Every year the media blasts the Cowboys for their poor cap management and routinely try to convince the team's fans that the franchise is in cap hell. And yet, somehow, the Cowboys keep managing to make big moves every season, including signing Brandon Carr, placing the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer, and getting long term deals done with Tony Romo and Sean Lee. So, is the situation as terrible as the media and some fans often proclaim?
The most recent news making many fans worry is that the Cowboys are currently due to be over the 2014 cap by tens of millions. And yet, Cowboys capologist Stephen Jones continues to make statements that would seem crazy under the reported circumstances.
"The good news is we have a lot of good young players who are stepping up. That certainly eases the difficulty when you have good young guys stepping up and playing that we're certainly going to be counting on next year. We're certainly a little hand-cuffed as we move forward. That's the nature of the business. We certainly know what's coming at us and there's no panic here. We'll just work through it."
I feel Stephen Jones sums up the situation perfectly. The Cowboys management had certainly put the franchise in a very dangerous situation in the years prior to the Jason Garrett regime taking over the team. Immediately, the new head coach quickly began to purge the roster of overpriced, underperforming veterans despite some of the holes it created on the roster and the dead money that made big spending in the free agent market a thing of the past; something many fans (myself included) consider a good thing. The key to climbing out of these cap troubles...young players stepping up.
So here we are, three full seasons since Garrett's ascension to head coach and the Cowboys continue to be cap strapped, but find ways to get under the cap without losing vital leaders and still making some big moves and long-term deals. It shouldn't be surprising that during that time the team has had to rely on many young players in starting roles helping the cap situation with their low-priced rookie contracts. Fortunately, the Cowboys have also been drafting better and been able to stay competitive with all the young players getting so many snaps. This is not only the key to getting out of cap issues, but to building a franchise that becomes a perennial contender.
But let's take a closer look at the actual numbers, which are actually a mystery to all but the franchises themselves. While some reports claim the Cowboys may be 30mil over the 2014 cap, the information I can piece together is that Dallas currently stands at about 23mil over the 2014 salary cap of 126.3 million.
According to spotrac.com, Dallas has 136.9 million tied up to current players, and 11.78 million tied up to dead money. Just as Garrett had cleared almost all of the dead money off the roster, the Jay Ratliff situation forced the team to eat 6.9mil in dead money. While they may get a chance to recoup some of this depending on the outcome of some legal battles, it is currently something we will take as a certainty. Other dead money of note - Spears (1.4mil), Lissemore (1.2mil), and the IR injury release of Livings (2.1mil).
So, with the Cowboys seemingly 23mil over the '14 cap, what can the cap (not cash) strapped franchise hope to accomplish next season?
What if I told you an amateur like me could easily reduce that number by nearly 30 million, making it possible for the Cowboys to sign the entire rookie class and be under the cap in '14? And what if I told you that we could do it without making a decision (or restructure) with Ware's contract? Would you believe me? Would you think it would rely on some big losses to the current roster or future cap problems?
Here are the necessary cuts that would be required in this scenario. There are a few names that the team might want to keep if the situation were different, but they all seem expendable to me. The only starter on the list...Miles Austin. He is also the only June 1st designation cut, which will push some dead money into '15, but is necessary to actually create some useful cap savings in '14.
There are a few names that some of us would like to keep, and that could still happen depending on the outcome of Ratliff's legacy that Jerry Jones has dubbed a ‘legal matter.' And remember, any decision on Ware would create even more space. So, with just over 15mil created through these cuts, how do we get to the 30mil I mentioned above?
The first piece is something allowed due to the new CBA (and which could have been even bigger had the OL injuries in the offseason not pushed the team to sign Brian Waters) rolling over the cap space from the '13 season. The Cowboys managed to remain 2.381mil below the '13 cap and this sum could be rolled over into ‘savings' for next season. That brings the total reduction to nearly 17.5 million. Where is the rest? You guessed it, restructured contracts.
Now, this method is heavily debated. The positive of the strategy is that the Cowboys front office has built in these restructures to contracts, so they are not something that wasn't foreseen or forced. A common metaphor people use to describe the dangers of restructuring contracts is ‘kicking the can down the road.' However, a more apt metaphor is unrolling the can and stretching it down the road. Restructures don't push all the money to one later date, they allow the team to make prorated bonuses stretch out longer than the 5 year maximum when the contracts are written, and at varied levels throughout the contract. Below are the before and after numbers for restructuring contracts for Tony Romo and Sean Lee (10mil and 5mil respectively), which would create an additional 12mil in cap savings:
As you can see, the changed numbers are not as debilitating as some would think, though clearly, if the team does not intend to rely on Romo and Lee for three more years, then the strategy is dangerous. While both could be cut in 2016 if necessary, there would not be any cap savings unless they were designated June 1st cuts. Otherwise, even after the restructures, both players could be cut prior to the '17 season and create cap savings with or without the designation.
And just for some more debate, here is what restructuring Ware's contract by 5mil would look like to create an additional 3.75mil in cap space.
Would you restructure Ware's contract to create some more cap space for '14, see if he has a dominant year left in the tank, and still have nearly the same amount of dead money in '15 for cutting him as you would in '14?
So what do you think? Are these realistic ways for the Cowboys to get under the cap and provide enough room to sign rookies (maybe even room for some free agent signings depending on Ratliff and Ware)? Is there someone on the list the team should not cut? Would this situation make you more or less likely to cut Ware and create nearly 8mil in cap room? Would you include Orton in the cuts and create an additional 1mil in '14 (or 3.24mil with 2.25mil in dead money in '15 with a June 1st designation)?
Are the Cowboys really in cap hell...or just purgatory with a chance for relief in the near future?