Skip: [at the table, dividing up a huge stack of bills after the big score] Man, one thing I can't figure out. People be out of work everywhere and the government just be throwing money away!
Kirby: That's Uncle Sam for you, son. Money to burn.
That's one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, the Hughes Brothers' 1995 film, Dead Presidents. While we aren't talking the government here (no politics!), I imagine that could be a description of the Jones' family current status, money to burn.
The reworking of Doug Free's contract has brought the Cowboys a little extra cap space. Heading into the draft, the Cowboys had a little less than $5 million to play with. Although they have signed three of their seven draft picks, the impact against the cap space has been minimal. We already covered that even though the Cowboys were allotted around $4.5 million for their Rookie Year-One pools, they would actually need less than $2 million of space in order to fit them all under the cap thanks to the "Offseason Rule of 51".
The draft pick money has already been covered by the Marcus Spears release, which gives Dallas an additional $2 million of '13 cap space on June 1st.
On my most recent podcast, I discussed the fact that we still don't know what has happened to the bogus years that were part of the previous Doug Free contract. What was reported as a four-year, $32 million deal actually was for six years. This allowed Dallas to spread out the proration of his cap hit. If those years disappeared in the new deal, then we assume that the proration spread over '15 and '16 has now been accelerated evenly to '13 and '14.
That would mean Dallas has an additional $1.5 million in '13 cap space (Free's cap hit down from $10m to $8m) and an additional $2.5 million in '14 ($11m down to $8m). They can also release Free in the first 5 days of the '14 league year and save another $3.5 million.
So, in essence, Dallas now has about $6.3 million to spend however they like. There will be another $300-$500k in a few weeks. They can look for additional free agent help (especially after June 1st or during camp cuts), they can hold all of it in case they need to sign in-season free agents, they can roll the money over to the '14 cap or they can look to extend current players.
It seems from some of the insiders that the Cowboys are planning to use that money to address Sean Lee, who's contract expires at the end of 2013.
My question is, would this be the best move?
Lee is clearly a talented linebacker. We've watched him grow over the last three seasons. Fans saw the glimpses early when he picked off Peyton Manning twice his rookie year, and he's continued to improve game-by-game. Lee is a tackling machine; his Stop Percentage (keeping the offense from gaining yardage necessary to have play considered a success) continuously ranks amongst the league leaders.
But Lee doesn't play a lot. I love him, but he doesn't. He's started 21 games in three years in the league. He's played more the 10 snaps in only 27 of 48 possible games in his career. The question many Cowboys fans legitimately have is, should Dallas invest long-term in a player that can't seem to stay on the field?
This is the conundrum in which Dallas finds itself. Do they risk Lee playing a healthy, Pro Bowl season and thus driving his price up knowing that they have cap concerns? Or do they sign Lee to a long-term deal at a discounted rate, knowing he hasn't proven able to stay out of the trainer's room?
Another option Dallas could look to if they want to spend money on a current asset, would be extending Dez Bryant. Bryant was a maligned figure in Dallas as recently as last offseason when he got arrested, was charged and reached a plea deal during the season. Bryant had other incidents on his ledger that paled in comparison to the latest. However, that was the first time that Bryant had actually found himself in criminal trouble for a violent act. The Cowboys and Bryant agreed to parameters to keep him from running afoul again and he turned in a tremendous season on the field.
Bryant emerged in his third-year as the go-to-threat for the Dallas offense. His run over the second half of the season showed a dominance that very few wideouts in the league are capable of duplicating. Touchdowns in seven straight games, including three contests with two scores. Three games over that stretch with at least 145 yards, with one going for 224. Defensive coordinators simply didn't know what to do with him.
The fact that there are a handful of rookie wideouts that flash immediately shouldn't change the perception that Bryant followed the usual learning curve of three years for a wideout and is poised to do tremendous things.
However, Bryant has his own injury concerns. Those concerns are elevated by Bryant's nature to fight for every yard, constantly putting himself in position to take on more punishment. Combined with his off-field dust-ups, there is reason for pause in putting a long-term mutli-million dollar deal on the table for Bryant at this point.
The Cowboys once again run into the situation of trying to be ahead of the curve and locking up a player cheaper than what he could be worth, or allowing another season to play out and drive up the price. Have you seen what wideouts make? If Bryant improves on 92 catches, 12 touchdowns and almost 1400 yards? The average of the Top 5 receivers is around $13 million per season. Wouldn't it be prudent to get out in front of that?
Dallas is in a precarious position. They clearly have the opportunity to lock up their future offensive and defensive leaders for the long-term, and in a year when they can get them cheaper than their potential values. It doesn't come without monumental risk, however. What would you do, if you were in the front office? Either, neither, or both?
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