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Redskins use bonuses creatively to free up cap space

Creative salary cap management plus an eagerness to open the vault of owner Dan Snyder yet again has made the Washington Redskins one of the most active players in free agency.

For the third time in four years, the Redskins have been big free-agent shoppers.

They have three major signings -- receiver Antwaan Randle El, safety Adam Archuleta and defensive end Andre Carter. They also traded for Niners receiver Brandon Lloyd and added low-cost veterans in tight end Christian Fauria and quarterback Todd Collins.

This was despite the fact the Redskins were supposed to be well over the salary cap -- by more than $4 million in the week leading up to the start of the NFL shopping season.

How did they do it?

First, they got linebacker LaVar Arrington to forfeit $4.4 million in deferred signing bonus money in order to buy himself out of his contract and become a free agent. Arrington agreed to give up the cash and save the 'Skins cap space because if he didn't they would have cut him June 1. He opted to hit the market immediately. They also had to cut a good player in Cory Raymer.

Then the Redskins restructured about a dozen contracts and converted $13.5 million worth of roster bonuses into bonuses that could be stretched out over the length of the players' deals. That created $10 million in space.

Then the salary cap went up from $94.5 million to $102 million, creating $7.5 million more space, after the new collective bargaining agreement was signed.

The Redskins aren't super-active in free agency every year, it only seems that way. They were inactive in 2001 and '02, spent like royal divas in '03 and '04 and were relatively inactive last year. Last year's free agent additions in Washington were David Patten and Casey Rabach. They also traded for Santana Moss and gave him $11 million in guaranteed money.

The Redskins' additions thus far are taking up only about $9 million in cap space on this year's books. Here's an example of why this is so: Archuleta got a $5 million bonus on a six-year contract. So his bonus counts $833,333 a year against the cap. Then he's getting the minimum base salary this year of $585,000. So he counts $1.4 million against this year's cap. Next year Archuleta gets another $5 million bonus that's guaranteed. But that gets spread over five years, and he again plays for the minimum base salary of $585,000. So his cap figure next year is a reasonable $2.4 million.

This is the way the Redskins structure most of their deals. They pay a ton of money up front that gets spread out, and the base salaries are the minimum for the first three years or so. Then when the base salary gets big the final two years of the deal, they cut the player or restructure.

This illustrates one of the big advantages the Redskins have with their roughly $300 million in annual revenues. Washington is more willing to pay out guaranteed money and give it in the form of bonuses each March, at the start of the NFL's cap year, as opposed to paying it in the form of base salary, which gets paid out in 17 installments from September through December.

Let's say the Bills' Takeo Spikes and one of the 'Skins' top stars (say Moss, for example) each are getting $4.5 million this year. Spikes gets his in the form of weekly checks during the season. Moss got most of his in March, meaning the Bills get to keep that money invested for six to seven more months than the 'Skins. Add that up for a dozen players and that's a ton of interest earnings the Redskins are willing to give up during the year.

Of course, Snyder doesn't care because his franchise is a cash cow. Then there's the question of coaching salaries. Washington head coach Joe Gibbs is making about $5.7 million a year. Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams is making about $1.5 million a year (and it goes up to about $2.6 million a year if he stays next season). New offensive coordinator Al Saunders is making $2 million a year.

We'll see how far Snyder's spending gets him. Washington made the divisional round of the playoffs last season but the team has just one winning season this decade (the same as the Bills). Of course, Washington is far stronger than the Bills entering 2006 and will be a favorite to make the playoffs this year. However, it's still banking that quarterback Mark Brunell, who will be 36, can squeeze out one more good year.

The free agents had better be great because the 'Skins continue to eschew the draft.

Trades last spring and last week have left Washington with just one choice (No. 53) above the fifth round in next month's draft. Counting next month's selection meeting, the 'Skins have traded away 17 of their picks the past four years.

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Patriots WR woes

With the departure of David Givens last week to Tennessee, New England has just two receivers on the roster. One is star Deion Branch. The other is Bethel Johnson, who has spent most of the past two years in coach Bill Belichick's doghouse. The Pats were interested in free agents Joe Jurevicius and Brian Finneran but made low-ball offers to both and they signed elsewhere. This is a thin year for receivers in the draft.

Word in New England is the Pats are hoping the Bills release Eric Moulds. Buffalo's re-signing of Josh Reed makes that appear even more likely. Expect Philadelphia and Denver to be in line for Moulds, too.

Givens got $24 million and an $8 million bonus from the Titans. The Pats were offering him $17.5 million and a $5.5 million bonus.

Givens' deal will pay him an average of $4.8 million a year. The entire New England receiving corps played last season for less than that. Givens, Branch, Troy Brown, Tim Dwight, Johnson and Andre' Davis combined last year to make $4.35 million.

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Browns No. 1

Cleveland has a long way to go to become a contender and helped itself the most in free agency. In the first 72 hours of the open market, Browns General Manager Phil Savage signed center LeCharles Bentley, left tackle Kevin Shaffer, receiver Joe Jurevicius, nose tackle Ted Washington and punter Dave Zastudil. Several days later he signed linebacker Willie McGinest. The Browns also re-signed linebacker Andra Davis, corner Leigh Bodden, defensive end Orpheus Roye and running back Reuben Droughns.

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Onside kicks

Ex-Bills tight end Mark Campbell, who just turned 30, would be a wise pickup for a team needing a veteran presence at tight end. The Saints, Seahawks and Jets have shown interest in him.

In 18 seasons in Phoenix, Cardinals running backs have produced just three 1,000-yard seasons, the last by Adrian Murrell in 1998. New plow horse Edgerrin James has five 1,000-yard seasons in his career. With the new Cardinals Stadium set to open this year and the signing of James, the Cards are optimistic season tickets will pass 50,000. Capacity is about 63,000. The Cards were around 32,000 in 2005, 22,000 in 2004.

News has leaked out in Minnesota that the Vikings will be wearing purple pants to go with their purple home jerseys in some games this season. No truth to the rumor that the "Barney the dinosaur" theme song will accompany the team's pregame introductions.

Bravo to the Eagles for making Terrell Owens wait as long as possible before releasing him last week. They made the cut just hours before he was due to get $7.5 million in bonuses.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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