Redskins Salary Cap Series: How the Rule of 51 Creates Extra Flexibility
February 13, 2014 in Redskins Personnel
Yesterday I posted the Redskins 2014 Salary Cap Commitments and showed how the Redskins have $25.5 million in cap space heading into free agency. While that of course sounds very good, there is additional flexibility there as well. The way the cap is calculated during the offseason is that only the cap hits of the top 51 contracts (plus any dead money) are counted towards the cap. So while the roster can soar to up to 90 players only the top 51 are counted for cap purposes. And that is based solely on the 51 highest contracts regardless of position or likelihood of making the team. That is why currently in the Redskins top 51 they have a pair of punters and a pair of long snappers. Now clearly (I would hope) the team won't keep two punters and long snappers, but they are currently counted for cap purposes. The most important thing about the Rule of 51 is the concept of replacement.
When the Redskins start re-signing some of their free agents and then bringing in other team's free agents, those players replace the guys at the bottom of the list so the move creates some extra savings. Let's say for example the Redskins sign/re-sign 10 players, with 2014 cap hits of: (in millions) $7, $4, $3, $3, $2.5, $2, $1.5, $1.5, $1 and $1. If you add that up its $26.5 million, or $1 million over the Redskins current cap number. One would think that would mean they would need to release someone to make that money work, but in reality they would still be well under the cap. The reason is of course those 10 salaries are replacing the bottom 10 currently being counted against the Redskins cap. The bottom 10 current salaries currently make up $5.352, which means the Redskins would still be under the cap by $4.3 million after making the 10 signings above.
Now one downside that people try to point out is that the replacement concept works both ways, so that if the Redskins were to cut say 4 players whose total savings were $10 million, those four players would need to be replaced for the Rule of 51, and if they are four players at $0.495 million, then combined they'd eat up $1.980 million of that $10 million. While that's true on some level, that $1.980 is just a place holder until four guys are signed, who then push those guys back out of the Rule of 51. Clearing money is clearing money and since it is first and foremost going to free agents, teams shouldn't be as hesitant to cut players who aren't performing at a particular level, just because a replacement will eat up some of the savings.
Now of course this extra flexibility is used by every team and isn't exclusive for the Redskins, but it is an important thing to keep in mind when considering off season plans for a team. If you forget about the idea of replacing the bottom contracts you are shorting yourself off millions of dollars in cap room when looking at the offseason for the Redskins. This is even more true this year since the Skins are expected to bring in so many new players and have so many current free agents. Moreso than most teams the bottom half of the Redskins Rule of 51 contracts is very shaky. So while I used 10 guys as an example it could end up being 15 or more guys (though with replacing some of the cuts it will balance out some).