clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 Thoughts On The Cowboys 2015 Offseason: Tony Romo And The Salary Cap Edition

Does restructuring Tony Romo mean a return to the "same old Cowboys" and salary cap hell?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's been a long week in Cowboy Nation, capped off by a particularly crazy April Fool's day. The Cowboys faithful have welcomed RoMac back into the fold, gotten to know the sad but heartwarming tale of Efe Obada, and said farewell to the original Dallas QB Eddie LeBaron. Oh, and Tony Romo did something with his contract that has caused a lot of sturm und drang. But why? Let's take a closer look.

1.  Restructuring All the Way to Salary Cap Hell!

Yes, Dallas has restructured Tony Romo's contract, shifting about $13 million dollars into future payments. Now there is a lot of emotional landmines packed into this move, especially the idea that this is just a precursor to signing Adrian Peterson. But I think that can be dismissed out of hand; the money this clears is pretty much already earmarked for other things, like Greg Hardy's escalating salary and officially signing Rolando McClain.

What I do want to address is the thought that this move is the first step in a return to the bad old days, when Dallas didn't manage the cap well and just spent money chasing shiny things. Some people see this as a sign that Dallas is going "all in" during the end of the Romo era. Well take a step back from the ledge Cowboys fans. I know we're conditioned to view the very idea of restructuring as bad, but this isn't really a big deal.

In practical terms this contract means Dallas can't cut Romo until after the 2016 season. But that was never going to happen anyway. Even if Romo gets hurt this year, the team would have brought him back in 2016 to see if he could still play. The only way Romo isn't a Cowboy in 2016 is if he retires, and that's a whole different ball game in regards to salary cap ramifications (as Kyle Orton could tell us). This restructuring doesn't change that in any way.

So why is the end of the 2016 season the terminal point? Because if the Cowboys cut Romo in 2016 we have a dead money hit of $31.9 million, but that number drops all the way down to $19.6 in 2017, a difference of $12.3 million.

Now many of us are seeing that $19.6 million in dead money and thinking "that's still a ton of money for a player that's not here!" And you're right, it is. But that's not really the point. The point is it's an affordable amount of dead money at the quarterback position. Let me explain.

Good teams don't budget for players, they budget for positions. Think of each position as a line item on your ultimate budget; you have so much to spend on quarterbacks, so much to spend on linebackers, etc. Well, right now Cowboys have $24.7 million assigned to the quarterback position, all of it in Tony Romo, (neither Vaughn or Weeden are under contract in 2017). A bridge level QB runs about $4 million a year, a rookie QB $1-2 million. So even with the dead money left from the Romo contract the Cowboys budget for the QB position does not change if Romo is cut after 2016. This extension doesn't change that in the least.

What it does mean is that, if Romo doesn't play out his contract we will have one year where the QB play doesn't match the contract. That's not salary cap hell, that's just a blip.

2.  Run DMC or Lightning Lance?

I'm on record as saying I think Darren McFadden was brought in not to compete for the starting RB role, but to compete with Lance Dunbar as the change of pace back. I still think that, but after reading our own Landon McCool's thoughts about the subject on Twitter, my thoughts are evolving somewhat. Landon points out that although both are primarily known for their speed, they are really very different players and bring different things to the table.

McFadden has all the skill-sets of a primary back. He can block, run inside and out, catch screens. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in top end speed.

Dunbar doesn't really possess all those attributes. I think he lacks the vision necessary to really be an effective runner and I think that's why he wasn't as good as we hoped in the screen game. What he does possess is unnatural agility, and the ability to break in and out of cuts at speed. He's Cole Beasley with better speed and a smaller route tree.

So what the Dallas coaching staff is going to have to do is decide what they want; a traditional third down back or a unique weapon with a specific set of skills. Both can be dynamic players and home run threats. I think McFadden could thrive in our screen game, but he's older and prone to injury. I don't think Dunbar is ever going to develop the vision needed to be an effective runner, but I could see him being an absolute terror when Dallas goes with it's empty backfield packages. I still think the decision will come down to a choice between McFadden and Dunbar, but it's a more complicated decision than I originally thought.

3.  You Can't Be Afraid To Coach:

Our Fearless Leader did a great job introducing us to Dallas's newest acquisition, London raised Efe Obada. He's the ultimate "Height/Weight/Speed" guy, an athletic freak on par with Jadeveon Clowny, but with absolutely no experience playing football. He's also a great example of two paradigms, our front offices desire to find low-risk/high-reward signings, and Jason Garrett's belief that you can't be afraid to coach.

It's that second thought that I want to focus on. None of our coaches are renowned for their x's and o's. But they make up for it as a staff with their commitment to teaching, to getting the absolute best from the players. Here is Garrett on the subject:

"You can’t be afraid to want to coach guys. You don’t necessarily want finished products, but you want guys who have traits as a player and as a person who you feel can develop and find a role on your team.’’

As Dallas has increased its overall talent level I think we're going to be seeing this side of talent acquisition more and more; along with bargain shopping, Dallas will be looking at raw players with natural talent that they believe can be "coached up". This is especially important come draft time. Many teams will bypass a better "raw" player, for one with less talent but more polish. That's a market inefficiency that Dallas can use to it's advantage.

4. Don't Make Perfect the Enemy of the Good:

There are a lot of thoughts out there about drafting strategy. And their should be, it's an important part of the process of team building. But their is one argument that I've seen a lot of and that I would like to address. It's the "don't draft position y early because we can find it later in the draft".

That's a false argument because it's not just true of position y, it's true for all positions, (except quarterback, but that's a whole different argument). It's a hard thing to argue against because it holds a sliver of truth (historically some positions are just drafted in lower rounds) but when presented as gospel it's doesn't hold up. And it's an example of a dangerous trend; if you're trying to "over-optimize" then you generally just end up outsmarting yourself.

Travis Frederick is a great example of this. Perhaps Dallas could have waited to draft him in the second or even third round. And there are a lot of smart people who will tell you that Dallas did not optimize their draft because they picked him to soon. But the fact is, he was a good pick. Dallas can't be afraid to make good picks because their may be a perfect pick somewhere else. Don't make the potential perfect the enemy of the known good.

5. Changes at Cornerback:

One interesting piece of news that came out this week is that our new cornerback Corey White may play the nickel-back, allowing Orlando Scandrick to stay outside. I'm incredibly excited by this. I said earlier in the week:

During the Green Bay game, in the first half Dallas had great success pressuring Rodgers when they brought Scandrick off the edge on a blitz, (they did this three times), and then played zone behind him. In the second half, when Green Bay moved Cobb to the backfield Dallas had to give up this strategy. Scandrick was forced to play man on Cobb, (we didn’t have any healthy linebackers who could cover him). So not only was our coverage impacted, but so was our pressure packages. If White could take over nickel full time for Scandrick, then that gives Marinelli one more wrinkle to play with as Scandrick can be an effective blitzer from the edge, (37 rushes last season, 2.6 rush grade per PFF, best among all CB’s).

This is a huge gain for our defense. Generally last year when a team went to three-wide Scandrick would move inside as well, leaving our third corner to cover the opponents first or second wide receiver. If we can leave Scandrick outside that's a huge win for the defense.