The Washington Redskins are looking for a few cheap men.
Even after shipping out 15 veterans who made almost $19 million last season, the Redskins are having problems squeezing their roster under the new $34.6 million salary cap.
They still must cut about $1.6 million from their payroll to have enough to sign their rookies, including their top draft choice, quarterback Heath Shuler.
General manager Charley Casserly called the Redskins the "first victim of the salary cap," but that was before commissioner Paul BTC Tagliabue issued a gag order forbidding team executives from criticizing the cap.
Meanwhile, the head of the NFL Players Association, Gene Upshaw, has been defending the cap. He notes that while the Redskins -- who spent $52 million on their player payroll last year -- can't spend as much as they used to, several teams, including the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are spending more this year than they spent in the past. He insists the cap isn't causing veterans to be cut.
"You can't sit around and say the salary cap is why they're getting rid of players," Upshaw said. "It's not. If you can play, you'll find a place to play and you'll get paid. Free agency is working."
That is little consolation for the Redskins veterans who may have their salary cut before training camp opens on July 20.
The team sliced linebacker Kurt Gouveia's salary from $1.02 million to $500,000 Monday, a move that dropped him from 10th to a tie for 25th on the team's list of salary cap numbers. By cutting Gouveia's salary, they were left with $1.03 million to spend under the cap.
Since they're allowed to spend a maximum of $2.8 million of their salary cap number on their rookies -- they've already spent about $200,000 on rookie free agents and sixth-round pick Dexter Nottage, the only draft choice they've signed -- they're left with the task of cutting another $1.6 million from the payroll to make room for the rookie salaries.
The reason it won't be easy to trim more from the Redskins' payroll is that the players above Gouveia on the salary list either got new contracts this year or are key starters such as Jim Lachey and Darrell Green.
The team won't save much money by cutting the players below && Gouveia on the salary list.
That leaves such backups as guard Mark Schlereth ($735,000), tackle Moe Elewonibi and tight end Ron Middleton, who both are at $500,000, and even starter Brad Edwards ($825,000) as possible victims.
Gouveia was vulnerable because the Redskins recently traded for Tyronne Stowe of the Arizona Cardinals. Stowe makes $500,000 and has a good shot at beating out Gouveia for a starting job.
Besides trading for Stowe, the Redskins signed nine veteran free agents this year. The richest new veteran is linebacker Ken Harvey, who leads the club with a $2.75 million salary cap number. The cheapest is long snapper Trevor Matich, who got $350,000. The Redskins invested more than $9 million in salary cap numbers for the new veterans.
The Redskins have 37 players with a salary cap number of $300,000 or more. The minimum salary for a player of three or more years of experience is $162,000.
The salary cap number is the amount of salary the team must allocate for a player in 1994. For example, Harvey will make $5 million this year -- a $3 million signing bonus and $2 million in base salary. But his salary cap number is $2.75 million because his $3 million signing bonus is pro-rated over the four years of the contract for salary cap purposes.
The Redskins also must count $400,000 in signing bonus money toward the cap this year for linebacker Carl Banks, who received the money last year and was one of the veterans waived this year. Even though he's no longer on the team, the money must be counted this year.
Casserly said he'll wait until coach Norv Turner returns from vacation later this week before making a final decision on which players to target for salary cuts.
A player can refuse the pay cut and try to sign with another team, but he may not have many options because the majority of the teams still have to watch their budgets closely.
Only five teams, the Cincinnati Bengals ($6,547,000), New York Giants ($4,628,000), Green Bay Packers ($3,539,000), Minnesota Vikings ($3,457,000) and Arizona Cardinals ($2,598,000) have more than $2.5 million to spend.
"We're not the only team in this position," Casserly said.
For the Redskins, who used to be able to spend whatever they wanted to put a winning team on the field, it's a new position.
NOTES: Reed Johnson, the former director of player personnel for the Denver Broncos, is going to join the Redskins' scouting staff. He'll replace Joe Mack, who was hired earlier this year as the assistant general manager of the Carolina Panthers.