Roster management in the NFL is not only a matter of getting the right talent. It is also driven by the salary cap. The Dallas Cowboys are an aggressive team in utilizing the cap to get the most bang for the buck. Part of that is cutting players who are seen as not being worth their current costs, and who can be cut without a prohibitive hit to the cap.
The Cowboys are in pretty good shape going into 2016. They have very few contracts that look like they are overpaying players. But there are three names that may be considered for release to get some more cap room for free agency and the draft: Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and Doug Free. However, all are starters and the team has to make a decision whether they are in a position to move on. Here are the numbers on the dead money costs and cap savings if each of them is released, based on current contract details from Over the Cap. (The figures are for post-June 1 cuts, except for Church, whose figures do not change. The team can, I believe, use two post-June 1 cuts annually.)
|Possible Cap Casualties|
|Player||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
Almost $16 million in cap room with an associated dead money cost of under $7 million may be worth it. But there are also some good arguments why this may not be the way the team would choose to go.
All three players are starters, and seen as leaders on the team. Barry Church is a captain. The Cowboys have to decide if any of these players can be cut or not without creating voids on the field.
Carr has always been a disappointment in light of the $50 million free agent deal he signed. He is not a terrible cornerback (on most plays), but he has definitely failed to live up to his price tag. The team still has to consider if they can replace him or not. Dallas expects Orlando Scandrick, their best corner, to return from injury. But they also have a decision to make with Morris Claiborne. It is questionable that they would part with Carr if they also do not re-sign Claiborne, since that would take out two starters. Terrance Mitchell might also be part of the equation here. He looked pretty good in snagging the first interception by a Dallas cornerback since the Carter administration or thereabouts. The last two games will give the team a chance to try and figure out if he is more than a flash in the pan.
Church has also had his detractors for some time. He can look very good in run support but also can get burned badly in coverage. On one play, he will bring a bone-jarring hit, and then miss a tackle badly on the next. Unlike with Carr, the Cowboys seem to have a ready replacement for him in Byron Jones. The first round rookie had an impressive year, playing both safety and corner. He looks better as a safety, but that would mean he would not be a help in replacing Carr. This is a puzzle with some moving and interrelated parts.
Free is generally considered to be the weakest link on the offensive line. His leadership as the senior member has been valuable, but with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin now becoming Pro Bowl regulars, that is probably not nearly as important now. However, the team has no idea if they have a possible replacement in Chaz Green or not, since Green has been out with injury since the season began. The team may find out if Green could be viable if they play him during the final two games of the season - but with the left-handed Kellen Moore as quarterback, right tackle now protects the blindside, and that may be too big a risk to take when the team is also trying to determine if Moore has a future with them.
These kinds of questions are why making personnel decisions in the NFL are more than just deciding who you like or not. All three of these players have seen calls for their replacement from the fan base. That does not mean that those would be the right moves. But if the Cowboys think they can find replacements either from within, in free agency, or in the draft, those three players may be candidates to be released. What do you think?