The Washington Redskins under Daniel M. Snyder began this off-season roughly $20 million over the salary cap and, judging by the recent silence on their waiver wire, they are having a devil of a time figuring out how to trim the remaining fat.
Already, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have plucked the low hanging fruit of cap management, re-working big base numbers for guys like Chris Cooley and Randy Thomas for 2008.
But since then, not a single notable player has been cut.
All of this, while other teams -- like the Dolphins (Zach Thomas), the Bears (Mushin Muhammed), and the Falcons (Algae Crumpler) - already have started cleaning house.
I have no doubt that some dead wood will be taken out back. They simply can't re-work everybody. But how much dead wood will be cleared? It will be fascinating to watch.
Logically, it's time to get off the train on certain players. Not just easy targets, like Mark Brunell ($3 million in base salary last year) and Brandon Lloyd (the two-catch, $7 million bonus man). But guys like Shawn Springs and Jon Jansen have essentially outlived their usefulness here.
And it hurts me to say that, because Springs is, and has been, absolutely one of my FAVORITE Redskins since Snyder took over the team. He's been a stud on the field, a totally honest, standup guy in the locker room and keenly aware of what is hype, and what is reality.
Beyond 2008, he just won't be viable as a starting corner in this league.
Of course, a guy like Greg Blache isn't even thinking past 2008. He just wants to win this year, which could be his last in coaching depending on how things work out. So naturally, he's lobbying hard to keep Springs, even if it means at a very expensive rate (perhaps as much as $8 million on the cap).
Which brings us back to the need for a sober eyed, general manager; a guy who understands when to dump certain players based on age and salary cap number.
Danny and Vinny obviously have no clue about this.
Jansen also is a stand up guy, has been a fixture here since even before Snyder, and can still play. But, he's awfully expensive. And he's not getting any younger or healthier.
The bottom line: Snyder's spending and cap manipulation through the years has allowed him to always have something to spend every winter on toys. He has avoided a single year of total cap purgatory, where half the showroom had to be sold for pennies on the dollar, and you couldn't afford to bring in anybody over the league minimum.
(Note: It also helped Snyder that in Marty Schottenheimer's ONE year here, he let a LOT of air out of the "Dead Cap" balloon, which gave Snyder more room to maneuver once he was ousted.)
But, I think we now know the upper end result of this approach. It rhymes with 10 and 6.
As in, that's roughly the record this approach will bring as a result. Sure, you are going to get some good players with your money. Marcus Washington, Springs, Thomas, and Fletcher are proof of that.
But your busts will be expensive as well: Archuleta, Lloyd, and other lesser whiffs add up.
So you will be left in a perpetual state of "not quite good enough." You can say that Snyder has had decent success doing it "his way" through the years. He has been to the playoffs in three of the nine years he's owned the team, and he's advanced to the second round twice.
But the best record he's had in that span is 10-6. And, it needs to be noted, those were really "10-6*" records.
In 1999, the Dolphins sent a JV team to FedEx Field in Week 17 because it didn't matter to them if they won or lost. The ‘Skins has just clinched the division the week before in San Francisco. So that's a SOFT 10-6.
Then in 2005, the Redskins had a real scare in Philly in Week 17, with the Eagles well out of things. Needing to win, Andy Reid inexplicably replaced Mike McMahon (who had thrown two touchdowns) with Koy Detmer midway through the game. Detmer was overwhelmed, and the Skins snuck out with an 11-point victory. Another "soft" 10-6 finish.
Naturally, some dopes in the NFL media still don't get it. They will inevitably write that Redskins fans are "lucky" to have an owner willing to spend.
Obviously, these writers are confusing football with say, baseball.
There, indeed, some owners are just squatting on their franchises, content to turn a small profit, or perhaps lose small money as the equity in their teams grows through the years. Unlike baseball, football has a salary cap. But it also has a salary FLOOR, which means even the notoriously penny-pinching teams like Cincinnati and Arizona cannot -- by league accounting rules -- fall out of relative parity with even the Patriots and Cowboys.
‘Skins fans are hardly "lucky" that Snyder spends the way he does. We're cursed. Snyder's supposed virtue ("I just want to win!") is actually a vice ("I don't know how to stop myself!")
After nearly a decade of this nonsense, we've seen the upper limits. You can be pretty good, but not at all great spending this way. You might parlay a late hot streak into 10 wins, but you will almost surely never be a dominant 13-3 or 14-2 club unless you get unbelievably lucky one year.
I'm not saying that dead cap money is fatal. A recent article pointed out that the Giants actually led the league last year in that stat -- $18 million -- and it worked out pretty well for them, didn't it?
Of course, the Giants' ability to keep their hand in the fire and endure excruciating pain longer than most would have on their head coach. Continuity in the NFL, is clearly a supreme edge for teams that can get it, and keep it.
Also, look at the rookies who helped get the Giants across the finish line this year: Aaron Ross, Steve Smith, Jay Alford and Ahmad Bradshaw were all huge in December and January.
Winning in the NFL is always going to be a function of total team talent, not just an expensive veneer of it purchased in March, once slick talking agents start working the phones.
Some teams get it. Others are doomed to repeat their mistakes.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.