who was cut. The 49ers guaranteed $1 million of the contract, so you figure he is going to make the team. Sometimes, you don't know if the rookie kicker can handle the pressure, and in San Francisco, there is pressure. The team is among the early favorites to win the NFC. In the draft, it's critical the 49ers get a safety, a nose tackle, maybe a defensive end, an offensive tackle for the future and a tight end.

[+] EnlargeFreeney
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Broncos, in need of a pass-rusher, are hoping Dwight Freeney reconsiders his asking price.

Q: Since Faxgate, John Elway and company have yet to fill Elvis Dumervil's void. Dwight Freeney is asking for more than Dumervil was offered, with a diminished skill set. Can Denver find immediate help in the draft with its first-round pick? Or is the answer still in free agency?

Michael in Fort Collins, Colo.

A: Elway is being patient and waiting out the situation with hopes Freeney will accept a lower contract to sign with the Broncos. If Freeney isn't signed before the draft, the Broncos might have to look at drafting a pass-rushing end in the first or second round. The reason they aren't panicking is that they can give former first-round pick Robert Ayers the chance to get the starting job. Ayers hasn't succeeded so far, but he has talent. The Broncos still have time. If Freeney doesn't agree, they can still go for John Abraham.

Q: With the Raiders looking to be $79 million under the cap in 2014, what is their plan with doling out all of these one-year deals to solid free agents such as Vance Walker, Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter? I guess the follow-up question would be? Why are these free agents taking one-year deals as well?

Rob in Seattle

A: The Raiders were patient in waiting for players who failed to land big contracts in free agency. After the first week, agents for players are willing to consider one-year deals because a good season could allow their player to get a big contract next year. I have concerns about the Raiders' plan. They've brought in eight new starters on defense and six of them signed one-year deals. If those players have great seasons, they may be able to land big contracts next year. Philip Wheeler is the classic example. He signed a one-year, $1 million contract last year. He had a very good season, registering 109 tackles. The Dolphins signed him to a five-year, $26 million contract, so the Raiders lost the player after a good season.

Q: I look for the Panthers to draft a receiver because Steve Smith's production is slipping. Do you also look for a trade of DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart before the draft?

Thomas in Charlotte, N.C.

A: Receiver has to be a big consideration. If they don't get a receiver in the first round, they surely have to get one in the second. As for the trade of Williams or Stewart, I don't see that happening. Both backs have big contracts and that would devalue the type of draft choice they could get in return. They would be better served to keep both backs as opposed to giving them away for a fourth- or fifth-round choice.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer