Take if From the Beginning Like many of you, I enjoy looking at draft lists even before the season is over. However, the team has to take a different approach. Scouts are scouting in the fall, but before you can draft there are other things to do. Ideally, you choose the best player available in the draft. If two players are rated close to each other, you may consider need or the fact you are stacked at one of those player’s position. You don’t want to choose player B over player A when player A was the one you really liked, but B was picked because of need. Over time, that will make your roster a weak one. In order to avoid this situation, you have to fill some needs during free agency, whether it is to sign somebody who will be a starter and a star, or just a dependable veteran who gives you depth at a position of need. Before you can go shopping you need to do the same thing you would do before buying a car. You look at your budget and check your bank account. We’ve read over and again that the Cowboys are about 20 million over the cap limit. If you look at spotrac http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/dallas-cowboys/cap-hit/, you’ll see that after the negative carryover which I think represents the penalty imposed by the league, that with 51 players we are at $139,772,000.00. If you add players 52 and 53, which you will do after preseason and they will be at the minimum, you will be almost at $141,000,000.00. A lot has been said about how to reduce that number. I would start with Carr, for two reasons. One, his cap hit will be reduced the most of anybody, 10.5 million. Second, his contract demonstrates how you can lower the cap hit for the first year of a contract and still give the player the bonus money he was looking for. I think that’s a model for others. Romo haters, won’t like it, but not only will he get an extension, but it may be more money than they realize. Romo has some leverage. First, he is a good quarterback. Those who say he can’t win the big one forget the 13-3 season when he was surrounded by good talent and the team was one dropped catch that looked like it would lead to a score, away from the Super Bowl. Second, there isn’t a free agent or draft pick or potential trade that would bring in anybody better. I think his deal will look like Carr’s. The first year will be a guaranteed minimum, say $1 million, with a 15 million bonus. The second year will have a ridiculously large guaranteed salary of say $21 million that will be converted into a large bonus. His other years may include a modest third year guaranteed salary that will push the total guaranteed money to close to $50 million. If he plays at least four more years, the dead money will be eaten up for the most part in a five year deal. You can extend Austin, Ware, and Witten and find another 12 million. If they play two or three more years, their dead money will also evaporate for the most part. I would cut Doug Free. His salaries are too much for a player who alternates at right tackle. You can sign a swing tackle and get as much out of Parnell as you did Free. That’s another $7 million if you designate Free for post June 1 release. You can save $1.3 million by releasing Marcus Spears after June 1. You can redo Conner’s deal and drop his cap hit $1.7 million. It would mean having a veteran for depth at three positions and maybe a starting strong side linebacker. (I don’t see Albright, there. I think he’s a 4-3 end in this defense.) If you’re counting, I’m at $40,000,000.00 in reduced spending. I think the biggest decision would involve Ratliff. At this point we don’t know what the team is thinking, but I believe somebody whose production has been declining several years and who was hurt twice last year qualifies for a salary reduction if not being released. So you are now between $95,000,000.00 and $100,000,000.00 in salaries and bonuses. You will need about $3,000,000.00 for rookies. Remember that their salaries will be minimums and will replace another salary which may even be higher when they make the team. It is the bonus money they receive that will raise our expenditures, here. That leaves you between $18,000,000.00 and $23,000,000.00 to shop for free agents. I think you would set aside six or seven million to sign free agents during next season so realistically you have about 11 to 16 million to shop with. I don’t see any franchise tags, here, but you can resign Spencer, using the same formula you did for Carr, he could have a nice deal that raised the cap about $3 million. You now have money to sign a lineman or backup running back or third receiver. I don’t think this is a good year for free agent outside linebackers, but who knows. Spencer would be your “splash” but you might fill your other needs before the draft, so that by the end of April you would be looking good. I won’t predict what the Cowboys might do, but I think you can see the possibilities.
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