Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Like every other NFL team, the Cowboys have to be under the salary cap by March 12. Along the way, they'll likely be making a couple of cuts and restructing a few contracts.
The cuts are starting to come in from across the NFL as teams massage their rosters to get under the salary cap by March 12, and position themselves for free agency at the same time. This is the time of year where some big names with even bigger contracts start hitting the market.
On Friday, the Green Bay Packers released safety Charles Woodson, clearing $10 million in scheduled salary and bonus pay off their 2013 cap. Earlier in the week, the Buffalo Bills cut CB Terrence McGee, whom they had signed to a new two-year deal last offseason. His release saves the Bills $1.75 million in base salary and clears $4.46 million off their 2013 cap. The Giants cleared nearly $14 million in cap in one fell swoop by releasing Chris Canty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Boley.
There's a general consensus that the Cowboys are about $20 million over the 2013 salary cap, which means that the Cowboys will have to take a number of steps to get under the $121 million cap ceiling.
Probably the most important of these steps will be signing Romo to a contract extension that could cut his $16.8 million cap hit for 2013 roughly in half. Additionally, Brandon Carr's contract was designed to allow a restructuring that would save about $10.5 million in space. Restructuring the contracts of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Miles Austin could clear a further ca. $11 million in cap space. These moves would suffice to bring the Cowboys safely below the 2013 salary cap - with room to spare - but since these restructurings are basically pushing cap money into future years, the Cowboys will want to be cautious about pushing too much money forward.
The final step in creating cap space, as the Packers, Bills and Giants have already demonstrated, is by cutting players. Some of the more obvious names for potential cuts are Doug Free ($10.02 million cap number, $7 million base salary) and Jay Ratliff ($7 million cap number, $5 million base salary), but other players like Dan Connor ($4.3 million / $3 million), Marcus Spears ($2.7 million / $2 million) and Lawrence Vickers ($1.3 million / $1.2 million) could also be cut. In the case of Free and Ratliff, unless they are designated June 1 cuts, the 2013 cap savings may be bigger for the Cowboys if they could get both players to agree to pay cuts via a renegotiated contract, so that may potentially be an option for one or both of them.
In principle, the Cowboys could get below the cap without any cuts, but that may not be the wisest thing to do from long term cap health point of view. In his interview on DallasCowboys.com, new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said he had already reviewed "every single play from every game, including the preseason games." It's probably fair to say that the Cowboys already have a pretty good idea of which players they are going to cut, and it's just a matter of finding the right timing to make the cuts official.