With a flurry of restructurings the Cowboys have freed up roughly $23 million in cap money and are now about $5 million under this year's $123 million salary cap. As expected, this puts them safely under the cap for the start of the league year on March 12. So far, the Cowboys have reworked the contracts of DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Brandon Carr, Jason Witten and Ryan Cook.
There are also reports that the team will submit the restructured contracts of Orlando Scandrick, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings and Jay Ratliff to the league office in the coming days (thereby making them official) to clear even more cap room. I haven't done the calculations in detail, but that should give the Cowboys almost enough room to franchise Anthony Spencer for a second consecutive year, if they so please.
And all of that is without accounting for Romo's pending contract extension, which, depending on how that contract will be structured, could cut his $16.8 million cap hit for 2013 roughly in half.
What's left is the final step in clearing even more cap space: cutting players.
We already know that the Cowboys have asked linebacker Dan Connor to take a pay cut or be cut. Connor was scheduled to make $3 million in 2013, with a $4.3 million cap hit. The Cowboys haven't said much about Doug Free so far, but with a $7 million base salary in 2013 ($10 million cap hit) he's a prime candidate for a pay cut or even an outright release.
And, as unlikely as that may sound given the situation at safety, Stephen Jones would not rule out Gerald Sensabaugh ($3 million salary, $3.8 million cap hit) as a potential cap casualty. Marcus Spears ($2.7 million) and Lawrence Vickers ($1.3 million base) are two other players who could see their time in Dallas end shortly.
For some of us who are not yet fully acquainted with the new CBA, all of this may look like a lot of unnecessary, perhaps even panicked, activity. But it really isn't. Stephen Jones indicated that the player contracts are already constructed in such a way that the Cowboys don't even have to renegotiate with the player. The Cowboys can just pull the trigger, or as Jones said: "So it’s more just meet the guys, tell them what we’re thinking, tell them what we’re going to do."
The reality is that the carry-over rules in the new CBA have significantly changed how teams deal with the cap. Under the previous CBA, salary cap space was only available for one year. Any unused cap space disappeared at the end of every league year. The smart strategy was to use every last cent of your cap space in every league year. As the old saying goes: If you don't use it, you lose it.
All of that changed with the new CBA in 2011, which introduced the concept of "carry-over." Teams that don't spend all of their cap dollars in one year can now carry over some or all of that cap space into the next year, creating a new dynamic where getting under the cap in one year can help you in the next. Something that's especially handy when you're dealing with a flat overall salary cap.
If the Cowboys do re-sign or re-franchise Spencer, they're going to be hard up against the cap again and will need to create room with player cuts to create some more space. If they let Spencer go, the cap space they are creating now won't be wasted, but will be a nice carry-over into 2014, when extending or re-signing Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Bruce Carter may be high on the agenda.