2013 Cowboys Salary Cap: Making Room

What do you mean we don't have any cap space? - Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

How exactly did the Cowboys sign 2 players after only clearing ~$1M in Cap space?

When the Cowboys began their "flurry" of free agent activity Wednesday morning, it was well known that they had approximately $100,000 in available cap space. However, somehow they were able to sign 2 free agent players at positions of need, for contracts that will total over $1.7 Million in salary and bonus for the 2013 season. So what kind of magic did the Jones' work to get the deals done? Let's take a look...

First off, they made 2 roster moves.

A) Restructured QB Kyle Orton's contract, netting a savings of $383,000

B) Released WR Anthony Armstrong, netting a savings of $630,000

So that clears $1,013,000 in space, along with the ~$100,000 they already have, gives them just over $1.1 Million available.

How did they massage the extra money out? Let's look at 2 rules the Cowboys took advantage of in order to execute the deals.

First the Minimum Salary Benefit:

The minimum salary benefit, allows a team to sign a veteran player (4 or more yrs experience) who is not under contract, and pay them the league minimum base salary for their years experience, plus an additional compensation (signing bonus etc) of up to $65,000, while only counting against the cap as a contract for a player with 2 years of experience (this year $620,000).

So this means a team can sign a player, like (hypothetically of course) Will Allen, who has been in the league 7 yrs, and give him a contract worth (again hypothetically) about $840,000 including a signing bonus of $65,000 and have it only count as $620,000 against the cap.

Next, the "Top 51" rule.

In the off-season only the top 51 contracts on a teams books count towards the salary cap, this is very important because teams carry 80 players to training camp on their rosters. When a team signs a new free agent, these deals are almost always in their top 51, so they replace another contract on the salary cap books, even if there is no one removed from the roster. So in order to stay under the cap, a team must only have available, the difference between the 51st largest cap hit on their books and the new contract they are signing.

For example, the 51st contract on the Cowboys books this year belongs to OG Ray Dominguez $480,000. This total will be replaced by a new Free Agent's (Durant's) contract.

So lets take a visual look at the moves to get an idea of just how all this works together to help the Cowboys stay under the Cap lets look at the signings first.

1. Signings

Base Salary Prorated Bonus Minimum Salary Benefit 2013 Cap Charge 2014 Cap Charge
Justin Durant 715,000 200,000 - 915,000 1,450,000
Will Allen 840,000 65,000 (285,000) 620,000 -
Total 1,555,000 265,000 (285,000) 1,535,000 1,450,000

So we see that we have added $1,535,000 to the 2013 salary cap through the signings, where did the space come from?

2. Creating Space

Amount coming off 2013 Cap
Kyle Orton 383,000
Anthony Armstrong 630,000
Ray Dominguez 480,000
Total 1,493,000

So we see that while only restructuring or cutting $1,013,000 from the 2013 cap, Cowboys were able to add contracts with 2013 salary & bonus of over $1,700,000 all due to exceptions and opportunities allowed for by the Collective Bargaining agreement.

Just another example of how the so called "Hard" salary cap in the NFL, is in reality a very fluid number that teams manipulate in order to sign players they need.

Note: Contract figures for Allen & Durant Courtesy of Tim Archer of ESPN Dallas, Ray Dominguez & Anthony Armstrong courtesy of spotract.com, and Kyle Orton from multiple reports out Wednesday. Thanks also to BTB Member "requiem" for for correcting my figures for the 2 yr vet minimum.

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