Twisting The Cap: How Will The Cowboys Manage Their 2013 Cap Situation?

Ronald Martinez

The Cowboys 2013 success will hinge on being able to maintain the areas that work and upgrade the ones that don't. The question is, how do they do that with their backs up against the cap wall?

Earlier this week, I hinted at some of the offseason decisions that the Cowboys will have to make going into the 2013 season. In "Five Guys", I took a look at several of the Cowboys contract situations, including those that will need to be addressed due to relatively close expiration dates and those that need to be addressed due to diminishing returns.

Here's how I sized them up:

Take a look at players Dallas will need to address to avoid them walking or being in the final year of their deals:

Anthony Spencer - contract expires after season

Tony Romo - contract voids after 2013

Sean Lee - contract expires after 2013

Jason Hatcher - contract expires after 2013

Then, you look at players that aren't living up to their contracts for whatever reason and you wonder if any releases are on the horizon. Players such as: (numbers updated, per spotrac.com)

Miles Austin: Salary $6.7 in 2013 ($4.7 cap hit to release)

Doug Free: Salary $7m($8.3m cap hit to release)

Jay Ratliff: Salary $5m ($6m cap hit to release)

Orlando Scandrick: Salary $2m ($6.6m cap hit to release)

A few weeks ago, I decided that if Dallas can afford it, their best bet would be to place a second-consecutive franchise tag on OLB Anthony Spencer. My thought process is that the Cowboys have failed to develop a replacement for what Spencer contributes to this team; however he is too long in the tooth for us to give him a five-year deal. Victor Butler just isn't going to cut it, and I'm getting ready to put out an APB for an acknoweldgement that Kyle Wilber is on the roster. Wilber was a pick I wasn't really on board with, but seeing our ability to draft linebackers recently I'm far from giving up on him.

The franchise tag will be expensive though, as a repeat offender Spencer will command 120% of his current salary: $10.6 million in 2013. Can the Cowboys afford that? We were warned last offseason that the new television deals wouldn't spike the cap figures as in years past, that it would be gradual growth, if at all during the next years. Unless something changes, the cap is expected to be around $121 million.

ESPN's Todd Archer wrote a piece today looking at the Cowboys 2013 cap situation. Quick caveat, it seems everyone is working with different numbers. Some of Archer's totals differ from Spotrac.com which differ from rotoworld.com and so on and so on. Allow for some wiggle room based on his info as he might have some old info included like I did when I originally posted on Tuesday.

The Cowboys, who will be docked $5 million again as a penalty for Miles Austin's original contract, are already at $132 million for the 44 players they have under contract for next year. Throw in $7-$8 million for 2013 draft picks and you can quickly see that things will be difficult.

In recent years, the Cowboys have avoided cap problems by reworking deals of players to lessen base salaries in the form on new signing bonuses. That however, has led to the issues we have above, with huge cap numbers for players such as Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick.

Remember, a player's cap hit includes not only the money Jerry Jones will actually pay them during the season (base salary), but also a prorated portion of the signing bonus money they received up front. When a player reworks his deal and receives another signing bonus, both the original and the new bonuses get prorated over the length of the deal.

i.e. Doug Free's original signing bonus was for $10.3 million spread over four years, or $2.575m added to each year's base salary. The club reworked his deal to drop his 2012 salary to $1.2 million and turned the remaining $4.8m into another signing bonus. So, although his base salary for 2013 remained at $7 million, his cap hit went from $9.575m ($7m base +2.575m SB) to $11.175m ($7m base +2.575m SB +1.6m SB). The cost to release Free, which the Dallas brass never considered it would have to do, now goes up from $5.15m to $8.35 million.

Now, a release of this nature can still be split over the next two year's cap by designating the move a "June 1st" cut. This is what they did when they released Terence Newman last summer; however this is the reason why Newman will have a $2 million cap hit on the 2013 ledger.

So a release using June 1st rules would add $4.175 million of "dead money" to the 2013 cap, but would reduce the Cowboys cap number $2.825 million because they would no longer be on the hook for Free's $7 million base salary. The other option, eating the whole hit in one year, would raise the cap hit. Of course, then you have to decide how to address only having two tackles on the roster (though some could argue that's the case now).

The problem is, the Cowboys are probably going to have to employ this strategy of reworking deals again just to get down to the 2013 cap. If your keeping score at home, that means that there probably will not be a lot of room to sign impact players, or possibly even keep Anthony Spencer in house without putting themselves in a difficult situation. It might turn into a routine where Dallas is perpetually reworking deals in hopes of getting to a season where the cap does make a substantial rise.

Now, I'm no capologist, and I hope that I've presented the situation accurately. If not, I apologize for any inconsistencies in the conclusions I'm drawing. If so, I can't help but wonder how in the world Dallas finds itself in this situation yet the Philadelphia Eagles signed any and everyone they could find in 2011 and will be $20 million under the 2013 cap before they release QB Michael Vick from his $100 million contract.

The six-year contract only paid Vick a $7m signing bonus, and with two years completed would now cost them $4.66m to release him. It will cost the Cowboys almost twice as much to release Doug Free as it will for the Eagles to release Mike Vick.

What in the world is our front office doing?

Before this turns into a rant post, let's return to the facts of what they are facing. Here's Archer's list of the Cowboys 2013 biggest cap hits along with his notes:

Player '13 cap figure Comment
Tony Romo $16.8 million Look for extension this offseason
Brandon Carr $16.3 million Re-working of deal creates $10.5 million in space
DeMarcus Ware $12.2 million Still at top of his game
Doug Free $10.0 million Final five games could determine his future
Miles Austin $8.3 million When healthy, he's produced
Jay Ratliff $7.0 million Are the years catching up to him?
Dan Connor $4.4 million A big number for a backup linebacker
Orlando Scandrick $3.8 million Would say he stays for at least another year
Gerald Sensabaugh $3.8 million Solid player, plays hurt

We'll have plenty of time to dive into this in more specific terms once the 2012 season has reached it's conclusion. However the play over these last five games will go a long way in determining which players are on the chopping block, or up for restructing, extensions, et cetera.

Let's open it up to the comments, how would you attack the 2013 cap?

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