Cowboys 2013 Roster Talk, Part III: What Are We Doing With Our Current Players?

Layne Murdoch

It appears that the Cowboys will have to make decisions on several players under their control in 2012. Restructures, extensions, new contracts and cuts... all are on the table for 2013.

To catch up on this "Roster Talk" series, go here for Part I (Understanding the Cap) and here for Part II (What to do with Romo). I promise, Part IV will get to my free agent wish list and first mock draft scenarios but each time I try to write it, another article must be tackled first.

They've told us that they will be able to do whatever is necessary to sign new talent.

Extensions, restructures and cuts, all necessary moves in certain scenarios, have to be weighed with the free agency moves that are going to follow. You not only need to fill the holes from last season, but new holes form each offseason need to be anticipated.

In my analysis, it's become pretty clear what Dallas is doing with their contracts under the new CBA. They are designating a year (normally the second) of the contract with an inflated salary that they know they will restructure. It gives them basically a sixth year of proration for signing bonuses and allows the proration to escalate once from it's original amount. To entice players to sign these deals, Dallas is sometimes guaranteeing the base salary of the second year.

That's what's going on with Brandon Carr. His base salary in '12 was only $1.2m but there was a $10m signing bonus. His guaranteed 2013 salary is $14.3m, which will be reworked into a signing bonus. His prorated SB is already $2m per season. The restructure will probably balloon that another $3m ($12m over 4 years). So his 2013 cap hit goes down from $16.3m to $7.3m but his cap hits for the next three years will be $12.5m, $13m, and $14m respectively.

What they've also done is signed players to extensions when they "didn't have to". Early in the 2011 season, Dallas signed both Jay Ratliff and Jason Witten to five-year extensions when both players still had two years left on their current deals. These five years locked in the players for a seven-year window but also accomplished something else. It put the first two years of signing bonus proration into the final two years of the player's first deal. Now that those have expired and the players are entering the first year of the "new" contract extension, Dallas has the ability to restructure the deal and spread money over the final two years of the contract (remember, signing bonuses can only be prorated for a max of five years).

If a player remains highly productive, like Witten, it's a win-win. If he has an injury-plagued year that brings up longevity concerns, like Ratliff, well...

How this works in the long haul remains to be seen, but it should be noted that the Dallas brass was a major participant in the design of the new CBA that went into effect in 2011 (which makes the penalty imposed against them even more maddening). Theoretically, the salary cap will eventually make a big jump and Dallas could then do some reworks to reset their cap situation. Again, I've never claimed to be an expert on this, I'm just feeling my way through it all. Please correct me if you see any missteps.

Last offseason, Stephen Jones admitted that restructuring contracts wasn't the best long-term solution to creating cap room for the moves they want. Last offseason, the Cowboys had a couple folks fall off their books in Bradie James, Keith Brooking, and Jon Kitna that freed up room. This year there aren't any big name players like that. Basically, I believe the fact that Dallas had expiring contracts and cuts that needed to be made (Kosier, Beuhler, Newman) made the salary cost reduction a moot point. There were also exemptions in the previous two years of the new CBA ($3m in 2011, $4.5m in 2012) that are not available moving forward.

I'm operating under the assumption Dallas will need to free up money for the salary cap. I'm assuming Dallas is really $20m over based on this Todd Archer article. Archer, by far, is the best (only?) Dallas media member at keeping track of the salary cap situation, but I've seen discrepancies in some of his workings.

*Remember, Dallas already has an additional $10 million spoken for in draft picks (~$5m) and the $5m Mara penalty. Before re-signing a couple of players over the course of the season (Barry Church and Sean Lissemore) Dallas was looking to carry over approximately $5.5 million in cap space from unused 2012 room. As noted in the comment sections, there are various reports as to how much cap carryover Dallas has (Clayton reports just over $2m).

I wrote in Part II that I would recommend not extending Romo, regardless of the fact that he's my favorite player and I have no doubt he can lead a complete team to a championship. Not re-signing him does not directly lead to him not being on this team moving forward (franchise tag up to two years). I will try to operate this exercise without the benefit of the $8 million in cap savings that could be netted by extending him, but I admittedly am having a difficult time seeing how we can proceed without the extension. You'll see why below.

Player 2013 Salary (in millions) 2013 SB Hit Total '13 Cap Hit(millions) Yrs Rmn Cap Hit if Cut (remaining SB) Cap Savings'13 If Cut "June 1" 2013 Cap Hit "June 1" 2013 Cap Savings 2014 "Dead Money" if June 1 Cut
Miles Austin 6.732 1.571 8.303 3 4.713 3.590 1.571 6.732 3.142
Dan Connor 3.000 1.350 4.350 1.000 1.350 3.000 N/A N/A N/A
Jay Ratliff 5.000 2.000 7.000 3 6.000 1.000 2.000 5.000 4.000
Doug Free 7.000 3.120 10.120 4* 10.020 0.100 3.120 7.000 6.900
Lawrence Vickers 1.200 0.100 1.300 1 0.100 1.200 N/A N/A N/A
Marcus Spears 2.000 0.700 2.700 3 2.100 0.600 0.700 2.000 1.400
Gerald Sensabaugh 3.000 0.800 3.800 3 2.400 1.400 0.800 3.000 1.600
Orlando Scandrick 2.000 1.780 3.780 4* 6.520 -2.740 1.780 2.000 4.740
Brandon Carr 14.300 2.000 16.300 4 22.300 -6.000 16.3000 0 6.000
Jason Witten 5.500 2.500 8.000 3 7.500 0.500 2.500 5.500 5.000
Tony Romo 11.500 5.728 17.228 1 12.733 4.495 5.728 11.500 7.005

I've highlighted the most important columns: Player, 2013 Cap Hit, and the two amounts in savings that could be realized by cutting them (regular cut and "June 1st" designation).

The final three names on the list are obviously not going to be cut, however they are the contracts most eligible for being restructured to gain room. You could also add DeMarcus Ware's contract in there too. Here are my notes on the situation:

  • Miles Austin is the place where Dallas would reap the most cap savings ($3.6m), but are Harris/Beasley/Coale ready for expanded roles? Broaddus has said he doesn't believe the team moves on from Austin. Would he be open to a pay cut?
  • Dan Connor also has $3m in savings and is on the last year of his deal. Could a cheaper alternative be in play here?
  • Jay Ratliff probably isn't going anywhere, but the cap space from designating him "June 1st" could be appealing ($5m). You pretty much have to see how he works out as a 3-tech next to DeMarcus Ware with his hand on the ground, don't you?
  • Doug Free probably isn't getting cut either. Free was scheduled to make $6m in 2012 and count $8.06m against the cap. He was restructured with a new signing bonus that saved Dallas $3.84m in space, moving his salary from $6m to $1.2 (plus 2.06m SB plus .96m 2ndSB). His remaining prorated bonus is 2.06m x 3 + .96 x 4, or slighty more than the 10.12 million that he currently counts against the cap. The Cowboys would literally be paying the exact amount to not have him; which would be stupid. A more likely scenario is some sort of restructure or (if he doesn't improve) would be to cut him as June 1st in '14 where he would be about $3m in dead money over 2 years.
  • Contrary to popular belief there isn't much to be financially gained from moving on from Vickers or Spears. A new fullback will cost about what Vickers makes, and Spears lengthy extension leaves him with more remaining prorated bonus than base salary.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh is an interesting name if only because the Cowboys could choose to role with the younger safeties and a cheap veteran.
  • The Romo number is mixed up and you'll get a lot of different answers from several places. He restructured basically every year (08,09,11,12) and those prorated bonuses are reported differently everywhere. His cap number for 2013 should be somewhere between $16.8 millon and $17.2 million.
  • It appears the Cowboys would have to mortgage a lot of salary cap space in 2014 (dead money) if they choose to move on from current players in order to free up 2013 cap space. Of course, these numbers are assuming that Dallas has always chosen to prorate signing bonuses over the max amount of years, when possible. That is probably not the case but we don't have access to that information.
  • Regardless, the most likely scenario will be that Dallas extends Romo and restructures other contracts just to get enough room to sign their own draft picks. I'm sure there are other players that Dallas can finagle, but these are the major contracts on the books.

All in all, I know that our good friend Birddog warned not to go off of the internet resources when it comes to the salary cap situation, but this is what I've found in regards to the situation Dallas is in with in-house talent. I see the possible re-works where they can free up money (Carr, Romo, Witten), but I don't see some of the other moves that are claimed to be possible help (Free, Spears). This might just have to be a year where the infusion of new blood comes cheap and young.

If the team is really $20m above the cap, they'll have to restructure Carr ($10m) Romo ($8m) Witten ($3m) just to get down to the cap. The Mara penalty will apparently be washed by the unused 2012 cap space carryover. If Dallas releases Spears ($2m) and Sensabaugh ($3m) as "June 1st" and Dan Connor ($3m) they are now low enough to sign their 2013 draft picks. Doug Free taking a pay cut and Miles Austin doing the same (or being released) is really the only area where I can see Dallas making major gains in space.

The club signed Brandon Carr to a big deal ($50m) in 2012 that only cost them $3.2m in cap space. If they can negotiate similar deals in this range, now you're talking about being able to resign Anthony Spencer (should they chose to) and/or bringing in another big ticket player. How that resolves itself in the future we'd just have to see.

So, it is possible to get some room and add players "the new Dallas way". How long they can keep pulling it off remains to be seen.

I'm not saying that I know for sure. I'm just saying that I don't see how the magic will happen while being extremely hopeful I'm mistaken.

Thoughts?

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