Spotrac, a website that deals with sports salaries and caps, has put out a list of the players in each conference that are the best value at their position. They base their ratings on the players' cash compensation (not the cap figure, which, as Stephen Jones has noted, is not real money but a league accounting tool) and the ratings the player garnered during the season at Pro Football Focus.
Because of the way Spotrac breaks out positions, there are only seventeen players listed for each conference. Dallas is represented on the NFC squad by two players, Pro Bowl DT Jason Hatcher and dependable PK Dan Bailey.
This is of course a good compliment for Hatcher and Bailey, basically saying that they well out-played their salaries (something most of us were quite aware of already), but the list also illustrates a trend in the NFL, where smart teams are looking more to churning the roster each year and less to signing aging stars to big contracts. Once, you would expect a list like this to be dominated by teams that were in serious rebuilding mode. This year, 19 of the 34 players listed, or 56%, were on teams that made the playoffs this year. And both the Denver Broncos, with WR Demaryius Thomas, TE Julius Thomas, and RT Orlando Franklin, and the Seattle Seahawks, with QB Russell Wilson, S Earl Thomas, and the always shy and retiring CB Richard Sherman, lead all teams in the league for the most players on this list. Low cost players and making the Super Bowl are obviously not incompatible.
While the big money Denver is paying Peyton Manning may seem to run against the trend of using younger players on their first contracts to hold the cap figures down, it is just that kind of money management that helped to find the space to pay players like Manning and Wes Welker. There is always a balance to find with this method. Seattle has it's $10 million plus cap hits, it just has them in other places (tight end, running back, defensive end (twice) and center are the top six highest paid positions on the team). You can spend more to protect your quarterback and surround him with weapons when he is a cap bargain.
There are indications that Dallas is moving more towards a Denver type structure for the team, with a few big salaries for stars (Tony Romo the main one), then using a lot of first-contract players and good-value veterans to fill out the roster. In the past three years the team has been shedding many of the overpriced contracts that it had accumulated. Since this coincides with the hiring of Jason Garrett as head coach, it is assumed he is part of the driving force behind this, and the recent promotion of Will McClay to oversee scouting and the draft is expected to continue this trend.
However, Hatcher and Bailey are not going to be such bargains next year. The team has revealed plans to get a new deal done with Bailey to pay him more in line with what he is worth, and lock him up for a few years of splitting 'em. As a placekicker, Bailey will not break the bank.
Hatcher is a different issue. Given his age, the Cowboys should not be signing any long-term, high-dollar deals. But given his performance in 2013, with career high sacks and his first trip to the Pro Bowl, some team in the NFL will be willing to give him just such a deal. The only realistic way for Dallas to retain his services would be to franchise tag him, and that would cost something like $9.182 million. Given the results of the last tag (paying Anthony Spencer to sit out the year), it seems just as unlikely that Dallas would go that route as it would try to outbid the rest of the league for Hatcher's services.
If they do lay out the dollars needed to keep Hatcher, it will require more extreme cap maneuvers (something Jerry Jones said is part of the foreseeable future because of how aggressive the team is in using cap space). This is one of the major decisions facing the team, with DeMarcus Ware being the other. Ware's contract is already too big, and Hatcher's is going to get that way. How the Cowboys handle the situation for those two players will tell us if the recent moves represent a real trend in how they plan to mange talent and money for the future, or if it was just a temporary tactic to deal with the cap.
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