Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Redskins' Approach to Roster Building

In my interview yesterday on ESPN980, one of the prominent issues we discussed was the Redskins' heavy investment in a few players and how this impacts the overall roster and the depth and quality of that roster.

One perspective in this regard that I failed to mention is how this approach impacts your Salary Cap particularly when you don't have draft picks to fill out your roster. Lets look at the Indianapolis Colts, who have spent a ton of money on a few players (ie, Manning, Clark, Sanders, Freeney), but yet are in contention year in & year out. So the heavy investment in a few isn't the problem; although a great quarterback can cover up a lot of deficiencies. The key to the Colts and the key to effective salary cap management is the ability to find skilled cheap labor. This skilled cheap labor comes in the form of draft picks. When you build your reserves through the draft, not only are you saving a ton of money on the cap, but you're hopefully developing your next solid starter or maybe your next great starter. In Tennessee, they drafted a corner named Cortland Finnegan in the 7th round, who made cap-friendly peanuts relatively speaking on his rookie contract, before getting a lucrative contract extension after proving to be a Pro Bowl caliber player. Similarly, in Philadelphia, the Eagles drafted starting guard Todd Herremans late in the draft; thereby allowing them the benefit of a cap-friendly contract, before signing him to a lucrative extension.

In Washington, aside from the 2006 draft class' late round selection that netted the team solid contributors Kedric Golston, Reed Doughty, and (up until this year) Anthony Montgomery, the team has failed to 1.) have draft picks to use 2.) when they did have picks, use the picks on players that stayed with the team. In 2007, we used a 5th round pick on Dallas Sartz; he didn't make it past training camp. In 2008, in the 3rd round we drafted Chad Rinehart, who was inactive the entire season, and appears to have been benched this year after getting an opportunity to fill in for Randy Thomas. In 2009, the Redskins used a 3rd round pick on Kevin Barnes; he has yet to be active for one game this season. All of that said, when you have these issues in the draft, you then have to fill your roster with more expensive veteran back ups, and this is the point I failed to make in the interview yesterday. For example, because a Dallas Sartz, who would've had a cap number of under $300K as a reserve linebacker, doesn't make the team in 2007, you then are forced to sign a veteran linebacker such as a Randall Godfrey for a $1M cap number. Or instead of drafting an inexpensive offensive lineman in any of the recent drafts, in order to build depth and hopefully develop that draft pick into a starter, the Redskins have been forced to sign more expensive veterans such as Jason Fabini, Todd Wade, or Will Montgomery.

Another dynamic to acquiring quality cheap labor is that because this cheap labor isn't significantly impacting your cap, you then have unused cap space that you can then roll-over into the next capped year. Again using the Eagles as an example, they build through the draft cultivating young talent (particularly on both the offensive & defensives lines) and then roll-over the unused cap space into the subsequent years. This additional cap space allows the team to have a salary cap of $148M this year, while a lot of clubs, including the Redskins, have a salary cap of less than $130M. In the case of the Eagles, this higher cap gives them an advantage in that, they can continue to acquire cheap talent, but at the same time take their shots on, as I said yesterday, an Asante Samuel in 2008 or a Jason Peters in 2009 (or even a Michael Vick). In Minnesota, where they've got a $139M cap, this advantage allows them, after signing Sage Rosenfels to a relatively expensive #2 quarterback contract, to still have the means to sign a Brett Favre without hesitation to a $12M contract. This is where effective and efficient cap management gives you the means to dramatically improve your club.

Another flaw to the Redskins' approach to roster building particularly as it relates to its impact on the cap is that instead of signing Albert Haynesworth to a lucrative free agent contract, the club should be seeking to reap the same inexpensive benefits that the Titans were able to reap when they drafted Albert Haynesworth. Meaning instead of signing a hugely expensive Albert Haynesworth via free agency, the Redskins should be trying to find the next Albert Haynesworth in the draft. That way, if the kid turns into a star, you've had him under contract for about three seasons at a low cap number, yet receiving high-quality play. Moreover, unlike signing a veteran from another team and system, before investing a ton of money, you'll know whether or not that player is a good fit for your organization and your system; you're not going to have this same assurance with a veteran from another team (ie, Adam Archuleta amongst others). In Tennessee, Finnegan was a home-grown talent, meaning drafted and cultivated by the club; the same can be said for Herremans in Philly. How many late round or undrafted guys (because there's no excuse for missing on guys in the first two rounds) have the Redskins cultivated into starters or contributors at a cheap price? Heyer, Golston, Doughty, Horton, and that's about it.

Until there is a fundamental change in philosophy on how the Redskins approach roster building, one cannot expect for this team to be a consistent winning organization.

Follow J.I. Halsell on Twitter: @SalaryCap101


  1. Excellent posting. Clearly states the difference in philosophies between perenniall contenders (Colts, Eagles, Patriots) and my beloved Skins. Sigh.