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Will Re-Signing The Cowboys Offensive Line Be An Issue?

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Much has been made about whether the Cowboys will be able to afford to re-sign their stud interior offensive linemen at at market value. Will it be an issue, or will the team be able to structure the contracts to minimize the combined cap impact and continue to carry on business as usual? Let's take a look at the likelihoods.

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Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins; together they represent perhaps the most promising young interior trio of offensive lineman in the entire NFL. However, for many Cowboy fans and media members, they represent three very large contracts that the Cowboys will need to put in place in a short amount of time. As such many have pointed to these contracts as the reason why the Cowboys have not been players in the early parts of free agency over the last week.

To get an idea of the impact of the three players contract situations, lets look at a possible scenario for how to stagger and structure the potential contracts to keep the players in Dallas for the foreseeable future.

A few assumptions to keep in mind as we walk through the scenario:

A) Each player will match or exceed the largest current contract for a player at their position (excluding the contract recently given to Kelechi Osemeli who has been a guard and a tackle through his career, and could play either in Oakland).

B) I've assumed a restructure in the second year of each "New" contract to more accurately reflect the way the Cowboys are likely to manage the contracts.

Now lets look at the players, in order of when they were acquired.

Travis Frederick

Travis Frederick is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, and as such is immediately eligible to sign an extension. As such he could sign as early as today, or, through the use of the fifth-year option, and franchise tags, could be pushed to 2019 before a new extension comes. Based on the team's inclination to sign guys earlier than later, I am putting an extension together assuming a timeline similar to the one in which the team signed Tyron Smith and Tyrone Crawford to their early extensions. Here's the break down for Frederick's plausible new contract.

Length: 5 years

Total Value: $47 Million

Signing Bonus: $12.5 Million

Total Guarantee: $22.8 Million

Average/Year: $9.4 Million

Year Base Prorated Bonus Total Cap
2016 1,341,822 3,344,000 4,685,822
2017 1,000,000 4,100,000 5,100,000
2018 7,500,000 4,100,000 11,600,000
2019 8,500,000 4,100,000 12,600,000
2020 9,500,000 4,100,000 13,600,000
2021 1,600,000 1,600,000

In this deal, Frederick's current base salary for 2016 remains the same, but he receives an additional $12.5 million in signing bonus for the new deal. The sixth-year (2021) is a voidable year, that is added when the team restructures the deal in 2017 to reduce his base and increase the prorated portion. This contract would rank third in total dollars among NFL centers, but would exceed Alex Mack's new contract with the Atlanta Falcons for the highest per year average by almost a half million dollars a year, and would feature a full $2.8 million more guaranteed than any center in the league.

Zack Martin

With Martin entering the third year of his rookie deal, he is not currently eligible to negotiate an extension, but will be as of the 2017 league year. For Martin's deal I am assuming a similar scenario as Frederick, where his deal is completed early, and is signed sometime in training camp in his fourth year.

Length: 5 years

Total Value: $45 Million

Signing Bonus: $13.5 Million

Total Guarantee: $22.7 Million

Average/Year: $9 Million

Year Base Prorated Bonus Total Cap
2016 1,235,254 1,210,509 2,445,763
2017 1,642,881 3,910,509 5,553,390
2018 1,000,000 4,300,000 5,300,000
2019 6,500,000 4,300,000 10,800,000
2020 8,000,000 4,300,000 12,300,000
2021 8,000,000 4,300,000 12,300,000
2022 1,600,000 1,600,000

In this breakdown, 2016 is Martin's current contract, then in 2017, he will receive the base salary from his current deal, along with his $13.5 million signing bonus. Similarly to Frederick's contract, 2022 is a voidable year added after the contract is restructured in 2018. This deal would put Martin a full $5 million higher than Mike Iupati and Brandon Brooks for the largest pure guard contracts in the NFL. His $22.7 million guarantee is more than $5 Million greater than any pure guard in the league.

La'el Collins

Collins might present the most interesting scenario for the Cowboys in terms of managing the contracts. Because of his unique status as an undrafted free agent, his initial contract is only three years, meaning that although he was acquired a year after Martin, his contract expires after 2017 just as Martin's does. However, as a three-year player he will be only a restricted free agent, who the team can offer a tender to keep him on the team rather inexpensively. For this scenario, I'm assuming that for the 2018 season the Cowboys will place the first-round tender on Collins, providing the highest level of protection available to them.

Length: 5 years

Total Value: $40 Million

Signing Bonus: $10 Million

Total Guarantee: $22.5 Million

Average/Year: $8 Million

Year Base Prorated Bonus Total Cap
2016 526,750 7,000 533,750
2017 616,750 7,000 623,750
2018 3,850,000 3,850,000
2019 1,500,000 2,000,000 3,500,000
2020 1,000,000 3,600,000 4,600,000
2021 6,500,000 3,600,000 10,100,000
2022 7,000,000 3,600,000 10,600,000
2023 7,000,000 3,600,000 10,600,000
2024 1,600,000 1,600,000

For this breakdown, 2016 and 2017 are the final two years of Collins current contract, 2018 represents a forecast value of the first-round tender that has been between $3.5 and $3.6 million the last two years. As in the prior two contracts, the final year (2024) is a voidable year added when the deal is restructured in 2020. This contract (if signed today) would put Collins tied with Iupati and Brooks behind only Martin's deal above in terms of full value, guaranteed money and average per year. Although it is likely that between now and the date the deal is signed there will likely be at least one additional guard contract signed that will push this deal down the totem pole.

The Overview

So now we have three deals, one signed in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with the first large cap implication falling in the third year of each deal. So how do the three add up as portions of the entire team cap.

Year Three OL Cap Hit Total Cap Percentage of Total Cap
2016 7,665,335 158,699,683 4.83%
2017 11,277,140 166,000,000 6.79%
2018 20,750,000 178,000,000 11.66%
2019 26,900,000 190,000,000 14.16%
2020 30,500,000 200,000,000 15.25%
2021 24,000,000 200,000,000 12.00%
2022 12,200,000 200,000,000 6.10%
2023 10,600,000 200,000,000 5.30%
2024 1,600,000 200,000,000 0.80%

So even with these three interior players all getting the very top of the market in terms of pure dollars, as well as guaranteed money, the deal are very manageable in terms of percent of the cap. In no accidental occurrence, the most likely end of Tony Romo's time with the Cowboys lies after the 2017 season, at which point, a release or retirement would result in a $16.3 million cap savings. If Romo is replaced by a quarterback on a rookie contract, the peak years of these three deals in addition to Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, and Tyrone Crawford's contracts will fall during the low cost years at the quarterback position.