Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $18.5M ($143M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 56
Pro Bowlers: 6
Unrestricted Free Agents: 14(7 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 27
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
The number one priority for Dallas this offseason should be keeping Dez Bryant on the roster. Bryant is a rare talent and not the type of player you would expect to fall apart after signing the big contract. His resume is far superior to the Mike Wallace types who have fluctuating numbers. Bryant has some off the field issues that may be hanging over his head that can make the deal difficult and I feel as if league wide there is less of a push towards firm guarantees which is also going to make this more complex. His numbers are not that far off from where Calvin Johnson’s were a few years ago so Bryant is going to shoot for the moon and likely end up with the franchise tag…The Cowboys will need to bring back one of their right tackles and my assumption is it will be Jeremy Parnell who is younger than Doug Free and should be cheaper. There is more risk involved with Parnell who has a smaller body of work, but cost will likely dictate the decision….Not surprisingly the Cowboys did not pick Henry Melton’s option, but I believe there is still a fit there at the right price. If Melton believes he can get $5 million or more Dallas will likely look elsewhere, but if it’s less they should talk.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Dallas ran DeMarco Murray into the ground in 2014 and got great value out of the position because of it. The odds of that value ever being realized again are slim once you sign him to a contract extension. With so many teams having cap room I have to think someone will overpay thinking they can get one season out of Murray in 2015 similar to what he gave Dallas in 2014. With so many other options available in free agency and the draft the better value is found elsewhere…The fact that Dallas allowed Free’s contract to void indicates to me that he will not be brought back. The market rate for Free is likely in the $4-4.5 million range which should be too expensive…Rolando McClain came out of nowhere to have a good season in 2014, but the team already has Sean Lee under contract and McClain may also come with eventual suspension concerns if he slips up. I guess this decision is primarily based on cost. McClain should not have much interest around the NFL because of his prior two stints in the NFL, so the Cowboys might let him go for now and then call him back if the market is lukewarm…Anthony Spencer has not produced much for the Cowboys for some time and expecting him to get back to being a top pass rusher is unrealistic.
Contracts to Modify
The first significant move of the Cowboys offseason will probably be converting most of Tyron Smith’s $11.039 million salary into a signing bonus. That will create over $8 million in cap space which Dallas will need for free agency. This is a very low risk restructure and one that no one should have issues with…I know there will be temptation to restructure the contract of Tony Romo. His cap charge is the highest in the NFL at $27.773 million, but another traditional restructure of his contract is playing with fire. You can read my extended thoughts on Romo’s contract, but the short version is unless he just defers money into 2016 for cap purposes they should stay away…Brandon Carr carries an $8 million salary and a $12.7 million cap charge. His signing has been one of the worst recent signings for Dallas and cutting him saves virtually nothing against the cap. They need to get him to agree to a paycut that reduces his cap charge by a few million…Dallas already reworked the contract of Dekoda Watson.
Players to Consider Releasing
If Carr is not open to a renegotiation that Dallas should designate him a June 1 cut. If the team did that Carr would open up $8 million in cap room in the summer which would effectively offset the cap charge he will leave the team next season…Releasing reserve lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau saves the team $1.5 million in cap space.
For the first time in recent memory Dallas is out of the salary cap hole and back in a spot where they can pick and choose much more freely with what they do with their contracts rather than being forced into it the way they had been in recent years. Their main priority this offseason should be to continue that trend and gain even more flexibility in the future.
I know it is going to be very tempting for the Cowboys to go all in by gaining the maximum cap relief possible by restructuring the Romo deal, the Carr deal to some extent, and even getting a few dollars here and there with players like Jason Witten. That gives them the room to franchise Bryant and bring in some impact players on defense. That completely defeats the purpose of what they began to accomplish last season.
I know it is very easy to look at last season and say that one more big piece will make it work this year, but what is making things tick for Dallas really has been the development of their younger players, specifically on the line, while getting some good value on some low cost signings. The Dallas big ticket players of the past are not the type of players that got them to the divisional round of the playoffs and they need to keep focused on that.
The two positions I would look at in free agency are running back and defensive tackle, which are both traditionally not high pay positions. I don’t believe going after Adrian Peterson is in their best interests if he comes in at a number above $6 million, but we know that they will be linked to him if he is released. The Cowboys can certainly target a number of DT’s if Melton comes in too high. But beyond trying to find some bargain bin talent they should move into the draft to continue to rebuild the team.
With the offensive line seemingly in place and a decent group of receivers this would be the time for Dallas to focus on the defensive line and secondary to continue stockpiling cheaper talent at somewhat expensive positions. I think everyone knows Romo won’t last forever but if they can maintain a strong offensive line while building a good defensive line and secondary they should be well prepared for life after Romo when they have to slot a younger QB in his place or even as he declines as a player. I think this will give them the best chance to maximize their opportunity in 2015 while keeping their future more flexible if things don’t go as planned this season.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.