The NFL has a salary cap issue. Thanks to the loss of in-stadium revenue, the cap figure is expected to go down from last year’s all-time high of $198 million per team. While the final figure is still to be determined for 2021, the league and players did agree that $175 million was going to be a floor. There is some hope that the figure may be higher, with $195 millions being given as a best case scenario. Still, this creates some accounting issues for a team like the Dallas Cowboys.
Based on the minimum figure, they currently have a bit below $24 million in cap space at the moment. That is actually better than most teams, with eleven teams currently having more cap obligations than that. Even if the final figure was $195 million, the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints would still have to shed tens of millions in cap obligations. (All cap figures for teams and players are from Over the Cap.) We know they have a big negotiation to re-sign Dak Prescott that must be handled. Even if the actual cap is higher, his deal is going to eat up a big chunk of that. If the team should commit roster management malpractice and have to resort to the franchise tag again, he would tie up $37,7 million in cap space. That is one reason getting a long-term deal is so necessary, because that can be structured to greatly reduce the current cap costs. If you aren’t aware, Stephen Jones is very active in using structure and bonuses to push cap costs into the future. Expect him to be very busy.
Even if the final cap figure is close to the best case, the Cowboys still need to figure out some more space. They still have free agency to get through, including some of their own players they will probably want to bring back besides Prescott, and have to also make sure they have money for signing the draft class. Then they also have to ensure that there is some money on hand for the inevitable need to sign more players as injuries happen during the season.
There is, of course, another way to get more space besides the yearly round of reworking deals. They can release players currently under contract. These are commonly known as cap casualties, and we can expect to see some of those. While these releases usually also take into account production and value to the team, players that can save millions in cap space are the big decisions that have to be made.
Now that we have laid the boring groundwork, it’s time to get to the meat of things. Here are some players that could be casualties this year. This only looks at those who could save a million dollars or more. All players cut usually bring some cap savings, but we are looking for more than minimum salary benefits here.
P Chris Jones
Cap savings: $2 million
Jones is a victim of the Cowboys having found what looks like a better option in Hunter Niswander, who is much cheaper and performed better than Jones did before he was placed on injured reserve. Jones has seemingly been in decline for a year or two before as well. This is just a logical move.
S Darian Thompson
Cap savings: $1.2 million
Thompson was a valuable piece last season, but it was because the team was very weak at safety. If Dallas commits to upgrading safety in free agency and particularly the draft, he could become expendable. That is not a given, of course, as the team seems loathe to spend any resources on the position. If they do continue with their parsimonious ways, which would be a big mistake, he might survive.
CB Anthony Brown
Cap savings: $2.75 million
Again, this would be dependent on the team looking to upgrade with a new player, which seems much more likely at cornerback than at safety. Brown was serviceable, but hardly outstanding. With Trevon Diggs coming on so well last year, the team may be ready to move on. That also depends on how much they want to re-sign pending free agents Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and C.J. Goodwin. In essence, they may chose to apply the savings from releasing Brown toward one or more of them.
Those are not major moves. Which brings us to a couple of big ones.
LB Jaylon Smith
Cap savings (post June 1): $7.2 million
Frankly, Smith had a bad year. He did lead the team in tackles, but that was a volume stat, and his tackles per snap played was not that great when compared to other highly compensated defenders in the league. On tape, he just did not look good at all. He was often out of place or moving in the wrong direction. That, plus the amount of space he would free up, makes him a prime consideration. The news that Mike Nolan is out as defensive coordinator may lead the team to want to see how he does with a new scheme that can be more fully installed than last year allowed. But that is still to be determined.
You’ll note that this is based on him being one of the two players the team is allowed to designate as post June 1 cuts, which greatly increases the savings. That leaves one more of those, which would garner the team the most of any player.
OT Tyron Smith
Cap savings (post June 1): $10.5 million
If you read the earlier piece about the offensive tackle position, you probably saw this coming. The same savings would also apply if he were traded, which applies for Jaylon Smith as well. A trade would also garner some kind of draft pick in return, which could be quite useful.
Much of that depends on Tyron’s health, which has been a concern for five years now. But there might be some tackle needy teams that would take someone who might still miss a few games, because he is still so good if he is healthy. It’s a big if, but something that seems worth exploring.
It would be a sad day if the All-Pro does depart, but with ten years on the field, the wear and tear is real. One way or another, it may just be time.
Both Smiths are also possible restructuring or extension candidates, which can also lead to some notable cap space benefits. Those are things we will likely see with others, however, including but not limited to Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Amari Cooper.
But cuts are also likely coming, and these five players look to be the most obvious ones to consider.