The constant restructuring of contracts for the Dallas Cowboys has become an annual affair, right up there with the swallows returning to Capistrano and the running of the bulls in Pamplona. They enter the offseason with no cap space, everyone talks about how horrible their position is, and then it gets more or less fixed for another year.
While, so far, Stephen Jones has managed to keep the situation from crippling the team, there are some indications that it is getting to be a bit difficult. There was very little money available for free agents. Fortunately the Cowboys were able to go through this offseason with only three significant free agent acquisitions, Justin Durant, Will Allen, and Anthony Spencer, whose franchise tag was second in importance only to Tony Romo's contract extension. There are some indications that the team and Spencer are going to look at working out a long term deal. And with the past few drafts, the Cowboys as a whole have gotten younger and cheaper, with many of the big contracts shed already.
But 2014 is still going to be a challenge. According to Overthecap.com, Dallas already has $140,804,805.00 in salary committed for that year. This is without adding a new Spencer deal, which right now is not accounted for since his tag just affects this year, nor does it address signing Sean Lee or Dez Bryant to early extensions, as has been discussed. While I am certain the team can still do some magic with restructuring, it seems like a good idea to keep that to a minimum and finally get the corner turned on this, so we don't have to stress about the cap every season. And with the small rises in the cap the past couple of years, it looks like Dallas has to do a bit of slicing and dicing.
The way to do that is fairly simple: Cut some people that save you cap space. Obviously, there are players, like Romo, who you are not in any way going to consider cutting, at least partly because it would involve such a huge cap hit. Well, and him being the franchise quarterback and all. But just from a financial perspective, Romo and a few other players are big cap hits. There are some other players who don't hurt the team, but don't really help. Doug Free falls into that category. He would represent a $480,000 cap penalty for that year.
So, assuming no more restructures for a while, who is on the roster now that could save the Cowboys significant money if they were cut before the 2014 season? Here is a handy chart. I have only listed players that represent a savings of $1 million (or almost) or more. Everyone else is either going to cost the team money to cut, or basically just represents a year's salary (usually at or near the minimum).
|Player||2014 Cap Savings If Cut|
You notice right off the top, there is one player who can save the team a whole bunch of money if they are not on the roster. And that includes almost $9 million in dead money. DWare is on the downside of a big contract, and while it is an expensive proposition to cut him, 2014 is the first year it starts making some sense, because the dead money in 2013 would be over $17 million. (All dead money figures from Spotrac.com.)
Now, a lot of you are already up in arms for my even suggesting this, but it may be time to at least consider the end of his illustrious time in Dallas, especially if he has problems in 2013 similar to what he had in 2012. Ware may already be in decline. But the 4-3 may also be a bit of a rejuvenation for him. The real target, under his current contract, is to get to 2016, when there is no longer any dead money involved.
To be honest, I would not even consider Ware if he did not represent such a large number that could be taken off the cap figure. Similarly, I do not see either Dez Bryant or Bruce Carter as candidates at those levels of savings. They are just too valuable to the team.
The rest, though, are all prime candidates, I think, if there are replacements available. The hardest to replace would be Kyle Orton, and would likely mean having to spend a high draft pick on his replacement (and possible heir to Tony Romo as well) in 2014. But if there is a good quarterback available when Dallas drafts (hopefully very, very late in the first round), this may be the way to go.
Ratliff may be the most likely player to go here. He is having increasing injury problems, and the team is going to get to look closely at several candidates to replace him at defensive tackle this year. By 2014, it may well be time to part ways with a great but fading warrior.
Livings and Bernadeau are prime candidates to go, and with those savings available, it seems almost certain at least one of them will part ways with the team. If some of the young guard candidates step up this year, it could be that both of them are gone by 2014 - and one may not make it to this September. This would actually prove to be a good use of free agency to fill a need for the short term while you find a longer term answer. Costa is also a candidate just on savings, although for all three to be gone, I would think the team would have to use a high draft pick on a guard or center/guard inext year. Costa may have some time left as the primary backup to Travis Frederick, if he can also help out at guard in a pinch.
Durant is another case of a free agent who would likely just be around long enough to plug a hole. The team drafted DeVonte Holloman and picked up Brandon Magee and Taylor Reed to try and make sure, I think.
It is, of course, very early, but if I were to make a prediction, I think the team is going to part ways with at least four of these players by 2014: Ratliff, Livings, Bernadeau and Durant. That is almost $6 million in savings right there. It is probably not enough to eliminate all restructuring, but it should help the team start to taper down on that. If Dallas plays it smart, the whole cap management issue should become much less crucial after next year.
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