The Washington Redskins got screwed. There's no other way to put it.
Eleven months ago, just as free agency was about to begin, the NFL slapped the Redskins with a $36 million cap penalty for disobeying a verbal—not written, but verbal—mandate and handing out front-loaded contracts to take advantage of the uncapped 2010 season.
Essentially, the 'Skins were punished for not colluding with the rest of the league against the players. Roger Goodell made a particular example out of this franchise, with the Dallas Cowboys being hit with a circumventable $10 million fine.
The 'Skins were able to survive and land some free agents despite the penalty last year, even carrying over some cash from the 2012 season. They brought in Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and veteran defensive backs Cedric Griffin, Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson.
All four of those guys came cheap but were disappointments. If not for that sanction, Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan might have invested in, say, Tim Jennings of the Bears. Or maybe they would have outbid Dallas for Brandon Carr.
Or maybe they would have paid Eric Winston to play right tackle. A guy like Winston would have cost close to $6 million per year, but he'd be a huge upgrade over Tyler Polumbus or Jammal Brown.
What if. What if. What if. Silly, I know. And painful. There's a chance they would have blown some of that extra cash on free-agents busts, and there's a chance they wouldn't have spent it regardless, but now we'll never know. It's frustrating to imagine how much better this team could have been in 2012 if not for that handicap.
This year, the straitjacket is even tighter. Exactly $18 million of the $36 million they were docked is left to be taken away on March 12, and the 'Skins are about $4 million over the salary cap with almost no wiggle room in regard to their ability to restructure current deals in order to save cash. And even if they do push back as much money as possible, with the cap projected to stay flat in upcoming seasons, the front office knows serenity now will lead to insanity later.
So expect things to be even quieter this March, with the franchise forced to hope that mid- or low-level acquisitions, draft picks and those already on the roster can help plaster the holes still remaining on the depth chart.
This team and its fans are well aware that you don't build championship teams through free agency anyway, but the ability to freely make runs at potential contributors and role players on the open market is something that most successful teams have taken advantage of to a degree (with exception to the 2010 Super Bowl champion Packers, who signed zero free agents in the preceding offseason).
That's why the Redskins still appear to be fighting, even after they and the Cowboys lost an appeal last May. They can still sue the league, which could put the penalty on hold for another year, but they'd be opening up a can of worms by filing a lawsuit against 30 of their closest business partners.
Thus, despite the fact it appears they might have something up their sleeve, they're still likely cornered. I know it's a cliché, but life isn't fair. In this case, the Redskins are being slowed down because of restrictions placed on them for contracts that were approved by the league at the time in which they were handed out. We all know it's a joke, but Roger Goodell has them in a headlock.
The best thing for 'Skins fans to do now is to suck it up, wait for next offseason and hope that this was a blessing in disguise. Look at it this way: Maybe, without this sanction, Robert Griffin III is a member of the Cleveland Browns right now and the Redskins' franchise quarterback is Matt Flynn.