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In a space of less than 24 hours, the Dallas Cowboys went from being $20 million deep in salary cap hell to under the cap and looking to find some free agent cash. Is this evidence of capology genius, or just kicking an ever growing can down the road?
Every year, it seems, it happens. Some writers start adding up the cap hits of the contracts of the Dallas Cowboys, and notice that the team is several million over the NFL limit. A flurry of articles follows about how the team is in desperate straits and who will have to be cut, gutting the team. Reporters will ask Jerry and Stephen Jones why they have not slit their wrists already.
And Stephen will give them the equivalent of patting them on the head and saying "You are so cute when you talk about things you don't understand." A few days later, contracts are reworked, Dallas is easily under the cap, and Stephen just grins at the journalists.
This is no accident. It is planned for, as KD pointed out in his breaking news post about the wave of restructures on Thursday.
The restructure was already built into Carr's contract last year, as his 2013 salary of $14.3 million was fully guaranteed.
In essence, the Cowboys have largely decided they are going to find a way to do whatever they want, despite the NFL salary cap and John Mara's machinations. It is the way of business throughout the NFL now as the league faces the unavoidable truth that rules and regulations are no match for highly paid lawyers and accountants. It is a way of pushing the cost of paying players into the future to let teams do what they will today. It is either very smart, or a disaster waiting to happen.
Part of the calculation involved is that the salary cap is expected to rise in 2015 as additional revenues accrue for the league. There was already some good news on the cap situation as the league announced the official number for 2013, $123 million, up from $120.6 million last year, plus $900,000 termed a "minimum salary benefit". Dallas still faces the $5 million cap penalty imposed by John Mara - er, the league, but KD, who was all over this story, pointed out in a tweet that the team has already cut that about in half with cap space carried over from last year. But as you look at the numbers, it still seems that there is an ever growing amount of money that is obligated in advance. And when large chunks of that money you have already committed is assigned to, say, Doug Free, or worse to players that are not even with the team anymore (the dreaded "dead money") like the $2 million the team still has to account for due to Terence Newman, you wind up limiting more and more of your options.
It's starting to feel like we are dealing with numbers that seem to have less and less relationship to the actual checks being written. In this case, the NFL has become dependent on making huge payouts today to players that will actually be shown on the "books" as installments spread out over several years.
When you take a moment to really look at it, the system seems both ludicrous and highly dysfunctional. It has to be expected, given the widely divergent and contradictory things it tries to accomplish. The owners (as a whole) want to keep the piece of the pie that goes to the players as small as possible so as to make their own piece as large as they can. The players want the opposite. The league wants to make every team competitive, and would really prefer for each franchise to win one Super Bowl every 32 years, so it tries to even out the money to avoid more well-off teams stockpiling the best players.
Meanwhile, the owners who want to keep costs down also try to find a way to buy the best talent to fill seats and increase merchandise sales. Players are paid based on an expectation of future value, but you seldom if ever see the pay go down when the performance is bad, no matter how bad it gets. There is an agreement in place with salary minimums, but no maximums. It is a mashup mess of socialism, capitalism, and me first-ism. All watched over by a league that is not above twisting its own rules to get an outcome in spite of justice or the law.
Is there a problem with transmuting payroll figures into "funny money" accounting every year? Or am I just old-fashioned and naive for worrying about the cost having to be paid one day? There does seem to be a point where the cost cannot be pushed any further out, because even with the extensive restructuring of contracts, Dallas is still expected to be a minor player in free agency this year, possibly losing Anthony Spencer to someone with more cap space to play with. (Just as an aside, the re-signing of L.P. LaDouceur is a low cost but extremely intelligent move I really like. Based on the tweets out today, he has never had a bad snap. Never.)
Yet, by and large, most of the issues that are anticipated for the Cowboys each year seem to vanish with a twist of Stephen Jones' wrists. It happens with surprising ease, because it has already been planned for and built into the contracts for the players. I just cannot shake a feeling that the machinations to get cap space for today by pushing costs into tomorrow is going to rear up and cause problems one day. I love how Stephen confounds people repeatedly. I just keep waiting for things to go awry.
Am I wrong?