Home > Uncategorized > Analyzing 2014 NFL Cap Situations: Dallas Cowboys

Analyzing 2014 NFL Cap Situations: Dallas Cowboys

This is a series in which we will take a look at some of the more obvious moves teams will be making when the calendar turns to March, and try to get out in front of a lot of cap analysis you will read.  This is more about setting the stage for free agency previews and the upcoming season than the actual hard numbers.  There will not be a lot of tables in this series, and a lot of the calculations will be back of the napkin type, rounded up to the closest million.  If you are into the hard numbers, check out OvertheCap.com.

2014 Dallas Cowboys

Critical talent (remaining contract):

-QB Tony Romo (6 years, $93 million, $41.7 million guaranteed)
-LB Sean Lee (6 years, $32 million, $13.5 million guaranteed)
-TE Jason Witten (4 years, $24 million, $8.6 million guaranteed)
-DE DeMarcus Ware (4 years, $53 million, $8.6 million guaranteed)
-RB Demarco Murray (1 year, $1.4 million, $166 thousand guaranteed)
-WR Dez Bryant (1 year, $2.0 million, $1.9 million guaranteed)
-CB Brandon Carr (4 years, $33.6 million, $16.9 million guaranteed)
-OT Tyron Smith (1 year, $2.1 million fully guaranteed + 2015 contract option decision due by 3/2014)

Current Cap Situation: $24 million over the projected cap

The Dallas Cowboys are in the worst cap situation in the league.  And the real question that cap analysts have for this roster is exactly where the shoe will drop.  The Cowboys are completely capped out, and have three of their eight best players eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season.  They will not have the cap flexibility to use the franchise tag, so either they agree to extensions, or the teams running back, wide receiver, and left tackle all get to test free agency next season.  If this happens, the Cowboys are a 5 win rebuilding team with one of the three highest paid QBs in the NFL.

And that might be the best possible outcome.  Because things can always get worse.

Here’s the good news for the Cowboys: that cap deficit will be erased pretty easily.

Moves that will be made (90% certainty)

-Tony Romo Contract restructure (saves $10 million in exchange for $10 million in future guarantees)
-Sean Lee Contract restructure (saves $3.8 million in exchange for $3.8 million ” )
-Miles Austin release with 6/1 designation (saves $5.5 million in exchange for a $5.1 million deadcap hit in 2015)

The Romo and Lee contract restructures are virtual certainties because the flexibility to make such restructures were all but written into their 2013 contract extensions.  Romo has restructured his deal to play for the league minimum salary every year since 2009 except twice: the 2010 uncapped year, and last year, when he signed his extension post FA and post draft.  Terrence Wiliams rookie year makes Austin expendable, and he wasn’t productive in any way last season.  He will be gone.

These moves bring the Cowboys within $5 million of the expected cap number.  It’s an awful cap situation, but the awfulness of being $24 million over the cap will be overstated in coming months.  These three moves are no brainers and save the Cowboys more than $19 million on the 2014 cap.

Tough Cap Decisions on Key Players

-Jason Witten
-Brandon Carr
-DeMarcus Ware

There is nothing here to suggest that Jerry Jones is prepared to finally make a difficult decision on anyone on his roster.  With Carr and Witten, there is enough reason to believe in their future value to either restructure or extend.  Witten saw his numbers decline in 2013, but he’s going to be an effective player into his mid-thirties, so expect the Cowboys to add two years to his deal, and save $3.2 million on the cap.  This will likely lock Witten onto the roster through the 2016 season, but as far as investments go, that’s not a bad one.  It will also give flexibility to keep Witten and make extension offers to Bryant, Murray, and Smith.  Alternatively, Dallas can do a simple one-time restructure, save just under $3 million on the cap, and prepare for life without Witten in 2015 or 2016.

It’s still too costly both in terms of on the field production and cap ramifications to consider releasing Brandon Carr, so he is also a candidate for extension.  However, a simple restructure probably makes more sense.  It would save the Cowboys $5 million in 2014, and push an additional $5 million in guarantees into the future.

Here’s the litmus test on the Dallas offseason: DeMarcus Ware.  Based on cap factors and declining productivity, the Cowboys would be wise to release Ware so that they can be players in the free agent market.  Ware could be released with a post-June 1 designation, and the Cowboys would save a full $13 million on the cap, in exchange for a $5 million deadcap hit in 2015.  That would help the Cowboys cap situation both immediately, and in the future.  Alternatively, Dallas can save $7.5 million by releasing Ware in March.

But the reason the Cowboys are in this situation dictates that they are not likely to do the wise thing.  Ware still has sacks left in him, and Jones wants those sacks for the Cowboys, and they can save money on the Ware deal by pushing money out into future years and paying for it later.  With the other contracts on this list, it’s different.  Dallas doesn’t really save any money by releasing any of the other guys mentioned above, but this is a real point in the Ware contract where it isn’t expensive at all to move on, and it’s very expensive to keep him on the roster.  Ware will turn 32 during training camp.  70% of owners would move on at this point and thank him for nine great seasons.  Jones is probably going to keep him.

And it could cost him his best shot at re-signing Dez Bryant.

Other potential cap related casulties

One way or another, Dallas is going to be able to save something in the ballpark of $17 million on the Carr, Ware, and Witten contracts, which will give them a functional amount of cap space to work with this offseason.  It will put them about $12 million under the cap.  That is enough room to do a couple things.  It’s enough to sign the rookies they will draft.  And it’s enough to make some competitive extension offers to guys like Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray, although not all three.  If Dallas wants to retain any unrestricted free agents or make any moves on the free agent market, they’ll have to move on from some veterans who we haven’t talked about at this point.

-OT Doug Free (post 6/1 cap savings: $3.5 million)
-CB Orlando Scandrick (restructure to save $3 million)
-QB Kyle Orton (save $1 million upon release)
-G Mackenzie Bernadeau (save $1.4 million upon release)

Free is likely to go if the Cowboys keep Ware.  They don’t save any money on him cutting him prior to June 1 (but can designate up to two players on their roster prior to that).  The Scandrick contract is already a disaster, and Dallas is likely going to leave this one alone, but can save up to three million if they’re on the verge of an extension with someone like Bryant.

I don’t expect any additional moves here unless the Cowboys need some extra cash right before the season begins.  After accounting for Doug Free’s release or restructure, I project the Cowboys to work the offseason from a position of $15 million in cap space, which means that they can be very minor players in free agency, and could re-sign some some of their free agents if they are on the market a couple weeks.  Any contract the Cowboys offer would have to be very team friendly.  They’ll likely make a play for a safety in free agency.

Top Unrestricted Free Agents

-DT Jason Hatcher (age 32)
-DE Anthony Spencer (age 30)
-G Brian Waters (age 37)

None of these players are better than 25 percent to re-sign, and Waters is probably about to enter his second and final retirement.

Draft Needs Created by Cap Issues

-Defensive Line
-Offensive Tackle
-Offensive Guard


    March 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm


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