As teams around the league get ready for free agency, many have started cutting players to create some additional cap space. The New York Giants for example released Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings on Monday, freeing up $10 million in cap space. The Dolphins on Thursday released defensive linemen Mario Williams and Earl Mitchell to free up $12.5 million in cap space, and offensive tackle Branden Albert will likely follow either via cut or trade, clearing an additional $7.2 million in cap space.
For the Cowboys, Tony Romo is the most obvious candidate to be cut or traded, but he's not the only one.
1. Tony Romo
Cap Saved: $5.1 million/Cash Saved: $14 million
The Cowboys can clear $5.1 million of cap space by trading or releasing Romo now, and could clear even more space by making Romo a June 1 cut, which would free up $14.0 million in cap space. However, as a June 1 cut, Romo would remain on the Cowboys' books in 2018 with $8.9 worth of dead money counting against the cap.
Romo will not play for Dallas in 2017, and his impact on the 2017 salary cap will depend on whether the Cowboys find a trade partner for Romo or release him outright
2. Alfred Morris
Cap Saved: $1.6 million/Cash Saved: $1.6 million
Morris arrived in Dallas as a two-time Pro Bowler and a three-time 1,000+ yard rusher and was expected to share carries with Darren McFadden. That all changed when the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott and McFadden was injured, but in the end, he totaled just 69 carries for a career-low 3.5 yards per attempt, and was inactive when McFadden was back in the lineup over the final two regular season games and in the playoffs .
The Cowboys will restructure some big contracts to get under the cap by March 9, and may not need the $1.6 million cap savings from Morris, but they are likely to move on from him at some point, as they can get that type of production for a lot less.
3. Cedric Thornton
Cap Saved: $0.5 million/Cash Saved: $0 million
Cedric Thornton signed a 4-year, $17.0 million contract last year, including $9.0 million guaranteed, which means his entire $3.0 million base salary this year is fully guaranteed. The Cowboys can't save any real money by cutting him, and the $0.5 million in cap savings isn't going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things.
Thornton didn't start a single game last year, and only played 262 defensive snaps, but he was fairly productive in the process, recording 18 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 9 QB pressures, along with one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Cowboys will almost certainly stick with Thornton for now, but if they find an upgrade in free agency or the draft, that could change. If the Cowboys make him a June 1 cut, they could create $3 million in cap space for 2017 (though they'd be left with $3 million of dead money in 2018).
4. Joe Looney
Cap Saved: $0.8 million/Cash Saved: $0.8 million
On paper this looks like a substantial potential saving for a backup interior lineman who played just 156 snaps on offense, but those are "fake" savings as the Cowboys would have to find a replacement for Looney, and it's not clear that that replacement would be any cheaper.
5. James Hanna
Cap Saved: $1.5 million/Cash Saved: $2.3 million
Hanna may come as a bit of a surprise on this list, and it's unlikely that he would be a cap casualty. But there is a chance Hanna could get released with an injury settlement.
Hanna had developed into a solid No. 2 tight end behind Jason Witten, and the Cowboys signed him to a 3-year, $8.25 million contract extension in March 2016. But then Hanna entered training camp complaining about knee soreness and was subsequently placed on the PUP list with what was initially described as a "bone bruise."
For Cowboys fans, "bone bruise" set off all kinds of alarms because that was the same description the Cowboys used to describe an injury that effectively ended the career of Anthony Spencer. In Spencer's case the term was used as a euphemism for potential microfracture injuries, and those almost never resolve well.
In mid-August, Hanna and the Cowboys opted for knee surgery to address his knee issue, but that apparently didn't result in a significant improvement, so Hanna underwent a second knee surgery in November.
The Cowboys are not going to cut Hanna now as they are going to wait and see how his recovery progresses. But if he is unable to play by training camp, the Cowboys could cut him, thereby creating $2.3 million cap space in 2017.
What do you think? Will the Cowboys make any cap cuts prior to the start of free agency?