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NFL 2011 Salary Cap: Cowboys Currently Lead League

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The Jones family once again fields the most expensive squad in the NFL, and once again had little to show for it.
The Jones family once again fields the most expensive squad in the NFL, and once again had little to show for it.

I'm getting really tired of prefacing every post with the standard disclaimer "Assuming the new CBA is done in time, or at all". Regardless, let's assume that the new CBA is done sometime during the next two or three months and will have some kind of salary cap. In 2009, the final capped year under the current CBA, the cap was $128 million per team, with a cap floor of $112 million. Making a guess as to what the cap could be in 2011 is essentially a shot in the dark, as this is a major point of contention in the current labor talks.

Under the current CBA, the percentage of owner revenues on which the salary cap has been based has been essentially constant – 57% of total revenues in 2006 and 2007, and 57.5% of total revenues in 2008 and 2009. That percentage will come down - or there will be no football in 2011. The only question is how can you package it in such a way that both sides save face.

What we do know is how much money every NFL team has committed for 2011, thus potentially laying out the boundaries for a new salary cap structure. ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas has pulled together a list with how much each team currently has committed for the 2011 season. No big surprise that the Cowboys lead the list with $136.6 million.

Those $136.6 million are only for players currently under contract for the 2011 season. They do not include the draft picks that'll come in April, they do not include any potential free agent signings, but they also do not include any contracts that the Cowboys might decide to terminate.

Here's a breakdown of the committed salaries for each NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys: $136.6 million
New York Giants: $126.3 million
Washington Redskins: $115.2 million
Philadelphia Eagles: $80.8 million

For the numerologists among us, here is a salary cap list from March 14th, 2010. These figures already contain some large free agency contracts, but not all of them. The Cowboys also topped that list with $ 153 million. Yet another cap list from September shows the full 2010 salary cap salaries by team. The Cowboys spent $ 166.5 million last year, second only to the Washington Redskins with $ 178.2 million.

If we assume that a cap will be implemented in 2011 at or around the 2009 levels ($128 million ceiling, $112 million floor), an interesting dynamic emerges from the 2011 committed salary figures: Only three teams currently are above the 2009 cap (Cowboys: $M 136.6, Packers: $M 129.8 and Jets: $M 128.5), while 21(!!!) teams are below the 2009 salary cap floor. The Buccaneers have the lowest current salary commitment for 2011 with $M 59.7. There is a lesson in there somewhere about the Bucs finishing 10-6 while the Cowboys finished 6-10, but that's for another time.

Of course, the missing rookie and free agent salaries distort the numbers somewhat, but it seems clear that some teams will struggle to meet whatever salary floor is implemented in 2011, while other teams like the Cowboys may have to get creative to meet any future cap requirements.

It also does not bode well for some veteran Cowboys starters whose 2011 base salaries may be just a little too high for comfort for the Cowboys.

Josh Ellis from the mothership just published this hitlist of candidates for "addition by subtraction":

In no particular order there are decisions to be made on Roy Williams, Keith Brooking, Leonard Davis, Marion Barber, Terence Newman, Bradie James and Marc Colombo. With all of them it could be argued that pay hasn't met performance, or that the Cowboys can only move forward by letting go and improving with younger replacements.