The first cuts are starting to come in from across the NFL as teams begin massaging their rosters to get under the salary cap by March 11, and position themselves for free agency at the same time. This is the time of year where some big names with even bigger contracts start hitting the market.
The Saints got things started yesterday when they released strong safety Roman Harper, and later added DE Will Smith, LB Jonathan Vilma and CB Jabari Greer.
There's a general consensus that the Cowboys are about $25 million over the 2014 salary cap, which means that the Cowboys will have to take a number of steps to get under the $126.5 million cap ceiling.
As Dave detailed yesterday, the Cowboys will very likely have to restructure Tony Romo, Brandon Carr, Jason Witten, Sean Lee, and Orlando Scandrick. Those five moves will decrease the Cowboys cap hit by about $25 million, enough to get them just under - or very close to - the cap. But since these restructurings are basically pushing cap money into future years, the Cowboys will want to be cautious about pushing too much money forward.
The Cowboys will also want to come to some sort of an understanding with DeMarcus Ware to further decrease their cap. An outright release would save the Cowboys $ 7.4 million. That, along with the restructurings, would create ample room under the cap, but it's very unlikely the Cowboys would even consider releasing Ware as an option. Releasing Miles Austin now would have only a marginal cap impact of about $0.4 million, but they could save about $5.5 million by making him a June 1 cut, and while that cap saving won't provide any relief by March 11, that's roughly the amount of cap space the Cowboys will need to sign their rookie class.
Also, there have been rumors about the cap coming at something close to $130 million, which would provide the Cowboys with some additional room for maneuver, especially in free agency. The $126.5 million was an initial estimate from the NFL Owners Meeting in December, so that number could still change
The final step in creating cap space, as the Saints just demonstrated, is by cutting players. Some of the players with the highest potential cap savings are Jermey Parnell ($1.5 million cap savings), Phil Costa ($1.5 million), Justin Durant (1.25 million) and Kyle Orton ($1 million).
In principle, the Cowboys could probably get below the cap without any cuts, but that may not be the wisest thing to do from long term cap health point of view.