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Dallas Cowboys: Doomed By Cap Problems?

While many NFL franchises are sitting on eight figures worth of cap space with a month to go until the draft, the Dallas Cowboys don't have enough left under the cap to hire an extra eyeglass cleaner for Jerry Jones. The consensus is that the team is pretty much backed into a corner. Or is it?


The Dallas Cowboys have signed Will Allen and Justin Durant, after some more salary cap finagling. The general take around the interwebs is that they are having to desperately flail around to get anything done at all. It is all part of the general belief that the Cowboys are horribly run and that they have had a terrible offseason so far. This is a pretty typical tweet about things:

I admit to being rather defensive when the Cowboys are criticized, at least when I detect a sniff of that condescending, this-franchise-is-a-joke attitude. But I also believe any criticism should be backed up by accurate facts and should try to see the big picture.

And yes, for those who are getting all ready to point it out in the comments, I am defending what Jerry and Stephen Jones are doing here to an extent. I happen to like what the team, with Jason Garrett as head coach, is doing. I think the Jerry and Stephen are trying to give Garrett what he needs to accomplish his goals. There have been some errors made, and I will concede that some things, like the Doug Free contract, are not pluses for the team. But I also think Jerry and Stephen Jones have made a conscious decision to play things as close to the limit as they can while they ride out some bad contracts and that league-imposed cap penalty. This year, it certainly looks like they are planning to stay just barely under the cap, with a totally insignificant pittance of $51,000 remaining at the moment. This is while some teams still have well in excess of $10 million or even $20 million to play with.

Yet, something struck me about the signings this week. The team managed to go ahead and get two free agents to make sure they had addressed a couple of issues with almost a full month to go before the draft. And they did not have to wait for one of the really big deals, a Tony Romo extension or an Anthony Spencer long-term deal, to get done. The team is preparing to go forward without resolving either of those situations, just in case they can't get done. They also seemed to have looked around in the second wave of free agency and found a couple of players they were at least satisfied to sign. The team still has to fund the draft picks, but I believe they have some moves in reserve just in case. It was reported on that Nate Livings reworked his deal, but as far as I can tell, his savings have not been added into the calculations, and it has been rumored the team has that in their pocket to help cover the draft. (If that is in error, I apologize, but I can't seem to find what happened to those savings.)

Another thing that got me about the tweet from Moore was that it does not show the full picture. While the reworkings and cuts were needed to sign Allen and Durant, they were also part of the franchise tag for Anthony Spencer, the new contracts for Ernie Sims and L.P. Ladouceur, and I believe the one year tender to Danny McCray is also included. Although it keeps getting left out of the conversation, the Spencer franchise is the big contract for the team. While they continue to work on a long term deal, they have made a decision that he is worth the $10.6 million tag, and are taking steps to proceed if he decides to play out the season and try the free agent waters next year.

I also wonder what the perceived issue is with the players that have been cut so far. When I reviewed the list of Dallas transactions at, there were two players who were waived in addition to the four cuts, Vince Agnew and Brahston Satele, but they were only on futures contracts signed in January, so that is why I assume they were not included under Moore's comments. And looking at the four cuts, these all seem to be pretty expendable players, anyway.

  • Gerald Sensabaugh - judged by most to not be able to handle the safety role in Monte Kiffin's defense.
  • Dan Connor - did not show enough last year to bring back as a backup linebacker, and not mobile enough to play the SAM linebacker.
  • Marcus Spears - again, not seen to fit well in the Kiffin defense. Primarily a run stuffer, he does not seem likely to fit the "rush the quarterback all the time" philosophy.
  • Anthony Armstrong - Also on a futures contract, he is different from Agnew and Satele in that he is a vested veteran, having played a couple of years for the Redskins.

With the exception of Armstrong, who was brought in to challenge for a spot on the team, the others were players that were on their way out. The team is waiting to cut some players until they have to, but they also seem to have a list of names that can be released to generate some quick cash. It looks like the team is trying to keep its options open as long as possible, but there does not seem to be any real issue with those cuts.

I do not claim to be happy with hearing every year that the Cowboys have to take steps to get under the cap. But I keep getting the feeling this is more planned out than it looks. Dallas does have a belief that the cap is there to try and get as close to as possible. This would indicate a desire to leave nothing on the table that could otherwise be used to benefit the team. If this is done wisely, it has some merit. And I don't see any value in having cap money left over to start the season anyway, except to line the owner's pocket.

rabblerousr did a detailed look at how the team is turning the personnel over, and it was another bit of inspiration for this. He looked at how the team is coming around to a draft-for-talent approach. I see the way they have worked the salary cap as another facet of a bigger plan, one that I attribute largely to Jason Garrett. He has laid out how he wants to approach the acquisition of talent, drafting the best players you can and using free agency to make sure you don't have any gaping holes to force you into drafting a lesser player at a position of need. The cap management is the companion to that. The team is trying to hang on to the core of star players like Romo, Spencer, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, and Jay Ratliff that can still help move forward. Doug Free will, I think, be resolved later this year, with either a pay cut or by being cut. He could still make the team coming out of training camp, so that decision is being postponed as long as possible. But the more I look at things, the more I realize that Stephen Jones was being completely honest when he said the team could come up with the money it needs to do what it wants to do. There are limits to that, of course, but the team just does not look as out of control to me as many think it is.