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Cowboys Nucleus Has At Least A Two Year Run In It

There's a question that's been brewing in my head for a while. If the Cowboys max out on their projected cap space, how will that affect the future of the team?

I'm no salary cap expert, I don't even play one on the internet; as tempting as that can be. I know the basics, how a signing bonus gets prorated over the life of the contract to calculate the cap impact for each year of the deal; as well as how the bonuses get accelerated for a cut player depending on when they get released. I do have some semblance of a base. I have a spreadsheet that lists the majority of last year's cap numbers before August's purge; but that does nothing more for me than put a visual to the well traveled report that Dallas could be playing with $20 million in free agency. I'll give you three guesses who helped me with the spreadsheet and the first two don't count.

Now, I've seen in several places that the expected 2012 cap is going to be around $125 million. The $20 million being bandied about for Dallas to play with is contingent on their release of Terence Newman, which would save them about $6 million off the cap this year, and put $4 million in dead money on the 2013 cap.

But outside of that, Dallas seems to be sitting pretty moving forward.

The Cowboys currently have 23 players under contract for 2013 (according to, and that includes Newman. Not only that, but the heavy hitters on the payroll, the players commanding the most dollars, are signed for the next few years. Dallas could easily augment its roster with a splashy vet or two, and still be able to extend their own guys or dabble in the market again the following year.

Follow the jump to see the roll call.

Here's a look at the players the Cowboys front office have molded their long term strategies around.

Offense Signed Through Defense Signed Through
Witten, Jason 2017 Ratliff, Jay 2017
Austin, Miles 2016 Scandrick, Orlando 2016
Free, Doug 2016 Sensabaugh, Gerald 2016
Arkin, David 2014 Ware, DeMarcus 2015
Bryant, Dez 2014 Carter, Bruce 2014
Chapas, Shaun 2014 Newman, Terence 2014
Harris, Dwayne 2014 Spears, Marcus
Murray, DeMarco 2014 Taplin-Ross, Justin 2014
Nagy, Bill 2014 Brent, Josh 2013
Smith, Tyron 2014 Hatcher, Jason 2013
Kosier, Kyle 2013 Lee, Sean 2013
Romo, Tony 2013 Lissemore, Sean 2013

A couple of notes.

  • Being an NFL player is nothing like other sports or even coaching; players will often go into their walk year of a contract and play it out without a new deal. That, however, isn't the Jerry Jones way. 2012 will be huge for Tony Romo.
  • The Cowboys offensive core really has a good three seasons in it on their current deals. There is still work to be done for the middle of the offensive line.
  • It would appear that even if Dallas spends a large part of that $20 million in cap space, as long as they work with decreasing deals (larger money up front) they should be able to be players in the 2013 market as well and will probably need to.
  • If Sean Lee turns in a start to 2012 like he did 2011, expect him to be the next in-season extension handed out by Jerry.
  • Probably my next article, but man that Jason Witten contract is a little scary, no?
  • Scarier thought. If they weren't released last August, Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Roy Williams and Marion Barber would have been on this list. With a total 2012 cap hit of about $33 million.
  • Next year might only have two relevant free agent decisions for Dallas. CB Mike Jenkins and RB Felix Jones. QB Stephen McGee, OLB Victor Butler TE John Phillips and C Phil Costa could earn themselves an extended stay with a lot more production in 2012.