I think there is no better indicator of the change in this franchise than the lack of articles decrying the Dallas Cowboys salary cap situation. This is not to say the the franchise is better than ever. In fact, the Cowboys are already over their 2017 cap number by almost $2 million, according to OverTheCap.com, who show the Cowboys with a $167.7 million cap versus a projected team salary cap of $166 million.
The true indication of the change is how little has been said about it. Is it just a matter of the media becoming more savvy about these things? Or have the Jones boys given more reason for faith? Perhaps people are just tired of discussing it.
But whatever the reason, Dallas is actually overdrawn on next year’s cap and no one is talking about it. I find that remarkable. Allow me to offer up some simple and obvious solutions to rectify the Dallas budget. You can bet that many of these moves will occur. Perhaps all of them, depending on what Dallas wants to do next year in free agency. I will start at the top of the cap list and move down.
This may come as a surprise to many, but Dez Bryant is only under contract until he’s 30. That in itself may not be surprising so much as the year that happens: 2019. Restructuring Dez with only two years left on his contract may not be wise. Extending him, however, may be. Dez almost certainly put his contract in place hoping for one more big score, but receivers of his caliber are hard to find. With size and strength being a bigger part of his game than quickness, he stands a good chance to extend his useful career beyond 30. If Dallas wants to, they can extend him to 33 or 34 years old, probably by matching AJ Green’s league leading $15 million a year. They could also add a voidable year to restructure, á la Brandon Carr. Extending Dez four years at $15 million a year could reduce his cap hit in 2017 by about $7 million, a gain in cap space of around $9 million.
Tyron Smith is signed to one of the most cap friendly contracts the Cowboys have ever negotiated. Currently his last three years have no prorated bonus on them at all. Restructuring his contract is a no-brainer. Whatever else Dallas does, this move will happen for a gain of about $7.4 million.
Like Smith, Tyrone Crawford is still low mileage and young with several years left on his contract. Restructuring him doesn’t provide that much savings at $4.9 million, but it’s a pretty painless maneuver for a young man you expect to be a part of your team for years to come.
Elder statesman Jason Witten will be in the final year of his contract in 2017 and also 35 years old. Like Tony Gonzalez before him, Witten is likely going to be a viable tight end for as long as he wants to keep playing. Extending him until he’s 37 (the age Tony G retired) at $3 million a year base while converting his salary to signing bonus saves Dallas a little over $6 million.
Making Travis Frederick the highest paid center in the NFL is definitely in the Cowboys’ best interest. He’s younger and arguably better than Alex Mack or Mike Pouncey and doing something similar to their contracts saves Dallas about $5 million in cap space for 2017.
If this aging warhorse is finally ready for pasture, Dallas saves $5 million in cap space by cutting him. It may be that he is more useful to the team than that $5 million, particularly if they make several of the other moves I have suggested, but that will be a call to make in the moment, possibly as late as the fourth preseason game, as there is no benefit to Dallas in making the move early. They may however want to give Free a chance to do training camp with another team... or if he's willing, they might give him an inexpensive contract extension to be the swing tackle here and maintain his veteran presence on the otherwise baby-faced line.
If Dallas makes all of these moves, they will have about $35.6 million in cap space for 2017, while maintaining $25.5 million for 2018 and a whopping $70 million for 2019 while having Frederick and Bryant locked up for a long period and plenty of powder for the upcoming contracts of Zack Martin and La'el Collins.
Mischief managed. Which is why the silence around Dallas’ cap situation is warranted.