The oddity of the upcoming NFL season continues to rear it’s ugly head with new developments surfacing all the time. As people continually attempt to adapt to the repercussions of the coronavirus, there are huge financial implications looming as it becomes more and more apparent that fan attendance is going to take a significant hit.
As owners pursue the idea of lowering the salary cap for 2020 and 2021, the NFL players association and general managers around the league believe this could result to teams scrambling, forcing teams to release players and/or restructure some contracts to clear cap space. What a mess that could be.
Negotiations are fluid, but NFL owners continue to push for an agreement to lower the salary cap in 2020 and 2021 — proposals the NFLPA and GMs believe could lead to a rash of veteran cuts and restructures before this season, sources say.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 23, 2020
It’s unclear what type of cap reduction, if any, could be implemented, so we have no idea how much space would need to be created. The Cowboys have $8.4 million (ranked 23rd in the league) according to spotrac; however, that figure doesn’t take into account recent rookie contracts that were just signed this week (with a few more to come). If an agreement was reached and NFL teams suddenly had to free up some extra cash - how could the Cowboys go about it?
The team could free up some cap space by coming to a decision with veteran defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. He’s on the last year of his contract with an $8 million base salary this season, which could make him an alluring choice as a possible cap casualty. At 30-years-old, he’s only played a full season once over the past four years, including missing 12 games last season with a hip injury. With some cheaper free agent defensive line signings this offseason in the form of Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Aldon Smith - could the team live without him?
If they believe he’s too valuable and want to keep Crawford around, the front office could look to re-up on him with an extension. In doing so, they could then convert some of his base salary into bonus money, freeing up cap space in 2020 and pushing the cost onto future seasons. If it’s between those two choices, I’m going with the latter. Crawford is constantly underappreciated even though the guy shows up and contributes year in and year out.
There aren’t any other good options for a straight up cut. The team could save a little over $8 million by releasing Tyron Smith ($13.5 M cap hit vs. $5.3 M dead money), but that wouldn’t be wise. Smith may not be the dominant force he was a few years ago, but he’s still a great tackle in this league, and not having him would hurt the team.
Sean Lee’s name may surface as well ($4.5 M cap hit vs. $2 M dead money), but the savings gained is far less than the expected return the team should get if he’s able to stay healthy.
So, the next idea should stem around restructuring one of the 2014 draft studs - DeMarcus Lawrence or Zack Martin. They represent the team’s second- and third-highest 2020 cap hits after the $31.4 million paid to Dak Prescott. But unlike Dak, Lawrence’s ($21.9 M) and Martin’s ($15 M) cap hit can be restructured. The Cowboys could convert part of their base salaries into bonus money, which would then be divided up over the course of the next several years. But which of these players make the most sense for a potential restructure?
Both Lawrence and Martin are relatively safe choices as neither are players the team would consider parting ways with anytime soon. Martin’s contract was built for a restructure, but the front office has yet to employ that method to free up money. Could that time be coming?
Martin seems like the more secure option as he’s been a model of consistent greatness since entering the league; however his base salary is $11 million whereas Lawrence’s is $16.9 million. The team could free up more room by going after Tank.
There are other players too like Ezekiel Elliott or Jaylon Smith who could be restructured should the team go that route. These choices might not be as favorable as it puts more money on the books later should the Cowboys decide to pull the escape hatch and get out of the deal early. The team already converted $5 million of La’el Collins’ 2020 base salary to bonus, freeing up $4 million in cap space. That speaks to how safe they feel with LC’s contract, but he is now off the table for a restructure this year.
If push comes to shove, the Cowboys could pull it off without any disastrous impact to their roster. Other teams might not be so lucky.