The Dallas Cowboys have been sitting on the sidelines, watching other teams make all the headlines in NFL free agency. While it is irritating watching the Philadelphia Eagles reap the rewards of their strategically planned 4-12 season and their resulting huge chunk of unspent cap money, they may actually be the exception this year. During a quick trip in my car, I heard a comment from Adam Schefter of ESPN to the effect that few NFL teams really have a lot of cap space to work with. The cap this year is less than it was in 2009, according to him, and as a result, this may be shaping up to be a real buyer's market, with prices driven down because a lot of players are chasing a smaller pot of money.
Dallas is going to be pinching pennies in free agency this year. The team is going to have to rework contracts with Tony Romo and possibly Anthony Spencer, and likely do something regarding Doug Free, to come up with any free agent money at all. Even then, it will not be a lot. The team is definitely going to be bargain hunting. Meanwhile, the trend looks to be that there will be a lot of bargains to be had out there. The league finds itself with a slowly rising salary cap. With established players that teams cannot afford to lose looking to get paid, like Joe Flacco, there is just less and less money out there to spread around. And the Baltimore Ravens look to be paying the price for signing Flacco to his generous contract, having traded away WR Anquan Boldin and cut LBs Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe - the latter two then sucking up a total of $75 million for contracts over the next five years, while leaving their old team with a greatly depleted linebacking corps after Ray Lewis' retirement.
This is going on to some extent all over the league, with several surprising names hitting free agency this year. That means there is a bit more talent out there this season than is the norm. With them chasing that shrinking pot of dollars throughout the league, there is going to be some downward pressure on the salary demands, especially as training camps draw closer. It is quite likely that by waiting things out, the Cowboys may be able to swoop in late and get some true deals out there.
I would like to think this was partly by design, but there is not a lot of evidence for that. While they may have seen this coming, there is an awful lot of dead cap money and several players that look to be making more money than they are really worth on the roster. The more likely explanation is that Dallas was caught up in the trend along with most of the rest of the league.
How they got here is not all that important, of course. What matters is what they do with it. They could very well wind up with some good players to fill holes without having to spend much more than minimums, just because there aren't as many big contracts to be had out there.
On a bit of a side note, the evidence continues piling up that the NFL owners really did a number on the NFLPA in the current CBA. The billionaires and wannabe billionaires got their rookie pay scale, so they no longer have to worry about controlling themselves in dealing with those first time contracts, and now the veterans, who were supposed to see bigger paydays after they had proved themselves, are finding the harsh realities of NFL economics under the salary cap pushing down on how much they will be able to earn. While some will get good deals out of this, every big contract signed now is going to mean someone else will be looking at smaller paychecks than they were expecting.
It is a heartless business in some ways, and there is no denying that the reduction in income some players are facing, at least compared to expectations, will work in favor of the teams. Although there may be less money overall to spend on the veterans, the number of vets who are seeking work is still the same. It eventually will lead to less money for many of them. If you have to be cap tight, this looks like a good year to have it happen. You at least have plenty of company. The Cowboys may have stumbled into this situation unintentionally. It is still an opportunity they need to capitalize on. There won't be any "splash" signings for the Cowboys, but they still have a chance to improve the team.