Cowboys almost $10 Million Under Cap, Have More Cap Space Than 21 Other Teams

Will the Cowboys use their cap space to re-sign Sean Lee early? - Elsa

Just a few months ago, there was a seemingly endless stream of stories about how the Cowboys were in salary cap hell, one more alarmist than the other. Much ado about nothing?

The Dallas Cowboys were almost $20 million over the salary cap when the offseason began, but the restructuring of some contracts, new contracts for Tony Romo and Doug Free, as well as the release of some players has put the Cowboys roughly $9.7 million under the cap.

The $9.7 million are the latest figure for the Cowboys, who today gained $2 million in cap space when the release of defensive end Marcus Spears took effect per the June 1 rules. The June 1 rule allows teams to move part of the cap impact of releasing a player into the next season.

Per OverTheCap.com, 10 teams took advantage of the rule this year. The Raiders got the biggest cap relief from a single player release with $8 million gained through the release of Michael Huff, the Dolphins realized the biggest overall cap relief with $10.7 million cap space generated by designating Carlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett June 1 releases.

The Cowboys could generate even more cap space in the coming weeks: Anthony Spencer is playing under the franchise tag for $10.6 million, but his cap number could be decreased if he is signed to a long-term deal. The Cowboys have until July 15 to reach a deal with Spencer.

The Cowboys will use their cap space to sign the remaining rookies, and may also use it to re-sign some of their young stars like Sean Lee and Dez Bryant early - or they can simply move the remaining space into next year. The new CBA gives teams the right to carry over any unused cap space into the next year.

Going by OverTheCap.com and by the NFLPAs public report on the salary cap number by team, here are the top teams in terms of available cap space, with the remaining NFC East teams added for good measure:

Rank Team Current Contracts June 2 cap room
1 Browns 51 31.1
2 Jaguars 51 26.9
3 Eagles 51 22.6
4 Bengals 51 20.0
5 Bills 50 19.0
6 Buccaneers 51 18.7
7 Dolphins 51 17.9
8 Packers 50 13.1
9 Cardinals 51 10.8
10 Jets 51 10.0
11 Dallas Cowboys 51 9.7
27 Giants 50 3.3
32 Redskins 51 1.4

But before we collectively break out in irrational exuberance at the cap space available, it's important to keep in mind that the salary cap is just funny money invented for league accounting purposes. A few restructured contracts and a couple of judicious cuts and almost any team can generate significant cap space if it wants to. In a story titled "Cowboys In Awful Cap Situation: Same Story, Different Year?" from mid-February, I wrote the following:

In summary, it's funny how we as sports fans collectively get hung up so much on discussing accounting procedures. The salary cap is an accounting tool aggressively used by Cowboys, which often leads to the perception that the Cowboys are in "cap hell". They are not. What they are instead is a team that overspends but underperforms relative to its competitors. And that is the much bigger issue.

And that statement is as true then as it is now, a couple of million dollars over or under the cap won't change that. The Cowboys, like any other team, will always find ways to get under the cap. The much bigger concern for us fans should be whether they are spending their money wisely.

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