How The Cowboys Can Blow Up The Roster And Start From The Bottom

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It's time.

Today is Year Four, Day One as a Cowboys blogger. I live-tweet every game. I've done a post-game insta-recap article on 95% of the contests. I've filmed dozens of videos and recorded half a hundred audio podcasts. I've interviewed Staubach, Emmitt, Demarcus, Novacek and countless others; all highlights of my fandom.

However, in 1,096 days I've "covered" this team from long distance, I've never once been afforded opportunity to write, film or record anything remotely related to this team and a playoff game.

That's a sad, tragic, heartbreaking sentence to produce, and one that leads me to admitting it may be time for drastic measures.

The 2013 season isn't over. Three games remain, and the Cowboys can guarantee a playoff berth with three wins. If they only win their two remaining home games, where they are currently 5-1, they most likely make the tournament and give themselves a shot at something spectacular. I still believe that opportunity is attainable.

If they go on a magical run from there, this tune surely changes. But if they don't, a new course probably needs to be plotted. And someone responsible needs to captain this ship.

Someone responsible has to be the getaway driver, even if they don't believe in the caper. That's what you do for your family, if you know you can safely deliver them out of danger. And after all, as Cowboys Nation, we are all family. I don't know if I'm yet on board with going down this road, but dammit if I'm not going to steer you through the path safely.

I have a bit of a history with mapping out plans that the team listens to (tongue firmly planted in cheek). So, I volunteer myself for this job. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your guide as to how the Dallas Cowboys could Blow It All Up during the offseason.

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It's well documented the Cowboys are up against the cap the next few years. The 2014 cap should come in around $126 million. Dallas currently has $136 million committed to 50 players, with another $11.8 million in dead money allocated for players not currently on the team. Because of the accounting impact of releasing players with prorated signing bonus (unamortized) that will accelerate, Dallas will have to take a two-year approach to rebuilding the roster. The majority would happen this offseason, with the final purge piece falling into place before 2015.

The first step in blowing up the team is identifying which players you'd like to rebuild around. Here are our Jack Bauer's, our '24'.

Offense (11): Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar

Defense (12): Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, J.J. WIlcox, DeVonte Holloman, B.W. Webb, Orlando Scandrick, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass,George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Kyle Wilber

Special Teams (1): Dan Bailey

Of that list, only Dan Bailey isn't currently on the 2014 roster. You all know how I feel about "Split'Em". We'll slot his new contract around 6th-highest in the league. I'll save the individual breakdowns of all the contracts for the latter part of the article, but know that this group of Cowboys players will account for:

'24' Keepers: $41.6 Million

What is the philosophy Dallas would, or should, utilize in restarting the team? Save as much money as possible towards resetting the cap. Look to rebuild through the draft, save cap space and rely as little as possible on outside free agents. Front load contracts with base salary instead of signing bonuses, providing flexibility later on in the deals.

Simple.

Moving forward, second contracts should all be structured in ways that the team does not absorb additional cap charges for any releases after a player's sixth year. With the ability to walk away from all rookie deals after four years, this flexibility is paramount to building a team that can be successful for 10, 15 years.

The Cowboys current plan for "forward-thinking" has been to restructure the contracts of certain players, moving base salary into signing bonus. The problem is when you run into a situation like Jay Ratliff, when you want to release a player and because of restructuring a contract, there is more "dead money" than what was originally in the deal.

As for the now, there is no magic reset button. But this might be as close as we can get.

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To start from scratch, Dallas obviously has to get out of a large amount of contracts.

The best-case scenario, of course, is for Dallas to get draft pick compensation for some of these players. If they can't, Dallas must release the players anyway (and no, cut players don't result in compensatory picks).

Are you sure you're ready to see this list? You sure, now? Ok...

Offense (8): Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Doug Free, Kyle Orton, Phil Costa, Jeff Olson, Tyler Clutts, Darrion Weems

Defense (7): Demarcus Ware, Justin Durant, Corey Irvin, Everett Dawkins, Everette Brown, Orie Lemon, Martez Wilson

You'd hope to be able to trade some of the names on the list. The cap acceleration would be the same, but you'd get some draft pick compensation in order to help expedite the reloading process. Other names are on this list simply because they are lower level guys that will save money in the effort to get under the cap by the first day of the league year (2nd week of March). You hope to be able to bring some back, but it is a slight risk they sign elsewhere.

This group would have taken up $54 million in cap space. Because of the bonus acceleration, the team will eat $38.3 million of "dead money"; cap space used on players not currently on the team. In addition to the money for players already on the books that aren't here, Dallas will have the following space eaten out of the cap:

Dead Money in '14 (for now): $50.1 Million

Be prepared, Cowboys fans. That's the number you'll hear bandied about early and often about the financial mess that the Cowboys put themselves in. It will lead every ESPN story about Dallas over the offseason, it will be the beginning and ending joke on every tweet. And we're going to bump it up even more later in the article.

Saving $16 million to release 15 players and a large chunk of your star power might not seem worth it, until you look at the savings Dallas will get from not having these players on the books for 2015-2017. All figures in millions.

Player 2015 Savings 2016 Savings 2017 Savings
Ware, Demarcus $17.504 $14.032 $14.032
Witten, Jason $8.512 $7.412 $8.312
Austin, Miles $9.637 $12.558 $10.178
Free, Doug $11.020 $8.960
Orton, Kyle $4.628 $4.628
Bernadeau, Mackenzy $4.574
Total Savings (in millions) $55.875 $47.590 $32.522

Cha-ching!

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In addition to the 24 "Keepers", that leaves the following players still on the Dallas roster as they move towards offseason activities.

Offense (4): Tony Romo, Jermey Parnell, Phil Costa, DeMarco Murray

Defense (7): Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Drake Nevis, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Cam Lawrence

Special Teams (1): L.P. Ladouceur

These "for now" guys, cost a pretty penny, just like the group before them. How much?

12 "For Now" Guys: $43.8 Million

By now, you are starting to see the picture clearly. If you agree with my core group of long-term guys for Dallas, those 24 guys currently only take up $40 million. The other two groups, much smaller in quantity, both take up more space than those that should be built around.

Wait a minute KD, we're still over the cap!

Yes, we are.

Group

Amount

(in millions)

24 Core Guys $40.873
Current Dead $$ $11.778
New' Dead $$ $38.307
12 "For Now" Guys $43.763
Total 2014 Hit $134.783

Which means that, for one final time, Dallas will need to use their "current" ways of managing the cap. The Cowboys will have to restructure Tony Romo, as his deal originally intended.

Dallas would convert $12.545 million of Romo's projected $13.5m base salary into a restructure bonus, as has been planned all along (league minimum for him is $955k). This would add $2.509m to each year's cap from 2015-2018, but would drop Romo's hit $11.737; $10 million worth of savings.

Dallas has now made it under the 2014 cap, $124.8 million, and cleared out plenty of space for the 2015 season.

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Now, Dallas is in position to enter the new league year without league-mandated cuts. What they aren't in position to do is go into camp. Dallas would only have 36 players under contract. They will be able to add 12 during the draft to bump their roster total up to 48, and will have three more signings, cheap UDFA's to reach the 51 player total that the league counts for offseason cap compliance. They'll have a roster of 90 players, for camp however.

Of course, Dallas will need to make room for these rookies, and there is one easy solution to get there. Release CB Brandon Carr.

Carr's 2014 base salary is $7.5 million and as you'll see in the Appendix, that's pretty much what Dallas would need to cover it's draft class plus 3 UDFAs. He'd be a June 1st casualty, putting $4.7m of dead money on the 2014 cap and $12.1m of dead money on the 2015 cap.

That bumps our 2014 dead money number close to $55 million! So what.

One additional issue, is that if Romo is on the roster on the 3rd day of the 2014 league year, $7.5 million of his 2015 salary becomes guaranteed. I do not know if there is offset language around that guarantee, so we will assume Dallas would be on the hook for that "dead money" when Romo is released following next year.

That's right, Tony Romo would only have one year left in Dallas, 2014. That's the feasible exit strategy.

Breathe... breathe...

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So now we're looking at the 2015 season. Several of the Cowboys "new core" will be free agents. The deals of Tyron, Dez, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, Bruce Carter, Ben Bass, George Selvie and Nick Hayden all will expire in 2014. This should emphasize for you the need for Dallas to consider starting from scratch.

Fortunately, because of the 2014 purge, the Cowboys salary number is only sitting at $97 million at this point, and that includes every single 2014 and 2015 draft pick.

19 veteran players under contract + 19 draft picks = $47.7m. Brandon Carr dead money = $12.1m. Tony Romo dead money = $37.4m.

Most folks have anticipated that this is the year when the TV contracts make a big impact on the cap, so Dallas should be looking at an additional $33-37 million to round out the roster. More so, they would be in a

Even if we gave Tyron Smith a Joe Thomas type contract (8 years, $80m, $29m g'teed), and Dez Bryant a deal that averaged $13m a season, Dallas would still have room to give reasonable contracts to the other core players, and/or sign reasonable rental players like the Seahawks did this offseason with pass rushers like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

The key would be hitting on a franchise quarterback and elite pass rusher in the next two drafts to replace Romo and Ware. Outside of those two, very important components, is the cupboard all that bare on the other categories?

Running Back: Can be found at any level of the draft. Keep throwing resources to mix with Randle and Dunbar.

Offensive Line: Tyron, Fredbeard, Leary and a few more draft choices

Wideouts: Dez, Williams, Harris, Beasley. Check please.

Tight Ends: Hanna and Escobar

Defensive Line: Crawford, Selvie, Bass and a gluttony of draft picks over the years. Include reasonable FAs.

Linebackers: Lee, Carter (imagine he rebounds, right?), Wilber, Holloman. More than acceptable.

Corners: Scandrick and you'd have to imagine Claiborne is serviceable with Webb and another draft choice

Safety: Church, Wilcox, Heath, Johnson and another resource.

Specials: Bailey and Ladoucer

In all honesty, the Cowboys would be looking at 2014 as one down year and a possible 4-6 year window of competitiveness starting in 2015. With a manageable salary cap to do as they please.

Is it time?

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I figured before we get into the "show your work" section, we should do a recap of how we got here.

  • Identify your new core: Smith, Leary, Frederick, Bryant, T. Williams, Harris, Beasley, Escobar, Hanna, Randle, Dunbar, Lee, B. Carter, Claiborne, Wilcox, Holloman, Webb, Scandrick, Crawford, Bass, Selvie, Hayden, Wilber, Bailey
  • Release several stars and churn guys: Ware, Witten, Austin, Free, Orton, Bernadeau, Durant, Irvin, Dawkins, Olson, Brown, Clutts, Wilson, Weems, Lemon
  • Restructure Tony Romo to vet minimum for 2014
  • Make Brandon Carr a June 1st cut
  • Draft Romo's replacement in 2014, so that you have full year to evaluate progress before making a decision
  • Make Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant two highest paid players in 2015
  • Resign players such as Leary, Harris, Beasley, Dunbar, Carter, Bass, Selvie, Parnell to reasonable contracts in 2015
  • Use several draft picks over next two years on the trenches and the secondary
  • Make cheap, one-year rentals on two-year deals to augment roster starting in 2015 (like SEA)
  • ????
  • Profit

Appendix

Salary Cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com

2013 Salary Cap Hit Of "Keepers"

Player Base Salary (millions) SigningBonus (prorated) Total '14 Cap Hit
Smith, Tyron 2.079 1.897 3.976
Leary, Ron 0.570 0.000 0.570
Frederick, Travis 0.717 0.844 1.561
Bryant, Dez 1.780 1.119 2.899
Williams, Terrance 0.520 0.155 0.675
Harris, Dwayne 0.645 0.028 0.673
Beasley, Cole 0.570 0.001 0.571
Escobar, Gavin 0.596 0.360 0.956
Hanna, James 0.570 0.026 0.596
Randle, Joseph 0.495 0.047 0.542
Dunbar, Lance 0.570 0.000 0.570
Lee, Sean 5.500 2.000 7.500
Carter, Bruce 0.987 0.508 1.495
Claiborne, Morris 1.869 2.567 4.436
Wilcox, JJ 0.505 0.147 0.652
Holloman, Devonte 0.495 0.026 0.521
Webb, BW 0.495 0.111 0.606
Scandrick, Orlando 3.500 2.100 5.600
Crawford, Tyrone 0.580 0.144 0.724
Bass, Ben 0.570 0.000 0.570
Selvie, George 0.730 0.000 0.730
Brown, Everette 0.730 0.000 0.730
Hayden, Nick
0.730 0.000 0.730
Wilber, Kyle
0.570 0.110 0.680
Bailey, Dan 2.000 1.400 3.400
5 year vet minimum compensation help -0.360
Total (in millions) 41.603

2014-2017 Cap Ramifications of Cutting 15 Players

Player 2014 base salary (millions) 2014 signing bonus (prorated) Other Bonus Current '14 Cap Hit 2014 Cap # If Not On Team Cap Hit/Savings From Release 2015 Savings 2016 Savings 2017 Savings
Ware, Demarcus 12.250 3.254 0.500 16.004 8.572 7.432 17.504 14.032 14.032
Witten, Jason 5.000 3.412 0.000 8.412 8.648 -0.236 8.512 7.412 8.312
Austin, Miles 5.500 2.749 0.000 8.249 7.856 0.393 9.637 12.558 10.178
Free, Doug 3.500 3.020 0.000 6.520 7.000 -0.480 11.020 8.960
Orton, Kyle 3.250 1.128 0.000 4.378 3.383 0.995 4.628 4.628
Bernadeau, Mackenzy 2.750 1.324 0.000 4.074 2.648 1.426 4.574
Durant, Justin 1.250 0.200 0.000 1.450 0.200 1.250
Irvin, Corey 0.730 0.000 0.000 0.730 0.730
Dawkins, Everett 0.495 0.000 0.000 0.495 0.495
Olson, Jeff 0.495 0.000 0.000 0.495 0.495
Brown, Everett 0.730 0.000 0.000 0.730 0.730
Clutts, Tyler 0.645 0.000 0.000 0.645 0.645
Wilson, Martez 0.645 0.000 0.000 0.645 0.645
Weems, Darrion 0.570 0.000 0.000 0.570 0.570
Lemon, Orie 0.570 0.000 0.000 0.570 0.570
Total Savings (in millions) 53.967 38.307 15.660 55.875 47.590 32.522

2014 Draft Pick Cap Ramifications

Round 2014 Draft Slot 14 Base Salary Expected SB Proration Total '14 Cap Cost
1 17 $420,000 $1,136,956 $1,541,956
2 49 $420,000 $360,545 $765,545
3 81 $420,000 $146,517 $551,517
4 113 $420,000 $110,845 $515,845
5 145 $420,000 $47,220 $452,000
7 224 $420,000 $14,212 $434,212
7(Chi) 228 $420,000 12,900 $432,900
7(KC) 234 $420,000 $11,474 $431,474
7comp 240 $420,000 $11,474 $431,474
7comp 245 $420,000 $11,474 $431,474
7comp 250 $420,000 $11,474 $431,474
7comp 254 $420,000 $11,474 $431,474
TOTAL $6,851,345

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