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What The Dallas Cowboys Might Do With Brandon Carr

The Cowboys are in need of cornerbacks and can't afford to get rid of a starting caliber cornerback like Brandon Carr even though he is playing below his salary or cost. So what are the Cowboys going to do about that?

Brandon Carr
Brandon Carr
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of fans, and even talking heads, will say that the Cowboys were really stupid in giving Brandon Carr such a big contract back in 2012. But that's a little unfair because there was a high demand for free agent cornerbacks in 2012, and the premier guys at the time, Carr and Cortland Finnegan, were commanding huge contract offers.

Cortland Finnegan was setting the market at the time and was thought to be a really good cornerback because of his selection to the Pro Bowl back in 2008 when he had five picks and 17 passes defensed, which are both really good numbers. Brandon Carr was coming off a year where he had four picks and 15 passes defensed. Carr had 23 and 19 passes defensed the two previous years with Kansas City and he was widely regarded as a very good corner.

In 2011 Carr was the right cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs. After signing with the Cowboys in 2012 he was asked to switch to the left side and learn a very complex defense under Cowboys second-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. In 2013 he was asked to learn another scheme for yet another defensive coordinator in Monte Kiffin, who asked him to play much more zone. Finally, last year under yet another defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli, he was used in more situations that fit his skills. He may not have been outstanding, but he still did a fair job. If his salary was more in line with his skills, he would not be under the same scrutiny as he is now.

Below are the significant numbers from as far as the contract situation for Brandon Carr. The most important numbers, as in all NFL contracts, are the guaranteed amounts. Carr was guaranteed $25.5 million as part of his five-year, $50 million deal. With the two signing bonuses and salary, the Cowboys have already paid Carr that guaranteed money, so they are off the hook for that cash.

The problem with Carr's contract is the cap charge from the prorated signing bonuses left on his contract. You can see that for cap purposes the team spread his two signing bonuses (he got $11.2 million in 2012, and then got $14.3 million when he was restructured in 2013) over the six total years for the contract. The restructure in 2013 added one year to the original five-year contract.

This means if they were to cut him this year, they would incur a cap hit equal to the three remaining years of his prorated bonuses to the tune of $4.7 million + $4.7 million + $2.7 million which equals $12.1 million. If they cut him after May 12 (formerly June 1) or declare him a May 12 cut and cut him earlier, then they only have to account for this year's $4.7 million signing bonus in 2015, and can move the remaining $7.4 million to 2016.

But no matter how you slice it, cutting Carr this year will mean $12.1 million in dead money to account for against the cap either in 2015 or across 2015 and 2016. And the Cowboys would have to find another starter to take his spot.

Year Salary Signing Bonus Paid To Date Guaranteed Money
Prorated Signing Bonus
Cap Number Dead Money Voidable
2012 $1,200,000 $10,000,000 $11,200,000 $11,200,000 $2,000,000 $3,200,000
2013 $715,000 $13,585,000 $14,300,000 $14,300,000 $4,717,000 $5,432,000
2014 $7,500,000 $7,500,000 $4,717,000 $12,217,000
2015 $8,000,000 $4,717,000 $12,217,000 $12,151,000.00
2016 $9,100,000 $4,717,000 $13,817,000 $7,434,000.00
2017 $10,000,000 $2,717,000 $12,717,000 $2,717,000.00 Yes
Total $36,515,000 $23,585,000 $33,000,000 $25,500,000

At the moment the Cowboys can start Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr as the two outside corners and Corey White as the slot corner (while they wait on Morris Claiborne to recover from injury). The problem this time is there are way too many questions about two of those guys. The team wants Carr to take a pay cut and they really don't have a starting caliber slot guy, at least as far as not being the starter going into a season.

They do have Morris Claiborne; he may or may not be ready by the start of the season and the Cowboys still feel that he has the skills to be a starter in this league as long as he stays healthy and plays with confidence. But the availability of Claiborne to start the season is still an unknown, just as the amount of psychological damage done to his ego and confidence is also unknown.

So, what to do about Carr? There appears to be no way the Cowboys will pay him $8 million this year, $9.1 million next year, and then $10 million in 2017.

Perhaps the re-worked deal the Cowboys agreed to with Doug Free in 2013 could provide a template for a solution. Here's Todd Archer with a summary of that deal:

Free was scheduled to make $7 million this season and count $10.02 million against the salary cap, but the new two-year deal opens up salary-cap room for the Cowboys and allows Free to remain with the team that drafted him in 2007.

He will make $3.5 million in each of the next two seasons. His salary in 2013 is guaranteed, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder.

The Cowboys effectively cut Free's salary in half in 2013. In return, they guaranteed Free's entire first-year salary under the new deal. Guaranteed money is an important consideration, because not a single cent of Free's previous $7 million salary was guaranteed.

Could the Cowboys offer Carr a similar deal, in which they cut his salary in half (from $8 million to $4 million per year), and guarantee Carr's 2015 salary in return for the pay cut?

The table below shows what that offer could mean for Carr and for the Cowboys salary cap. With this suggested new contract, he could still earn $12 million over the life of his contract, but not the $27.1 million currently left on his contract, none of which would be guaranteed.

Year Salary Signing Bonus Paid To Date Guaranteed Money
Prorated Signing Bonus
Cap Number Dead Money Voidable
2015 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,717,000 $8,717,000 $12,151,000.00
2016 $4,000,000 $4,717,000 $8,717,000 $7,434,000.00
2017 $4,000,000 $2,717,000 $6,717,000 $2,717,000.00 Yes
Total $12,000,000

The drop from $27.1 million to $12 million is pretty steep, and the Cowboys could further sweeten the deal by offering to guarantee his salary not just for the first year, but perhaps even parts or all of the second year. Currently, each years salaries of vested veterans (four or more accredited NFL seasons) only become fully guaranteed after the first week of each season unless it is written into the contract.

Importantly, such a new contract does not contain a new signing bonus. So while the potential dead money doesn't change, the cap number for the Cowboys goes down from $12.217 million to $8.717 million in 2015 and 2016 and from $12.717 to $6.717 in 2017. This gives the Cowboys a saving of $4 million per year for the next two years and $6 million savings in 2017 for total savings of $14 million.

Keep in mind that if the Cowboys release Carr and then replace him with a free agent starter, they would probably have to invest a similar amount for a similar quality player - if there are any quality players left. That wouldn't change the total money they have invested in that cornerback position. The only scenario in which they would likely reduce their investment in the position further is if they replace Carr with a draft pick. This scenario may be what is necessary if Carr refuses to agree to a new contract.

If Carr doesn't agree to the pay cut, the Cowboys could release him and then he would have to hope to get the same $4-5 million per year contract from another team. The odds of getting another team to pay a backup that kind of money when that team should already be set at their starter positions would be slim. Also getting more than a one-year deal is not a given. For the Cowboys, releasing Carr would almost make it a must to pick a starter in the draft. In the end, if the Cowboys want to "not cut him" more than they want to "cut him", they may just have to guarantee all of his salary for at least the first two years and maybe even more.

"Listen, Brandon, we're not going to pay you $8 million in 2015. That's simply not happening. But we're willing to offer you $8 million for the next two years. And we're even willing to guarantee that entire amount."

Because of the uncertainty hanging over the entire cornerback group, I think the Cowboys will be looking for one, if not two, cornerbacks in the draft. They may even be thinking that it is a "need," even if Carr were to agree to a new deal before then.

So, what do you guys think, will the Cowboys be forced to take a corner early? Will they get Carr to redo his contract?

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