2018 Salary Cap: What Can Dallas Afford?

Cap Hell or Heaven?

Well, neither! Dallas has a good salary cap situation going into the offseason. According to Over the Cap, the Cowboys have a projected $21.515M in cap space for the 2018 season (the actual cap number has yet to be determined). The team will have to make decisions on three key players that will certainly have an impact on that available space - Anthony Hitchens (FA), Demarcus Lawrence (FA), and David Irving (RFA).

There are other holes on the team that will need to be filled. Therefore, fans over the next few months will debate which free agents to go after and how much money it'd take to acquire them. This is my attempt to help clarify what could happen. This is an attempt! I welcome any correction to the information I present below. Please, anyone, enlighten us on the matter. However, I’ll go ahead and take a stab at showing how much cap space could open up and the type of deals our own players could fetch. The team could easily create lots of space. Some moves would be wise, some okay, and some terrible. I'll not even mention the terrible. Here we go.

Tyron Smith (+$7.268M)

I'd rather them steer clear of moving money on Tyron's deal at this point in his career. Due to his health issues, I believe we have now reached the point where the team has wisely squeezed every bit out of that sweet contract they signed him to back in 2014. It was designed with multiple triggers for restructures in mind. However, go ahead and start taking the hit now before it balloons too large. In 2018, his cap will reach its highest at $17.54M, but it starts to drop from there. If they do decide to move money again, it'd open up $7.268M (if I got my numbers right). It wouldn't be the end of the world to push his money once again.

Zack Martin (+$6.84M)

The better option would be to get Martin's extension done. They picked up his 5th year option which is being accounted for already in OTC's 2018 cap numbers for Dallas. But if they get him extended, they can immediately open up "smart money" by pushing his cap hit back. That's where some nice space can be opened up "safely". No matter his eventual extension amount, the cap opened up could be up to $6.84M (if my math is right).

Travis Frederick (+$7.368)

The way Frederick's deal will shake out, his can trigger two more restructures. I'd rather it be only 1 if needed (though it's the way of a capped league). I could easily see them going to that well if need be this offseason. It makes sense. Restructuring him now can open up $7.368M (if my math is right).

Possible Cap Space Available ($42.991M)

Those 3 moves can open up $21.476M. Add that to the projected $21.515M from OTC. That does consider roll over money from 2017 and the top 51 players’ contracts that are currently on the books. Therefore, with 42.991M, can we retain our 3 home grown players and go after other free agents to fill holes at OG, backup swing tackle, speedy WR, or whatever is needed?

Demarcus Lawrence - To Extend or Tag? (-$17.636M)

The biggest factor on the 2018 cap will be what occurs with Tank. Speaking specifically to 2018, franchising him would take up a significant amount of the available space, as his hit would be $17.636M. As far as the long term, it may be wise to make him prove it once again while playing on the franchise tag. There are reasons to be cautious with him. Back injuries and a player coming off his best season in a contract year are legitimate arguments by those fans wanting the team to slap him with a tag. But what about those wanting a long-term extension?

Comparable Contracts for Defensive Ends

Does his agent demand Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Olivier Vernon type of money (16M-17M per)? Will the front office view him in line with players like Clay Matthew, Ryan Kerrigan, Nick Perry, and Everson Griffen who all are in that $11-14M range? I'd consider the lower end of the latter as the sweet spot. KD Drummond does a nice job of laying out a potential deal in his article How Much is it going to cost the Cowboys to sign Demarcus Lawrence.

David Irving - Which Tender to Use (-$4.152M)

The Restricted Free Agent (RFA) designation allows Irving to negotiate with other teams that would welcome his services. Fortunately, it also allows the Cowboys to match any offer or let the player walk, but not without being compensated. That depends on the tender the team places on Irving.

Projected Tender for RFAs

First Round - $4.152M

Second Round – $2.916M

Original Round – $1.908M (Irving was undrafted by KC. This would not apply to him).

I would not mind if the team placed a 2nd round tender on him in an attempt to dangle the carrot. I would not mind if they put a 1st round tender on him to try to keep them away. I believe it is a win-win situation for Dallas. Keep a productive player in a position of need or get a pretty darn good draft pick in return.

Anthony Hitchens (-$4M)

I’m all for bringing Hitch back. I told my friend Russell at the beginning of the year that I felt he’d play himself into a nice contract. Russell may have thought I was nuts as some felt he’d be added to the pile of free agents that would be fighting for a deal. Well, I think I may be in line of being proven right. What do I think he’s worth? How will the team address the linebacker corps?

I believe comparable deals for Hitchens, a solid starting Inside Linebacker, would resemble that of Jerrell Freeman, Paul Posluszny, and Derrick Johnson’s contracts ($4-5M average per year). Linebacker was already a need with Hitch on the team. The violent nature of the position requires a team like Dallas to consider its depth in that group. However, can Dallas afford to give Hitchens a 4-year deal in the range of $16-20M, just to turn around and make him compete against what many of us hope will be a highly-drafted rookie LB? We shall wait and see.

What is left after retaining our own?

3 moves to add cap space minus 3 moves to keep our own = $17.203M remaining

Can you fill other holes with that money and sign the draft class which is projected to cost less than $8M? Remember, only the top 51 contracts account towards the cap.

Be careful about the talks of Dallas being in cap hell. Also, don’t be that guy calling for them to sign high end free agents as if money ain’t a thing. I’m sure one of our FPW will create an article about the matter soon since this will be a hot topic. Once again, feel free to correct me on any of the numbers.

Update: How does all of this impact the future cap?

Right now, there are 7 deals that are taking up more than $8M against the cap. That’s $85.646M of the current $150.6M accounted for towards the 2018 cap - sunk into 7 players! Who are they:
Tyron – 17.545
Dez – 16.5
Frederick – 13.235
Lee – 11.025
Martin – 9.341
Crawford – 9.1
Romo – 8.9M – I know, weird to look at it that way, right?

By 2020, who are the big money guys and what are their cap hits likely to amount to:
Tyron – 15M – if you restructured in ‘18. If not, its 13.454.
Frederick – 13M if you restructured in ’18. If not, its 10.235M.
Martin – 17M* guess based on his likely extensio amount and the proposed immediate restructure in ’18.
Crawford – 9.1M – the beauty here… THIS IS THE YEAR TO CUT HIM and save $8M w/ only a $1.1M dead hit.
Elliott +10M – This is the year he plays on his 5th year option if they don’t decide to extend him before.
Demarcus Lawrence – 19M – probably lower than that if you go ahead and extend now in 2018. For this exercise, I’ll project on the high side, similar to what is done with Martin.

(Just for kicks – Witten is on the books for 6.5m in 2020. Doubt they’ll have to worry about that.)

That is 5 players accounting for $74M of a 2020 salary cap that is sure to be much larger than what we have now. The current trend has seen the cap go up double digits each year. In 2020, it could be as much as 15-25M higher (on the low end) than 2018. There is your Dak money! Throw him in the mix with the players above, and you have 6 of your top players, including a franchise QB accounted for. That group of pillars on the team in 2020 would account for the same percentage, if not less, of the pie as the the group we have going into 2018.

For those of you that like math... to convince you more if you’re still unsure... figure the percentage of the cap each of those major contract players take up in 2018, 2019, 2020, and then 2021. You'll be surprised to see a pretty clean comparison.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.