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How the Cowboys might manipulate the roster to get under the salary cap

A lot of offseason decisions will be driven by the lack of space right now.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints
Time to go to work.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be making some big moves with contracts. Based on current projections, they are already over the NFL salary cap to the tune of $16 million and change. They will have to generate more through some combination of restructures, extensions, player cuts, and possibly trades. Further complicating things, they also have a lot of players that are set to enter free agency.

The dismal way they were ejected from the playoffs is another factor to consider. The team clearly needs to shake things up. All those elements will be on the minds of Jerry and Stephen Jones. Player contracts are one of the key things they reserve to themselves. They also decide about who is going to be their head coach, but that is a topic for other articles. A lot of other articles.

This one is to get you up to speed on what options they have to create space. They wound up with the cap deficit because they really tried to go all in on 2023. Sadly, that didn’t work out, and now they have to get the cap straight again. But this is familiar territory for them, and many other teams. The New Orleans Saints have been at the bottom of the cap space list for years now, and their existing 2024 contracts have them a staggering $82 million over. But they, and all the other teams needing space, will find a way to get under the limit.

Teams can take different approaches, but restructures have always been the chief way the Cowboys generate space. Between now and the start of the new league year on March 13th, there will likely be several of these done. One of the advantages of restructures is that they generally require no negotiations. The players receive the same money overall, and actually get more now as future salary is converted into bonuses that are paid out immediately while their cap impact is spread over the remainder of the contract.

The two biggest contracts for them to work with are those of Dak Prescott and Zack Martin, but there are several others that can be used to generate smaller but still useful amounts. According to Over the Cap, this is a list of the significant ones.

Cowboys restructures

Player Restructure savings
Player Restructure savings
Dak Prescott $21,860,000
Zack Martin $12,592,500
Trevon Diggs $7,900,000
Michael Gallup $4,916,677
Terence Steele $4,900,000
Brandin Cooks $4,526,677
DeMarcus Lawrence $4,395,000
Donovan Wilson $2,916,677
Total $64,007,531

If they restructured all those contracts for the maximum amount, they would have the shortfall covered and nearly $48 million to work with.

But there is a cost that comes with this. It makes it harder to move on from a player, because it increases the dead money hit if they do. While some restructures are inevitable, they might also look for other ways to generate space.

One way is to cut players currently under contract. This can also come from a player retiring. The team is also able to designate up to two post June 1 cuts, or have the retirement of a player come after that date. Post June 1 cuts do not affect the cap until then.

Here is a table of some who could open up some space. Not all are likely candidates, especially Dak Prescott. But there are those who want the team to cut him in particular and move on, and it might be useful for them to see how that would affect the situation.

Possible cuts

Player Pre June 1 Post June 1
Player Pre June 1 Post June 1
Dak Prescott -$2,460,000 $34,000,000
DeMarcus Lawrence $2,555,000 $10,000,000
Michael Gallup $800,000 $9,500,000
Brandin Cooks $4,000,000 $8,000,000
Leighton Vander Esch $2,500,000 $2,500,000
Tyron Smith $0 $1,000,000
Bryan Anger $3,000,000 $3,000,000
Cooper Rush $2,250,000 $2,250,000
Chauncey Golston $1,330,443 $1,330,443
Nahshon Wright $1,227,667 $1,227,667
Josh Ball $1,055,000 $1,055,000
Israel Mukuamu $1,055,000 $1,055,000

Let me unpack some things here. Many of the players that could generate savings by being cut also create big dead money numbers, with Prescott’s being $25,455,000. That has to be factored in.

Leighton Vander Esch has had injury issues, and might be a consideration this offseason. He also might elect to retire, which has the same impact. Tyron Smith is included for similar reasons, although given his play last year, it would almost certainly be a case of him deciding to hang up his cleats that would lead to his departure. He might not be ready for that, nor is DeMarcus Lawrence, but wanted to show the impact if they did.

Bryan Anger is in because punters are generally not regarded as hard to replace. Cooper Rush is more interesting. He could not only be a potential cut if the team thinks they have something in Trey Lance, or could find a cheaper option in free agency or the draft, he might be trade bait.

The final four names are all examples of players that the team might feel they don’t want to keep, particularly the last three. There are a lot of other potential cuts that would net a little less, but remember that the replacement would wipe out most if not all of the savings. This was just a way to show that all roster moves have some impact on the cap, even if it may be small.

Finally, there are contract extensions. Here is a list of the top five here to keep things simple.

  • Dak Prescott - $26,232,000
  • CeeDee Lamb - $13,492,800
  • Zack Martin - $13,432,000
  • Trevon Diggs - $7,900,000
  • DeMarcus Lawrence - $7,032,000

Some of these are coming sooner or later. But these do have to be negotiated, and the price tags for Prescott, Lamb, and Diggs are going to be high. With Martin and Lawrence, longevity enters in. A contract extension ties the team to the player for several years, and both of them might not remain capable to the end of a new deal. The cost of an extension has to be taken into account. There are few really team-friendly extensions worked out.

It is a story we cover every year. The Cowboys need cap space, they will pull a few levers and maybe get new deals done with some of their stars, some players will be cut, and they will have the space they need to sign some free agents and pay the new draft class. This is just a handy reference for which names will likely be involved as Jerry and Stephen get to work.

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