Cowboys Salary Cap Issues For 2014: The Major Players

Ronald Martinez

The Cowboys have to shed about $25 million to get under the cap. How can they get to that number?

Soon, Stephen Jones and the Dallas Cowboys organization will begin in earnest the task of getting below the 2014 salary cap. Right now, rough calculations put them about $25 million over the cap. Somewhere, somehow, they need to start whittling that number down. Let's look at the possible ways to get that done.

The Cowboys have two contracts that are major hits on the cap. They belong to Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware. According to CBS Sports, Romo's contract has the third-highest cap hit for 2014 and Ware's the sixteenth-highest in the NFL.

3. Cowboys QB Tony Romo -- $21.773M: The Cowboys have an NFL high $152.2 million in cap obligations for 2014. Some cap flexibility was built into the six-year, $108 million contract extension (with $55 million in guarantees) Romo signed in 2013 because the deal gives Dallas the discretionary right to convert a portion of his base salary into a signing bonus. Most of the lucrative deals the Cowboys have signed in recent years also contain this clause, which allows them to automatically create cap room. They can create $10.036 million of cap room by converting $12.545 million of Romo's fully guaranteed $13.5 million 2014 base salary into a signing bonus. Romo's 2014 cap number would drop to $11.737 million but his 2015 cap number would rise to $27.782 million.

16. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware -- $16,003,750: Ware's cap number is a result of restructuring his contract for three straight years. His figure needs to be addressed because of Dallas' cap problems. The seven-time Pro Bowler was limited to a career low six sacks in 2013 while dealing with quadriceps and back injuries. Instead of restructuring Ware's contract again, it may make sense for the Cowboys to ask the 31-year-old to reduce his $12.75 million salary. A $4 million pay cut seems reasonable considering 32-year-old Robert Mathis, who led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013, is playing under a $9 million per year contract. Ware could be given the opportunity to earn the money back with not-likely-to-be-earned sack incentives beginning with seven sacks. It seems unlikely that Dallas would release Ware if he is unwilling to accept the pay cut. Although a little less than $7.5 million of cap room would be gained by parting ways with Ware, nobody on the current roster is capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks like he can when healthy.

As that article makes clear, the Cowboys will restructure Romo's contract to get some cap space. Behind Romo and Ware on the Cowboys top cap hits for 2014 are Brandon Carr, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Sean Lee. You can bet that Carr, Witten and Lee will be restructured. As for Miles Austin, he's gone. He'll be a June 1 cap casualty.

ESPNDallas.com reported that talk out of the Cowboys' facility has the team ready to "move on" from the veteran wide receiver after eight seasons. This would not be a surprise. The Cowboys have legitimate salary-cap issues and Austin's recent production is not commensurate with the $5.5 million he's due to earn in 2014.

The question about what to do with DeMarcus Ware seems to be the most perplexing. Ware obviously didn't play up to his standards, or his contracts standards, in 2013. Now there's the complicating factor that he has to have another offseason surgery (elbow). The Cowboys at minimum will need to restructure, but will they go so far as to ask for a pay cut?

Ware said his agent, Pat Dye, has not been approached by the team yet about their plans, and he did not want to discuss specifics. Those discussions could come next week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "I don’t know what’s going to happen," Ware said. "I’m going to let the guys run the numbers and handle that. My mentality is that I’m going to do what I need to do to try to help the team out the best I can where they’re going to win and I want to win."

My opinion is there is no way the Cowboys would cut Ware. One bad season doesn't mean you cut ties with a future Hall of Famer. Ware could easily bounce back in 2014. If he did that for another team... I can't even imagine that scenario. If they did cut Ware, add it on to the dead money pool.

If the Cowboys cut DeMarcus Ware, they would have $8.5 million in dead money dedicated to Ware, but the move would save them nearly $7.4 million in cap space. If they designate wide receiver Miles Austin as a June 1 cut, then the Cowboys would carry $2.749 million in dead money and Austin would count $5.1 million against the cap in 2015.

For the record, some info on the rest of the Cowboys dead money.

They will have roughly $11.8 million in dead money, led by Jay Ratliff's $6.928 million

The top-five "dead money" players remaining on the books for 2014 after Ratliff are: Nate Livings ($2.1 million), Marcus Spears ($1.4 million), Sean Lissemore ($1.2 million) and David Arkin ($113,400).

One last thought about the Cowboys and the cap. Can they afford to keep paying Kyle Orton the kind of money they currently do?

[Orton's] got the 10th highest cap figure on the team and he's the backup quarterback. Orton's cap figure is higher than starting guard Mackenzy Bernadeau ($4.074 million) and starting left tackle Tyron Smith ($3.976).

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