The NFL free agency period is usually the Washington Redskins' favorite time of year. Over the majority of the past decade, Washington couldn’t wait for the end of the current league year to end and for the new one to begin, because that signaled the start of free agency.
And that’s where the Redskins would shine. Year after year, it was commonplace to see Redskins One being flown out to a free agent near you to fulfill each and every one of his financial desires. If you were a big-name free agent, the burgundy and gold cross hairs were pointed directly at you and the money usually reeled you into the nation’s capital. The Redskins may not have won Super Bowl championships during those years, but they sure did earn a ton of ‘Offseason Championships’ trophies in that stretch.
But this year? Not so much. The Redskins, as well as every other NFL team, are at the mercy of the current labor negotiations going on between the league and it’s players union. If a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t done by this Thursday, we’re headed for a potential lockout.
I had a chance to speak with former Redskins salary cap analyst J.I. Halsell about how the CBA could potentially halt a very important offseason for the Redskins.
"The CBA uncertainty makes it hard to plan right now about how to build your team in 2011 because you don’t what the rules or circumstances are going to be," Halsell said.
The mediated negotiations will resume this week, so NFL executives are still careful to reveal the progress that the NFL and the players union have made thus far. But according to Halsell, if you ask the player agents, it doesn’t look too good.
"The over arching theme with those guys was pessimism. [The agents felt that] this wasn’t going to get done any time soon, that this will be a long term chess match", he said.
That’s not what any NFL fan wants to hear.
The CBA will affect each team differently, with each team having their own set of issues as it relates to their roster. For the Redskins, one of the first things they need to do this offseason is resolve their two most dramatic situations from the 2010 season: The Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb conflicts. Let’s take Haynesworth. How does the CBA uncertainty affect him?
"With the Haynesworth situation, he’s still part of the team. You’ve seen guys like Bob Sanders and Shaun Rogers getting released right now. Those are the types of guys that are getting released right now," Halsell said. "Particularly with a guy like Shaun Rogers on the market, who essentially is [direct] competition on the free agent market against a guy like Albert Haynesworth. If I’m a club, why would I give up a draft pick to trade for Albert Haynesworth when I can just find Shaun Rogers, without having to give that up?"
Great. So the Redskins, for now, are stuck with Haynesworth unless they finally decide to cut bait with him down the road.
As for McNabb, his situation is a little more complicated. Even though his late-season benching signaled a likely end for him in Washington, with all the labor uncertainty happening at the moment, it’s not exactly time to send him out of D.C. just yet.
"Contractually, they hold all the cards in [the McNabb] situation, and they don’t have to do anything with Donovan until they have to make a decision on his $10 million option bonus," Halsell said. "I read the reports that Donovan could be released pretty soon after the draft, but at the same time there’s nothing compelling the Redskins to do that."
And even when the Redskins get these two situations handled ASAP, they’ll still have to attend to the business of actually improving the current roster. One could argue that the timing of these negotiations come at the worst time for this team. They are coming off a 6-10 season. They don’t have a quarterback. They know they need to shed some players. Their coach recently admitted that they don’t have much depth across the board. Lastly, their two most "tradable" commodities can’t be traded at the moment, and even if they could, they don’t have much trade value left. With so many holes on the roster, it doesn’t help that they may not be able to fill any of them with quality free agents.
While Redskins fans have been used to the team acquiring high priced free agents over the years, they have yet to truly learn about this new regime’s philosophy on free agency. In each of their two offseasons thus far, Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have had the cloud of labor uncertainty hovering above them, precluding them from actually going through a "normal" free agency period.
But if these two men’s track record is any indication, we may be in for a different approach than we’ve been used to if and when the CBA gets done.
"I think [the Redskins] will definitely be involved in free agency, [but] not at the high end market like you’ve see historically, the Albert Haynesworth type signings," Halsell said. "Could they address defensive line, nose tackle, or defensive end in free agency? Absolutely. Could they address inside linebacker with Rocky McIntosh probably not returning? Absolutely."
It’ll certainly be interesting to see what direction the Redskins decide to take once this entire negotiation process is over. While we all speculate as to what players the Redskins may try and reel in this offseason via free agency, the entire conversation is moot until there is a new labor deal.
"I’m optimistic that it gets done in the spring. Hopefully before the draft," Halsell said. "You have two groups of people: the optimists who think it will get done in the spring. Then there are other people who think [that a deal might not get done] until August or September. I’m in the former group."
The Redskins, and the rest of the NFL for that matter, probably wish they could say the same.