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How the Cowboys can easily get themselves under the salary cap for 2022

Every year, Stephen Jones has to work some magic to make the salary cap work.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Every offseason we tend to run into the same old analysis. The Dallas Cowboys are in trouble with the salary cap. The Dallas Cowboys won’t be able to sign any free agents. Rinse and repeat. While it is true that the Cowboys are over the salary cap as of now, there are a few moves they can make rather easily to rectify that situation. They could even free up money to go after some “name” free agents if they wanted, although they never seem to want to.

There are various estimations for how far over the cap the Cowboys are, but the site OverTheCap.com has them currently listed at roughly $21 million over. In their listing only the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints are more over the cap than Dallas.

With the stroke of a pen, or a few pens, the Cowboys can be under the cap. You can bet that it what Stephen Jones will do because it is what he does every year. The Cowboys will restructure the contract of some of their stars gaining some relief now by pushing money down the road.

You can believe they will restructure Dak Prescott. His contract was built to be restructured to provide more cap space. If the Cowboys decide to go the full route in restructuring his deal they will save just over $15 million against the cap for 2022.

Then there are others. One decision that seems to be hanging is whether to restructure Amari Cooper or just release him. Bobby Belt has done a fantastic job of laying out the potential savings the Cowboys could obtain by restructuring/cutting/trading many of their big salary players. If you are interested in seeing the full picture it is required reading.

Here is what Belt has to say about Cooper.

Unlike most big money contracts, the Cowboys would save more money by an outright, pre-June 1 release, than they would by restructuring his deal. That makes Cooper a prime target for release.

If the Cowboys restructured Cooper’s deal they could free up as much as $12.5 million in savings. If they released him before June 1 they would save $16 million, and they could get as much as $20 million in savings if they designated him as a post-June 1 release.

This particular decision has taken up a lot of the oxygen, especially since Jerry Jones was obliquely critical of Cooper in his infamous post-49ers loss interview.

“I don’t have any comment on Cooper’s contract,” Jones said on Friday. “I thought that the way we were playing early when we did make something happen, I thought Cooper had a big part of it. And I’m not being trite. But how he fits in, he should take half the field with him when he runs a route. Not half — half is an exaggeration, of course, but a whole bunch of that defense should have to honor Cooper. And he ought to be able to catch it in the middle of when they’re going with him. Others do. You throw to people that are covered all the time in the NFL. You have to. Most people don’t have the numbers of receivers we’ve had.”

By almost anyone’s estimation, the Cowboys offense, and Dak Prescott in particular, has been better with Cooper involved. It seems a little crazy that they would cut him outright unless they had some kind of plan to replace him with a proven, high-quality receiver. But they could restructure him to save over $12 million which seems to make more sense.

Between Prescott and Cooper the Cowboys could get comfortably under the cap. They have other options, too. As Bobby Belt notes, DeMarcus Lawrence has a $27 million cap hit for 2022, and the Cowboys can’t keep him on the books at that number. Given the fact that Lawrence is getting older and his sack numbers are not rebounding, there has even been some chatter outside of the organization about releasing him. More likely, though, given everything besides sacks that Lawrence gives the Cowboys on defense, they would restructure him. They could save up to $12 million by doing that, but his 2023 number would balloon.

The Cowboys can also make moves with guys like Tyron Smith, Zack Martin or La’el Collins to free up more cap space. And there are decisions to be made around players like Blake Jarwin or Anthony Brown that could also free up space.

The Cowboys have options. Obviously you would want to be under the cap instead of over, and doing these options pushes the problem down the road where you hope you get relief by a rising salary cap league-wide. But the Cowboys do this every year.

Stephen Jones will get the Cowboys under the cap, then he will go bargain-hunting in free agency. Same as it ever was.