The Dallas Cowboys 2011-2017 Salary Cap Health Manifesto Part II: You've Been Lied To

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Cap mismanagement? Still looking for the evidence, we take a look at how Dallas can attack yet another year of being "over the cap" and move forward with the new cap projections.

In Part One of our Cap Manifesto, we took a deep look into the history of the Dallas Cowboys cap management under the new collective bargaining agreement. 2011 brought in a new era salary cap management and a TV deal waiting to bust the seams wide open. Since the CBA was inked and the lockout was lifted, basically every media outlet has ridiculed and chastised the Cowboys for how they've gone about their financial business. The funny thing was, there isn't a trace of the impending doom and gloom everyone predicted for Dallas.

There were no cuts of super-productive players, no young stars that weren't able to be re-signed; at least through the 2013 season Dallas has remained impeccably intact.

In fact, Dallas has made significant signings in each of the last two off seasons. In 2012, they brought in Brandon Carr for a $50 million deal and franchised Anthony Spencer. In 2013, Spencer was franchised again. They've also re-enter QB Tony Romo and MLB Sean Lee.

Now in Part II, with a $133 million cap and expected bumps to $140 and $150 the next two seasons, we look at whether or not Dallas' methodology will continue working or if the bill will finally come due.

Dallas might not be getting the bang for the Bucks they've been spending, but that's a different a different form of mismanagement then what they are so often accused of.

So, What Happens Now?

Dallas' Top 51 players for 2014, plus the $11m in dead money already on the books, puts them at approximately $152 million, $19m over the cap. Not withstanding any free agents they would like to sign, they will also need some room to sign their 2014 draft picks and some more room to take into the season should they need to make in-season signings similar to Waters last year.

As we discussed last year, the $5.3m allocated to the rookie pool is not what Dallas has to create room for. Because Dallas has more than 51 players signed to contracts, and the rule of 51 where only the Top 51 salaries count towards the cap, Dallas' rookie class will "replace" bottom-roster players in the cap calculation. The difference between Dallas' incoming rookies and the guys they are replacing? Won't reach $2.5 million. That's it.

That will be covered when Dallas puts the June 1st designation on the assumed Miles Austin cut. Not only will the rookie number be covered, it will give Dallas the in-season wiggle room referenced above.

As our trusty tool, the Salary Cap Calculator from OvertheCap.com shows us, Dallas has a well-built path to getting under the cap in the next week.

Dallas is restructuring Tony Romo, Orlando Scandrick and Sean Lee down to minimum base salaries for 2014, meaning they will be less than $2 million over the cap. That leaves them with the ability to make any combination of the following moves to get themselves even more space.

Player Current Hit (millions) Move New Hit (millions)
Tony Romo 21.7 Restructure 11.7
Orlando Scandrick 6.6 Restructure 3.6
Sean Lee 7.5 Restructure 3.7
Subtotal 35.8 19.0
Kyle Orton 4.4 Restructure 2.8
Mack Bernadeau 4.1 Restructure 3.1
Doug Free 6.5 Restructure 4.8
Brandon Carr 12.2 Restructure 7.1
Jason Witten 8.4 Restructure 5.4
Justin Durant 1.5 Cut 0.2
Jermey Parnell 1.8 Cut 0.3
Phil Costa 1.7 Cut 0.2
TOTAL CAP HIT $76.4 million $42.9 million

Notice how we didn't touch DeMarcus Ware's contract? A reduction there could mean upwards of another $7.5 million in space. The important point here? Dallas doesn't NEED to reduce Ware's salary in order to get under the 2014 cap. No matter what Evan Silva tells you, if Dallas moves on from Ware, it's because his deal doesn't match his production. Period.

Without touching Ware, Dallas can make up to $13m in space if they need to, and that's before the Austin cut.

Don't forget, Dallas is already eating one of those supposedly ‘catastrophic' dead money deals from signing an older player that wouldn't see the end of his contract. Jay Ratliff is taking up $7 million of 2014 cap space.

Oh, and remember how we talked about the myth Dallas wouldn't be able to sign its young players? Dallas is in the perfect position to re-sign both Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant to competitive deals. Both players are in the final year of their contracts and are scheduled to count just under $4 million each against the cap for 2014.

If the Cowboys sign each with a game plan to restructure, they'll be just fine. Here's where your instincts to say "this will catch up to Dallas" kick in, despite everything you've read to this point. Don't worry, it's a natural reaction.

Smith: Six-Year Extension, $74m Total Value,
$10m Signing Bonus, $25.5m Guaranteed
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Cap Hit Restructured Hit
2014 1 3.9 4.9
2015 10 2 12* 4.8
2016 11 2 13* 6.8
2017 11 2 13* 8.8
2018 12 2 14* 19.8
2019 13 13* 18.8
2020 14 14* 19.8
2021 (voidable, later added) 5.8

* Indicates the initial cap hit that will be forecasted before an annual restructure for years 2015-2017.

Dez Bryant: Six-Year Extension, $79m total value,
$4m Signing Bonus, $19.5m Guaranteed
Year Base Salary Prorated Bonus Roster Bonus Cap Hit Restructured Hit
2014 6 2.7 0.25 8.95
2015 7 0.8 2.5 10.3* 5.5
2016 8.5 0.8 1.5 10.8* 6
2017 10 0.8 1 11.8* 7.3
2018 11 0.8 1 12.8* 17.3
2019 11 11* 15.5
2020 13 13* 17.5
2021 (voidable, later added) 4.5

Here, I've compensated each player with an additional six years on top of the current year each has remaining. Due to the more volatile nature of his position and past, the Cowboys constructed the Dez Bryant contract a bit differently; allowing them an easy out after the first two years. They could even wash their hands of the contract after 2014 should the need arise, incurring dead money equivalent to the scheduled 2015 cap hit.

The 2021 year would be fictionally added after the 2017 restructures, put in place as voidable simply to allow allocation of the restructure bonuses. Bonuses are only allowed to be prorated over a maximum of five seasons at a time.

Those deals compare favorably to the ones signed by Jason Peters and Andre Johnson respectively. The length of the deals allows Dallas to flip future base salary into prorated bonus to keep the costs manageable while players like Brandon Carr and Jason Witten are still on the books. Dez Bryant can easily be walked away from after the 2015 season. These are the things Dallas will be looking to do.

The new deals add about $6m to the Cowboys 2014 cap. That still leaves Dallas $7m, plus whatever it would get from Ware to dabble in free agency or roll into 2015 cap space. That $7 million? More than the "unexpected" cap increase. The Cowboys would have been capable of doing all of this without the bump. Not bad.

And What About Next Year And Beyond, Smart Guy?

I'm glad you asked. Currently, Dallas sits at $130 million in scheduled payments for 38 players under contract. Let's assume Dallas makes each of the above restructures for 2013 and doesn't reduce Ware's number. That would put Dallas right at the expected 2015 cap of $140 million, without planning for any carryover from the 2014 cap.

Let's then assume Dallas' 11 2014 draft picks are on the roster for about $8 million in 2015 salary to play it safe. Let's also assume that Dallas' '15 draft class will have a similar impact on the Top 51 as the 2014 class does, so we'll throw in another $2.5 million.

So now, Dallas is $10.5 million over the 2015 projected cap. After reading this entire article, are you worried?

The 2014 Miles Austin June 1st cut chops $4.5 million off of the '15 hit. Included in the '15 projected number are Doug Free's voidable years, which knocks another $6 million off. Bam, right back to even, and still capable of restructuring Brandon Carr and Tony Romo to create another $10m in space. With multiple years remaining, Lee and Scandrick are still restructure candidates.

If Smith and Bryant are restructured as outlined, the cost is just over $10m on the 2015 cap. Pow.

Obviously Dallas has more options to make this work with Dez, Tyron, and possibly even Jason Hatcher. How they do it, if they do it, will be based on choice decisions, not forced ones.

Don't forget, we still haven't touched Ware's deal. Suffice to say, there is an outline to make sure Dallas can retain all of its stars at competitive prices for the next few years while Witten, Romo and possibly even DeMarcus Ware himself retire as Cowboys. IF that's the direction this team wants to go in.

The NFL's CBA deal is structured in a way that most teams already are aware they will need to walk away from some of their players sooner or later. How Dallas' plan has been singled out as the only unsustainable one is pretty obvious to those that follow the use of the star to grab headlines and clicks.

Other teams are having to say goodbye to players they wish they could keep. Other teams have the flexibility and the mindset to pillage the free agent markets. Dallas has chosen the path of doing everything it can to keep their players in house and use the free agent market to cheaply plug holes. The interesting thing will be if Dallas has created the only sustainable model over the long term.

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