1.) The cap penalty was his fault to begin with.
This isn’t to say the cap penalty was legal, fair, and anything less than a screwjob perpetrated by people in the league office. But, you can’t deny that, no matter how “good” the intent was, the decision to restructure Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall’s contracts in the way they did, after being warned not to, set the Redskins up to take a fall.
Dan Snyder is already not well liked in league circles, particularly with the smaller market teams who are simply not able to spend the kind of free agent capital that Dan is. Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen were warned there would be consequences if they were egregious in their abuse of the uncapped year, and in so doing, they bumped up the cost of the franchise tag on defensive tackles and cornerbacks. An example given is that the Bengals wanted to franchise cornerback Johnathan Joseph, but dumping all D-Hall’s money into the uncapped year bumped up the tag numbers in 2011, meaning the Bengals couldn’t afford to tag Joseph. Joseph went on to sign a 5 year, $48.75 million dollar deal.
You mess with the bull, and you get the horns. Regardless of how illegal the cap penalty and ensuing collusion was (and it does seem transparently illegal), Shanny has no right to complain about a cap penalty that he got himself into by ignoring the league’s warnings not to do so.
2.) Cap shenanigans are nothing new with Mike.
In Denver, Mike Shanahan was penalized repeatedly for violating the league’s rules on the salary cap. Al Davis (who is looking more sane and more right about Mike all the time) had said that the Broncos 1997 Super Bowl run should’ve had an asterisk next to it. In December of 2001, the Broncos were fined $968,000 and forfeited a third round pick, relating to $29 million in deferred payments to John Elway and Terrell Davis. In 2004, the Broncos were fined $950,000 and forfeited another third round pick for circumventing the salary cap for a period of time between 1996 and 1998 — i.e, Denver’s Super Bowl years.
The league found that the Broncos had agreements with “several” players to defer salary payments with interest, and to a 1997 agreement between the team and a former player to not waive the player before a certain date.
So, let’s be clear; since 2001, teams Mike Shanahan has so happened to be the coach of, have been fined a combined total of $37, 918,000 in cap space, and lost two draft picks.
You know, John Mara may be a jerk, but sudden that comment about the Redskins”being lucky” that they didn’t lose draft picks doesn’t seem like such a cocky thing to say.
3.) Mike Shanahan having cap space would’ve resulted in another free agent spending spree.
People can point and say that thus far, Mike has signed players to reasonable free agent contracts, and there’s been no sign of the past, big money ways of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato. Of course, there’s a couple mitigating factors to that.
The first is that the 2011 free agent class, on top of being affected by the lockout, was really weak. Most of the top tier players were either franchised tagged, or playing one final season as restricted free agents. But even at the time, what seemed like reasonable contracts to Redskins fans, like the ones given to Stephen Bowen and Chris Chester, were viewed in league circles as the Redskins overpaying for marginal talent.
The second is, if the list of guys Mike wished he could sign in 2012 was any indication, with all that free cap space, would’ve been a lot worse. Mike Shanahan has always been enamored with Vincent Jackson. The Bucs gave V-Jax a 5-year, $55.5 million deal with $26 million in guaranteed money; the Redskins would’ve had to pay at least that to get Jackson. They likely still would’ve signed Garcon to his 5 year, $42.5 million deal with $13 million guaranteed, or something close to it. They openly courted Eddie Royal, who signed a 3 year, $13.5 milion deal with the Chargers with $6 million in guaranteed money. Remember Jon Carlson? No, of course not, no one does. The Redskins poked around at him too, and league wide perception is that the Vikes massively over paid Carlson with his 5 year, $25 million deal with $9.1 million. Or what about that loveable Cortland Finnegan, whom the Redskins were also interested in, would they have paid more or less than the $50 million with $24 million guaranteed.
Now, I’m not saying Mike could have or would have signed all those guys. But he certainly seemed to want to load up and put a whole lot of money around Robert Griffin III, which, while somewhat understandable, also could’ve set the team back a whole lot.
4.) A lame duck coach with a ton of money to spend is dangerous.
In 2011, Andy Reid was on the second to last year of his deal. Coming off a disappointing playoff loss and facing the real possibility and the likelihood of his tenure in Philly ending, and with money to spend, Andy Reid splurged in free agency. He signed Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith, Vince Young, Jason Babin and Ryan Harris , and he traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Vince Young famously named them the Dream Team.
They were not.
The Eagles had a certain way of doing things, but they ignored that in order to make a couple last, desperate pushes to the Super Bowl. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in NFL history, but he started thinking less about developing and building his team and grew more concerned with taking a quick fix road to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles went 8-8 in 2011. With Reid entering the last year of his deal, they went 4-12 in 2012.
When you add that much talent through free agency, the messages get lost in the mix. Players come in used to doing things one way and it’s hard to preach your message. And you become more focused on winning NOW, than taking it a game at a time and being consistent.
Building a team in free agency is no way to win. Everyone should know that.
5.) This team’s problems go deeper than just not having cap space.
The weirdest thing about this season has been how often people use the cap hit as a crutch. “Well of course special teams is bad, he didn’t have cap space!”. What? You don’t build a competent special teams through free agency. You build special teams through the draft and through undrafted free agents, and maybe with some very, very cheap veteran labor.
The lack of salary cap space has nothing to do with one of the league’s most poorly constructed coaching staffs, or the mediocre draft selections that never see the field, or the head coach alienating his starting quarterback. This team is not an offseason and loads of cap space away from repeating as NFC East Champs.
Four years after Mike Shanahan first took over the team, we now look like a team that has to rebuild again. That’s going to require a lot of changes, from top to bottom. Cap space won’t fix it, and in fact, he could possibly make it worse.