There is no salary cap hell for the Dallas Cowboys. Repeatedly, the team has shown that it can restructure contracts and negotiate new deals when it has to in order to free up the space it needs.
However, that does not mean that such maneuvers are the best way to go. Continually "kicking the can down the road" causes issues to pile up, and as this offseason has shown there are some constraints that have to be dealt with. I was looking through the figures at Over the Cap and found several things the team is having to address.
For the moment, the team is actually in a good position. According to those Over the Cap figures, the team has a little over $6.4 million in remaining cap space. The plan seems to be maintaining the same approach the team has taken so far and only go after players that can be signed with very favorable contracts.
One challenge that the Cowboys currently have is that they have too much dead money to account for. The team "leads" the NFL in this category, with a staggering $20.6 million. That is $5 million more than the next team on the list, the Cleveland Browns. The majority of this can be attributed to just two former players: DeMarcus Ware, $8.6 million, and the player formerly known as Jay Ratliff, $6.9 million. This shows just how big that bullet was the team bit on cutting Ware, and how much Ratliff continues to extract his revenge for whatever he wanted revenge for.
The team should be in much better shape in 2015. Further, Dallas is being wise in free agency to try and cut back on this problem going forward. Brandon Weeden is the ultimate example, with no bonus and no guaranteed money. He can be dropped from the roster at any time with no penalty at all. Henry Melton only has a bit less than half a million dollars that he would cost the team, and that is if he gets all 16 of the weekly roster bonuses (in other words, he is not cut at any time before or during the season). Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain together only have $350K in guaranteed money. All four could be cut easily for minimal impact.
The dead money issue is also driving the attempt to not structure any more contracts than the team already has. It could easily get a lot more cap space by "flipping the switch" in the contracts of Jason Witten and Brandon Carr. However, that would just tie them even closer to these players. Carr represents almost $17.9 million in dead money this year, and cutting him this season would result in a loss of a total of $5.65 million in cap space. But if the team can avoid the restructuring, then the cost of cutting him in 2015 and beyond becomes very affordable. (See rabblerousr's post on this topic for a more detailed explanation.) It looks like the team is trying to keep its options open for next year with Carr. If he underperforms, the team can part ways at a reasonable cost in 2015. Witten represents a decision that is further down the road, but also one where the team would like to manage future costs and have all options open.
That current cap space will also be useful when the Cowboys work on extending Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith. Once again, they would like to keep things favorable for the team, and even with top flight talents like them, it is always nice to not tie yourself too closely. The Cowboy already have some room to work with in 2015. Right now, they have players under contract for that year totaling a little under $121 million. Add in a potential savings of $7 million for not exercising the club option to retain Doug Free, which is certainly a possibility, and the team may not need to do much restructuring at all even with new deals for Bryant and Smith. The projected cap number also assumes Henry Melton gets picked up as well.
There are a lot of permutations possible and trying to explain all of them would be about as difficult as winning Warren Buffett's billion. One thing, however, seems clear, and that is the continued youth movement. Several of the players currently counting against the cap are going to be replaced by draftees on those nice, friendly rookie contracts. The money for them is already set up with the Miles Austin cut, which will add the space on June 2nd. There is no drama there. Overall, this seems to be part and parcel with the apparent change in the way Dallas does business. More logic and structure, no shooting from the hip.
This is the quiet side of what is happening in free agency this season with the Cowboys. With the exception of the joy and celebration over the Melton signing, things have been quiet. They main remain so. Any signings are not likely to be big and almost certainly will reflect the fiscal caution that has characterized things so far. Cap hell never was real for Dallas. At this rate, the annual stories will even disappear.