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Six Cap Moves The Cowboys Will Make In The 2017 Offseason

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The Dallas Cowboys are currently $11 million over the 2017 cap -- worst in the NFL. This is how they will rectify that.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Salary Cap Hell. As Dallas fans we have gotten inured to hearing those words and they no longer induce the panic, or even discussion, they once did. Nonetheless Dallas finds themselves with a pretty good shortfall at the moment, for the 2017 salary cap. Spotrac and Over the Cap disagree by about $1 million dollars but both have the Cowboys eight figures over for 2017. That is not chump change. In fact, it’s the worst number in the league.

But all that actually means is that Dallas has a large amount of its resources concentrated into next (this) year’s cap. And this should come as no surprise to anyone, with the big recent contracts for Travis Frederick and Dez Bryant, along with the the extensions and restructures of Brandon Carr, Jason Witten, and, of course, Tony Romo’s money as the team worked hard to keep core older talent while rewarding core newer talent. Dallas clearly has a plan for dealing with the situation through a variety of cap manipulations. Now, these moves do cost the Cowboys some small amount of 2018 cap space, so we will track that as well. This is particularly important as Zack Martin and La’el Collins are both up for new contracts in 2018, along with a few others, and keeping the powder dry for those guys is important.

Here are the six biggest moves I expect Dallas to make for their salary cap.

Starting point:

2017 — $11.3 million over

2018 — $34.9 million under

Travis Frederick

Frederick’s $14.2 million base salary next year is the largest on the team. But his contract has three years on the end of it with no pro-rated bonus money at all — a sure sign that his contract was intended to be restructured when written. People still get leery of hearing the word restructure sometimes, but this is just smart accounting. The NFL limits the ability to prorate signing bonuses to five years. These restructures simply allow teams to create a larger effective signing bonus and spread it out longer.

2017 — $0.5 million over

2018 — $32.2 million under

Tyron Smith

Despite the fact that Dallas has already restructured Smith’s contract twice, he still has three years of no pro-rated bonus on the end of his contract as well— again, a clear sign of a restructure in the waiting. Despite some concerns over his back this season, Smith is still very young and expected to play for Dallas for many years to come. It only makes sense to pro-rate his money across that time when available.

2017 — $6.8 million under

2018 — $30.3 million under

Tony Romo

I expect Dallas to trade Romo this off season. The interesting question will be when. I said earlier that I believe Dallas should hold out for good value and even consider keeping him for the year and I still stand by that. However, if they wait long enough, it affects the cap differently than if they trade him early in the offseason. I will presume, for the purposes of this discussion, that the trade happens quickly.

2017 — $11.4 million under

2018 — $55.5 million under

As you can see, the real impact of moving on from Tony happens in 2018, which is one reason why I suggest the team not give him away easily this offseason. Even with a post June 1 designation, he saves more money in 2018 space than 2017. As Jerry said recently, this team was built for Tony, and Dallas clearly intended to keep Tony on the roster for 2017 until very recent miraculous events made that unlikely. I see no reason that they should move away from those plans lightly.

Jason Witten

Witten told Brandon George he does not plan on signing an extension anytime soon, but he can save Dallas a large amount of cap space if he intends to keep playing. It’s still early in the offseason and the loss to Green Bay still stings. I think Witten may well decide he has a few more years left in the tank and, if he does, it makes sense for Dallas to spread his 2017 salary over those years. A two year extension with $3 million base salaries for 2018 and 2019 should do.

2017 — $15.8 million under

2018 — $50.5 million under

Doug Free

Three things are clear. Doug Free is aging. Chaz Green is good but often injured. $5 million is too much for Doug Free to make in 2017. Whether Green takes over the starting role or not, Free’s leadership and veteran savvy in addition to his demonstrated ability to play both left and right sides of the line make him a valuable asset as his career winds down. I would extend Free for two years at vet minimum and convert his $5 million 2017 salary into signing bonus.

2017 — $18.1 million under

2018 — $47.9 million under

Alfred Morris

Morris clearly took a back seat to Darren McFadden as time went on and Dallas had way too many running backs on the roster by the end of the season. I imagine they would rather use the $1.6 million they can save to re-sign Darren McFadden than continue to pay Morris.

Final numbers

2017 — $19.4 million under

2018 — $47.9 million under

Now, of course, the bigger question is what to do with all that cash.