The Dak Prescott negotiations, or the lack thereof, has sucked the air out of the room for the Dallas Cowboys. It’s the main thing people are discussing. It is rather logical, of course, because what happens there has such an effect on everything else. Still, there is the whole rest of the team to think about.
One thing that is very intriguing is what the team is going to do with contract restructuring, releases, and possible trades. No matter how things shake out with Prescott, the Cowboys must come up with more cap space by the March 17th start of the league year. Otherwise, they are dead in the water in free agency, and with the large number of holes to fill, that is just not tenable. They have to sign some more players, including others of their own besides Prescott. A long-term deal for him can be structured so that it will fit under the current $19 million and change in space the team has, according to Over the Cap. But if a deal is not reached by then, the team will have to find extra space for the $37.7 million he will be on the books for under the tag. By that March 17th date (at 4 PM ET) the team has to be able to fit their top 51 contracts under the cap figure, expected to be near the negotiated floor of $180 million.
We are likley going to see a handful of players released to gain space. One that seems very likely is punter Chris Jones, who would net the team $2 million in space even without designating him a post June 1 cut. Hunter Niswander looked like a better option last season, and is both much cheaper and a lot younger. But Jones will probably not be the only one. There are a lot of players that will net about a million in space apiece. Depending on what the team is planning to do about adding players through free agency and the draft, some names they might look at are Darian Thompson, Maurice Canady, Rashard Robinson, Cooper Rush, Deante Burton, Justin Hamilton, Eric Smith, and Steven Parker. There are others who would gain them less, and of course other players would then move up to the top 51, partly offsetting the gains. Still, it can add up.
There is one other possible release that could gain them a big chunk if designated as a post June 1 cut. That is Jaylon Smith, whose release would add $7.2 million to the pot. His struggles last season may make the idea of moving on from him acceptable to the team. It’s doubtful they will do it, as there is probably hope that Dan Quinn and his staff can make him more productive. Fixing the interior of the defensive line will also help since there is some evidence that part of the issues at linebacker were because they were dealing with offensive linemen more than they should have been.
But restructuring contracts is where most of the needed cap space will be found. The top seven contracts on the team can net them a maximum of over $57 million. They will probably want to get by without having to do all of them, but many will have to be reworked. It is worth remembering that this does not involve any pay cuts for the players, since they will still receive the same amount over the life of the contract. It actually benefits them, as the restructuring moves more money into bonuses that are instant payouts, effectively increasing their guaranteed money.
Trades are not very likely, just because the only players that could net them significant amounts of space via that route are ones that would hurt the team, and the ones that add lesser amounts just don’t seem that they would bring much back in draft pick value. A player-for-player swap does not do much good, since they would probably be on the hook for a similar amount of cap costs.
All this just seems a bit like accounting moves under the artificial limitations imposed by the cap. Still, it will be interesting to see who does get restructured, because those will be players that the team thinks will be part of the plan for more seasons. Who doesn’t get restructured could tip us to who the team is not so sold on, or have some health concerns. One name that is worth watching is Tyron Smith. A restructure on his deal would add over $7 million. If they don’t do that with him, it would likely be because they are worried about how much longer he will hold up. He could bring even more if released, but that seems highly unlikely with the problems they had in his absence last year. The progress he has made in his rehab is key. We have little word on how he is doing outside of this:
Two other notes I’ll address on @nflnetwork? Health of the offensive line.— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) February 23, 2021
I’m told LT Tyron Smith has been a regular in the gym and has been successful in his rehab. RT La’el Collins is already working out with offseason position coach @BigDuke50 #Cowboys
Reports on players’ health are almost always notably optimistic, but we should all hope that Slater is absolutely correct. Setbacks can still happen at any time, so we just have to wait for things to play out.
Similarly, not restructuring Jaylon Smith to gain almost $5 million would be an indication they are hedging their bets for the future. These are the kinds of subtle things that are fascinating while trying to figure out what is going on in the minds of the Dallas brain-trust.
The days just before the start of the league year are sometimes thought of as a dead period in the NFL, but due to the reduction in the salary cap, that is not true in 2021. We will see a lot of news about contracts and other personnel moves. Then we have free agency, the draft, and the start of offseason activities for the Cowboys on April 19th all to keep us busy until the break before the start of training camp. It is going to be a busy few months.