The Washington Redskins entered NFL free agency Tuesday like an inmate walking out of prison – with nearly $20 million to spend.
However, like most inmates, it will take a while for the franchise to be free of the prison the salary cap penalty put them in for the last two seasons.
“That salary-cap penalty will hurt us for a number of years,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen told reporters before the team finished training camp in Richmond last August. “It’s just not those two years because [of] the repercussions of it down the road”
So, like a prison tattoo, the Redskins will have $36 million attached to the franchise for years to remind everyone of the great injustice of the NFL punishment – because, in prison, everybody is innocent.
Allen called it a “travesty of justice” a year ago.
Well, time has been served, but questions remain, the primary one being – who’s responsible?
Was it Mike Shanahan, who is gone? If so, then his continuous bemoaning of how he was forced to operate with one hand tied behind his back was disingenuous (a long list, indeed), such as after they lost 24-16 to the Philadelphia Eagles last November, dropping their record to 3-7, and talk began about Shanahan’s job security.
“I think you’ve got to take a look at a number of things when you take a look at the direction of a football team,” Shanahan told reporters. “I think when you take a look at the offensive numbers . . . that just doesn’t happen naturally with a lot of new players. We talked about it last year. We had six new players on our team, and putting up the numbers that we’re putting up are pretty impressive, especially with losing the $36 million salary cap over that two year time frame.”
We kept hearing about the damage from the salary cap penalty as Shanahan got closer to being fired. If it was his call, then shame on him.
But what if it was Allen, the so-called contract guru who supposedly knows every trick in the book on NFL deals?
What if Allen told Shanahan, “I got a way for us to get out from under this Albert Haynesworth weight. Trust me.”
If it was Allen, then why is the guy who paid the price for this scheme gone, and the guy who was responsible for it – who now, we are told, carries the “buck stops here” title — still here?
Did it cost Shanahan his job?
The Redskins were hit with a two-year, $36 million salary cap penalty for structuring contracts during the 2010 season, when the NFL did not have a salary cap, to get out from under financially damaging contracts like the Haynesworth deal.
The league said the restructuring “created an unacceptable risk to future competitive balance” and that teams were told in advance not to take advantage of the uncapped year in such a way, even though there is evidence to suggest such a clandestine policy was collusion. Even though the NFL Players Association went along with it at the time, they are now suing the league for damages for that policy.
It did appear as if the Redskins – along with the Dallas Cowboys, who were hit with a two-year, $10 million salary cap penalty — were being unfairly punished by rival owners like the Giants John Mara.
But the Redskins lost an appeal to fight the penalty in May 2012, as an arbitrator ruled the Redskins and the Cowboys did not have the right to appeal under league rules.
“We pursued our salary cap claim pursuant to the C.B.A. and we respect and will abide by the arbitrator’s decision to dismiss,” the Cowboys and Redskins said in a joint statement. “We will continue to focus on our football teams and the 2012 season.”
The Redskins and Cowboys, making a joint statement. Someone should have been fired just for that.
Since then, we have heard vague threats of the Redskins possibly fighting this in court, or somehow recouping this lost salary cap money in the future. A year ago, Allen told reporters he was hopeful the team could get some of that money back. “I would hope so,” he said.
But how this could happen remains murky, along with the story of how this all happened in the first place, and who was responsible.
“We’d like to know the truth,” Allen said.
Yes, fans deserve to know the truth – the story of how the Washington Redskins got a $36 million tattoo.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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