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Five things to know about the Cowboys cap situation and offseason decisions

The cost of drafting star players means the team will have to pass on several other guys.

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are sitting in great shape when it comes to the salary cap. It’s taken a little sacrificing, but the front office is finally in position to lay out some real cash for some high-quality players. To make matters even better, a lot of the talent they covet are players they have developed themselves after making wise draft selections over the years. All this translates into a great group of young players that are soon to be signed to long-term deals. Rejoice!

While the future is bright for this ball club, the team is not far off from facing some obstacles financially. Drafting well, developing players, and retaining great talent all come with a cost, literally. If you look at the top five paid players who have been signed to a multi-year deal, the financial commitment the Cowboys could be making to their new stars will essentially double. (The new salaries in blue are estimates of what could be coming for those players).

Note: The figures above are average annual salaries and not actual yearly cap hits. Those figures are designed to provide a feel for what type of investment the team is making by re-signing these players.

Just like that, half of the team’s salary cap would be allocated to just five players. Granted, this takes into account that all the big names are going to get re-signed. Not all of these things will happen this year, but this is what the team would be up against if they gave most of their stars new deals.

On the surface, this brings about a little cause for concern. How is the team supposed to field a roster full of players when so much money is tied up in just five players? There are a lot of players that still need to get paid. If you take just the top 10 players, the team is using up 75% of their final resources. This is a 50% increase over what the top 10 was costing the team over the previous two seasons.

It’s great to have a strong core of talent, but it means some tough decisions ahead. Here are five things to keep in mind when it comes to the Cowboys salary cap and the decisions ahead of them.

1. Dak and Tank are precious commodities

Regardless of how valuable you believe Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence are to the team, they both play important positions. Quarterbacks and edge rushers are as vital as they come in terms of value to a football team. And while neither of them are the best at their respective positions, both are good players and the price to retain talent at these positions is ridiculously expensive. These two players alone will eat up $50 million of the team’s cap space and you won’t find a more expensive tandem until the Los Angeles Rams sign Jared Goff to his second contract (+ Aaron Donald’s $22.5 million annual cost). A lot of team’s have either a franchise quarterback or an elite rusher, but very few teams have both. At 25- and 26-years-old respectively, Prescott and Lawrence are hitting their prime. Cringe at the cost, but smile as they lead the offense/defense to success for years to come.

2. Sean Lee has to go

It’s a nice gesture to just pay out the veteran linebacker his $7 million base salary in the final year of his deal as a parting gift. It’s also nice to think that Lee and the front office can come together and find a common ground that would pay him a fair price to come off the bench. Unfortunately, these scenarios are not cost effective for the Cowboys. Football is a business, and the simply truth is Lee’s value to the team is nowhere indicative to what he’ll cost the team. Lee will be 33 years old when the 2019 season starts and injuries have plagued him throughout his career. For the Cowboys to invest any amount of money towards him that is not tied to an incentive-packaged deal based on snap percentages, is just bad business. The Cowboys have made some big decisions that allows them to have Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch running the show now and it would be wasteful to not fully capitalize on those resources by paying for Lee as well.

3. Cole Beasley is not coming back

The Cowboys just don’t have the money for Beasley. Excuse me, let me rephrase that - the Cowboys don’t want to spend their money on Beasley. He’s been a reliable fixture in the slot for the offense over the last several years, but he plays a position that is a lot more replaceable than many others. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way.

It would be really difficult to see the two sides come close enough to work a deal to keep Beasley in Dallas. The front office will talk about how much they want him, but the numbers will speak a different language. Beasley will feel disrespected and while the offers may not be what he was hoping for, some team will pay for his services.

Replacing him won’t be easy, but the Cowboys have to give it a shot. Laurent Robinson flourished from the slot for Dallas in 2011. He had 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in his last year with the Cowboys before leaving for Jacksonville in free agency. The following season, the Cowboys drafted Danny Coale and signed a slew of undrafted free agents wideouts, including Tim Benford and Cole Beasley, hoping one of them would stick as the team’s new slot receiver. Guess what - one did.

Look for the team to take a similar approach as they try to back fill Beasley’s position with a player who will be super cheap for the next four seasons.

4. Others will have to go, too

When the top players are demanding so much of the cap resources, that doesn’t leave much money to go around for others. The trade-off there is that some decent players will walk. Players like La’el Collins, Anthony Brown, and Maliek Collins are quality contributors, but looking ahead - not all of them will be re-signed once their contract is up. The organization will have to make some tough choices in determining who they want to retain and who hits the free agent market. It’s not pleasant to see some of the players we’ve come to appreciate get away, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

The team has no choice to let some good players walk in order to afford their stars. We can all recall the moans and groans across Cowboys Nation when some of the players above moved on, but the front office does a great job replenishing talent. Would you be as upset if those names were sorted a little differently?

If players the team drafted on Day 3 or signed as UDFA’s are netting them compensatory picks later, then I’d say they are working the system nicely.

5. Forget free agency, focus on the draft

It would be great to add a player like Earl Thomas or Landon Collins to the defense, but if the team added a high-priced player to the team, they’d have to account for it somehow. Are they willing to say adios to Byron Jones or Jaylon Smith? Or do they want to start restructuring again to create space, pushing costs down the road? Making these investments from the outside adds extra risk and it would sting if they got hit with some sour apple deals. Just ask the New York Giants.

Instead, the Cowboys need to do what they do - make great draft selections. Next month’s draft if huge and while it’s easy to just think about some tweaks here and there to fill holes on the roster, the team just needs to collect as much talent as they can - regardless of how quickly they’ll make an impact. Build for the future.

The Cowboys will still use free agency to fill gaps, but it would be shocking to see the team make a big purchase.