As we settle into offseason business, the contracts of star players like QB Dak Prescott, LB Micah Parsons, and WR CeeDee Lamb are about to become hot topics again. If the Cowboys intend to work on their deals this year, their salary cap situation is going to force some tough decisions elsewhere on the roster.
Based on the existing contracts signed into next season, Dallas is currently projected to be at least $11 million over the 2024 cap. Another source has them at $16 million over the cap. Both projections include $7.3 million in dead money, mostly from releasing RB Ezekiel Elliott last year but a couple of other guys as well.
Now these figures don’t begin to tell the whole story of where the Cowboys will actually wind up in terms of their cap figure. Whatever happens with Prescott, he’s not going to count $59.5 million in 2024. They will also find ways to bring down Zack Martin’s $28.5 million hit and probably reduce the $18 million and $16 million hits for Lamb and Trevon Diggs.
But with those likely reductions will also come increases. Parsons is likely to hold out if the team doesn’t give him a healthy raise from the $5.4 million due on the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Cowboys also have to deal with some significant upcoming free agents: RB Tony Pollard, OT Tyron Smith, C Tyler Biadasz, CB Stephon Gilmore, S Jayron Kearse, and others who will either need to be re-signed or replaced.
So with all of that looming, which current contracted players are most at risk of becoming salary cap casualties? Here are seven players and what Dallas can gain in new cap space by releasing or trading them.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence
$2.56 million (pre-6/1)
$10 million (post-6/1)
Lawrence just finished one of his best seasons in a while, but Dallas’ spiritual leader on defense turns 32 in April and carries a huge cap hit. In the interest of keeping Parsons happy, the Cowboys may have to rob the Tank to pay the Lion.
Hopefully, as has happened before, the two sides could rework Lawrence’s deal to keep him in Dallas at a more cap-friendly number. He’s still one of their top defensive players and youngsters like Chauncey Golston and Viliami Fehoko have yet to show they’re in any position to replace him.
Unfortunately, the salary cap doesn’t care. If the Cowboys are pushed against the wall financially, Lawrence presents one of the biggest opportunities to reduce cost. It could just come down to cold, harsh math.
WR Michael Gallup
$800 thousand (pre-6/1)
$9.5 million (post-6/1)
This one seems more like a certainty than a possibility. After a rough season that showed he still hasn’t fully recovered from past injuries, Gallup’s time in Dallas feels unlikely to continue.
Different from the situation at defensive end, wide receiver does have guys ready to step up. Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, and Jalen Brooks all seem deserving of more opportunities. Assuming Lamb and Brandin Cooks are back as starters, running with those guys and perhaps a low-priced veteran would be sufficient for 2024.
Sure, Gallup at times flashes his remaining skills and chemistry with Prescott. But he’s making far too much now for random showings. The Cowboys bet on him returning to pre-injury form in 2022 and now it’s time to cut their losses.
LB Leighton Vander Esch
$2.5 million (either)
Vander Esch may not even give Dallas an option here if he chooses to retire, which seems possible given his ongoing neck issues. But regardless of it’s by his own hand or the team’s, Dallas would get back the same amount from his contract.
Unfortunately, even if Vander Esch still wants to play, the Cowboys have to consider his availability. He missed 12 games this year and has a brutal history. With Damone Clark and Markquese Bell returning, plus the hopes for what DeMarvion Overshown can do when he comes back, Dallas might rather not leave a decent chunk of the cap tied up in such an unreliable asset.
QB Cooper Rush
$2.25 million (either)
The Cowboys didn’t trade for Trey Lance last year for nothing. With Lance’s cap hit set to rise from $940k to around $5.3 million, Dallas almost has to cut Rush to help fund that change.
Of course, this may have been the plan all along. Lance was kept on the shelf on season to be developed for the future. Rush only had to come in for the occasional blowout and to be a stabilizing presence in the QB room. But now, it’s hard to see him returning if Dallas is going to most to the next phase of the Lance project.
P Bryan Anger
$3 million (either)
While cutting the Pro Bowler would come with potential risk, it also provides solid cap relief. After the wizardry they pulled off in finding Brandon Aubrey at kicker, who only counted $750k against the cap in 2023, Dallas might make another bold move to reduce their cap liability on special teams.
DE Chauncey Golston
CB Nahshon Wright
$1.2-1.3 million each (either)
Two fourth-year guys with minimal dead money left on their deals, and also minimal roles on the team. While the cap savings of about $1.2-$1.3 million for each of them isn’t a lot, Dallas could recycle that money into some newer, cheaper draft picks and other players with more upside.
We did mention Golston as part of the decision in what happens to DeMarcus Lawrence, and it’s worth noting that he’d be the likely candidate to take on more of Tank’s role as a run-stopper. But we haven’t seen much impact from him this year.