Contract Year Coming Up For 19 Cowboys: Re-Sign Early Or Wait And See?

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee highlight a group of 19 players whose contracts expire after the 2013 season, and 11 of whom will be unrestricted free agents. Should the Cowboys re-sign some of those players early?

Over the weekend, Joe Flacco's agent Joe Linta called the Baltimore Ravens "dumb" for not signing Flacco to an early contract extension before the 2012 season. According to Linta, the Ravens and Flacco were very close to signing a contract extension in 2012, but talks apparently broke down over a difference of $1 million in non-guaranteed base salary in the final year of what would have been a six-year deal. With Flacco's new contract, the Ravens ended up paying $35 million for Flacco than they would have with an extension last year.

The Cowboys were in a similar situation in 2011, when Anthony Spencer was entering the final season under his rookie contract. The Cowboys decided not to sign Spencer to an early extension, and instead ended up franchising Spencer for two successive years.

Of course, it's easy to engage in this type of finger-pointing with the benefit of hindsight.

Entering the 2011 season, the Cowboys had seven players who were entering their contract year and were set to be unrestricted free agents after the season. They chose to offer an early contract extension to only one of those players, Orlando Scandrick and eventually franchise tagged Anthony Spencer. The other five players were either allowed to hit free agency (Martellus Bennett, Montrae Holland, Mat McBriar) or were waived early (Tashard Choice, Martin Rucker). Outside of the Spencer decision, all the others look like the right decisions.

Heading into 2013, the Cowboys currently have 19 players on the roster whose contracts expire after the end of the 2013, and who would qualify to be some kind of free agent. Which places the salary-cap strapped Cowboys in somewhat of an awkward financial position: extend those players now and hope to get a great performance on the cheap, or wait until those players break out before re-signing them and risk overpaying in the process?

The two highest profile players among this group are Anthony Spencer and Sean Lee.The Cowboys have until July 15 to reach an agreement with Spencer on a contract extension (that would bring some welcome cap relief). If they don't reach a deal, Spencer will play out the season under the franchise tag and be an unrestricted free agent after the season. Sean Lee is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract, and the thinking here is that the Cowboys want to avoid the mistake the Ravens made with Flacco and sign him before his price goes through the roof.

Spencer and Lee highlight a group of eleven players who will be unrestricted free agents (UFA) after the 2013 season. Seven more will be restricted free agents (RFA), one will be an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA):

POS Player Status 2014 2013 Base Salary
LB Anthony Spencer UFA 10,627,000
DL Jason Hatcher UFA 2,000,000
S Danny McCray UFA 1,323,000
FB Lawrence Vickers UFA 1,200,000
OC Ryan Cook UFA 1,100,000
DL Anthony Hargrove UFA 840,000
S Will Allen UFA 840,000
LB Ernie Sims UFA 715,000
WR Anthony Armstrong UFA 630,000
LB Sean Lee UFA 630,000
DT Josh Brent UFA 630,000
TE Andre Smith RFA 570,000
LB Alex Albright RFA 555,000
K Dan Bailey RFA 555,000
P Chris Jones RFA 555,000
OC Kevin Kowalski RFA 555,000
CB Sterling Moore RFA 555,000
RB Phillip Tanner RFA 555,000
DT Robert Callaway ERFA 480,000

Some clarification on the terminology:

UFA: An unrestricted free agent is a player whose contract has expired and who has four or more accrued seasons of service (one accrued season = six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved-injured or PUP lists). UFAs are free to sign with any team, unless they are franchised by their old team.

RFA: A restricted free agent is a player whose contract has expired and who has three accrued seasons of service. A RFA receives a "qualifying offer" or a "tender" (with a salary predetermined by the CBA, see below) from his old team but can negotiate with any team. If the RFA receives an offer sheet from a new team, his old team can match the offer and retain him (right-of-first-refusal). If the old team does not match the offer, it can receive draft-choice compensation depending on how the RFA was tendered (first-, second- or original-round tender):

Tender Amount Compensation required
$2.879 million First-round
$2.023 million Second-round
$1.323 million Equal to RFA's original draft, nothing for UDFAs

ERFA: An exclusive-rights free agent is a player whose contract has expired and who only has two or fewer accrued seasons of service. If his old team makes him an offer for at least the three-year veteran minimum salary, then he must sign that offer if he wants to play in the NFL. In that case, the player's only "freedom" is the freedom to quit the NFL. If he's not signed/tendered by his old team, the ERFA is free to sign with any other team.

There is widely held belief in the sports world that players in their final contract year often perform above their career averages, as they work extra hard to reach the dangling carrot of a megabucks contract if they can show that they can be "The Guy". With the money available in free agency these days, a good free agent contract can set a player's family up for generations, so the promise of instant financial security can be a powerful motivator.

Looking over the list of players above, are there players you would like to see the Cowboys extend early? And where would you adopt a wait-and-see approach, even it could mean shelling out big bucks next year because a player had a "career year"?

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