The Estimable Ryle recently did a piece on three players the Dallas Cowboys could use to create cap space for 2016. Taking his work to the next logical step, let's take a look at the actual cap situation for Dallas, and what they might want to do with their money.
For money they do have. After having gone "all-in" in an attempt to make this the year, the Cowboys are in surprisingly good cap shape next year. Currently, as things sit, they have $8.9 million under the cap and an amazingly low $901,000 in dead money for 2016. Despite the vast increases in Romo's deferred money and the huge sums they are paying Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant next year, there's actually a good bit of wiggle room. Romo's salary dips down to $8.5 million, keeping his cap number to a reasonable (for a franchise quarterback) $20.8 million next year (putting him just behind Phillip Rivers and just ahead of Cam Newton for 9th highest paid in the NFL). But most of this is the result of good management in recent years... I again refer you to the current dead money of less than one million dollars.
Dallas also has $5.3 million under the 2015 cap, which can be rolled into 2016 if it remains unspent. That brings their 2016 salary cap available to $14.2 million. While this isn't a huge pile to take into free agency, it's also their state before making any moves. With 47 players under contract for 2016, they have most of a 53-man roster already in place, if they like, and so they are free to make whatever moves they like.
Now, as to those moves, Tom Ryle has already addressed some possible cap cuts. But for all their faults, those players may all find a home here next year. Brandon Carr is a starting caliber NFL cornerback and those are both expensive and difficult to come by. Doug Free has no clear replacement, yet, at right tackle. Barry Church has been disappointingly visible in a number of key big plays this year, but after a couple of years of studying Dallas's safeties versus the rest of the league, the one thing I am certain of is that playing NFL safety is much harder than people realize.
So, let's proceed as if all three of those guys are back for 2016. How else can Dallas create cap room? Apart from Romo and Carr, the three highest Salaries on the team for 2016 are Tyron Smith ($10m), Dez Bryant ($9m), and Tyrone Crawford ($6.8m). All three of them have plenty of years left on their contract and I would expect all three to be restructured. Dez might have a void year added to hold extra bonus. Doing so brings the Dallas 2016 cap space to a whopping $25.9 million.
Unfortunately,. there isn't a whole lot to do with that money. The free agent market is littered with older and under-performing players. Who might the Cowboys want to drop their cash on?
Their own free agents include Matt Cassel, Jeremy Mincey, McKenzy Bernadeau, Danny McCray, Nick Hayden, James Hanna, Kyle Wilber, Robert Turbin, Jack Crawford, and Jeff Heath, in addition to the bigger names of Rolando McClain, Lance Dunbar, Morris Claiborne, and, of course, Greg Hardy. As in most cases with this type of thing, my opinion on having those guys back, in almost every case, amounts to "for the right price".
But who might Dallas want to go get? The list is woeful, but there are some names that make sense. Specifically, two Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry and Sean Smith. Both are on the right side of 30. Both played at a high level this year. Both play a coveted position that is hard to find. Expect both to cost a pretty penny, but Dallas has room and they might try to grab one of these guys to put the defense over the top by getting a guy who can play over the top. Sean Smith is a corner, but at 6'3", 218 lbs, has the size to play safety as well. Eric Berry, of course, is a candidate for the comeback player of the year award, making the Pro Bowl after a year off to fight cancer.
Beyond those two, however, there are mostly older players, or players who simply haven't been very good. Aldon Smith is young, but if Dallas wants a troubled defensive end, Greg Hardy represents much more production and, truth be told, much less risk. Von Miller is out there, but Denver will likely wrap him up for good before free agency can begin. However, it is possible that in the process of keeping Miller, Denver could let an old warhorse go for a $10 million cap savings, and, though it's a long shot, I could see DeMarcus Ware coming back to Dallas for one last ride.
Again, if the price is right.