Cowboys Draft 2013: Rookie Class Already In Fold Financially And Has Been For A While

Al Bello

The Dallas Cowboys have been fighting the cap tooth and nail the entire offseason. In the first of a series of articles about the salary cap, we look at fitting the incoming rookie class into the fold.

BREAKING NEWS: On March 13th, the Dallas Cowboys traded former first-round pick Marcus Spears for six draft picks in the 2013 Amateur Draft!

That's not how you remember it? Really? Well let's review how that happened exactly, while shattering a stereotype about what teams must do in order to clear cap space for their rookie classes. Despite what some who didn't take the time to run the numbers tell you (including me, initially) the impact of the rookie pool can be a minuscule thing in the grand scheme of a salary cap.

On March 13th, the Cowboys released their former first-round pick as a June 1st transaction. Spears was set to count $2.7 million against the cap (a number already included in them being just $51k under the cap before the Romo extension). His release meant the team would save $2 million on June 2nd, the amount of his base salary.

Of course, June 2nd is well before when the Cowboys sign the picks they select each April.

As Overthecap.com states, the league's formula for the rookie cap is secret, but using prior years we can estimate where the future pools will land since we know what the base salary minimums are. They expect that the signing bonus amounts will remain stagnant for at least this year based on the fact that the base salary increases are at a rate higher than the cap is growing. Here's a look at the 2013 base salaries, with the 2012 signing bonuses slotted in for the players taken in the draft slot last year.

2013 Draft Slot 2012 Player 13 Base Salary Expected SB Proration Total '13 Cap Cost
18 Melvin Ingram $405,000 $1,136,956 $1,541,956
49 Kendall Reyes $405,000 $360,545 $765,545
82 Mike Martin $405,000 $146,517 $551,517
116 Orson Charles $405,000 $110,845 $515,845
153 Dannis Kelly $405,000 $47,220 $452,000
187 Josh Bush $405,000 $26,055 $431,000

(Note: For salary slotting purposes, the NFL still counts forwarded picks, so Pick 47 in the draft is still pick 49 as Cleveland and New Orleans picks are still slotted. )

KD! That's over $4.25 million in total cap costs! If the Cowboys didn't get that extension worked out for Romo, they wouldn't be able to pay them all, even with the space they get back from releasing Spears.

So how exactly does one equate the Marcus Spears release with getting enough cap room to sign all of those draft picks? Here's how.

Up until the first day of the "regular season" only the "Top 51" player salaries are used to calculate whether or not a team is above or below the salary cap. What this means is that the majority of the Dallas draft picks will be replacing players that are currently counted in the Top 51. The only amount that will be added to the cap are the differences between those two cap hits, plus the signing bonuses for the players that don't make the Top 51.

Although this will change should Dallas sign additional free agents prior to camp, here are the six players currently at the bottom of the "Top 51":

Player 2013 Cap Hit
Sterling Moore 555,000
Carlton Mitchell 555,000
James Hanna 506,213
Cole Beasley 480,500
Lance Dunbar 480,000
Eric Weems 480,000

So what will happen is that the first round pick will "bump" Eric Weems out of the Top 51. The second-rounder will bump Dunbar, third will bump Beasley and fourth will bump Hanna. The fifth and six round picks will not have their base salaries included, because their cap hit will not be more than Carlton Mitchell and Sterling Moore. Again, the 5th and 6th round draft picks will have their signing bonus prorations included in the cap calculation. That leaves us with this picture of what is actually "added" to the 2013 cap.

Pick 1- 1,541,956-480,000= $1,061,956
Pick 2- 765,545-480,000= $285,545
Pick 3- 551,517-480,000= $71,517
Pick 4- 515,845- 480,000= $35,845
Pick 5- $47,220
Pick 6- $26,055

Total Cap Space Needed: $1,528,138

Once again, major hat tip to Jason of Overthecap.com, for his confirming my being on the right path and tweaking my numbers for extreme accuracy.

As we can now see, Dallas made enough room for the entire draft class, plus room for a UDFA or two when they released Marcus Spears. More importantly, they are free to use the entire amount of cap space they currently have (from the Romo extension) on free agents, keep it to have maneuverability during the season or save it to roll into next year's cap.

Not a bad trade for a former first rounder that didn't fit into their 4-3 plans.

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