Cowboys 2016 Offseason Preview

Current Estimated 2016 Cap Space: $10.2 million


Expected 2016 Cap Space: $18.1 million


Estimated Rookie Cap: $9.214 million


Roster Overview


Players Under Contract: 58
Pro Bowlers: 4
Unrestricted Free Agents: 16(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 4

Salary Cap Breakdown

Cowboys salary cap

Cowboys offensive Spending

Cowboys Defensive Spending

Free Agents to Re-sign

The Cowboys declined the option on cornerback Morris Claiborne, but they could decide to bring him back on a one year contract if they part ways with Brandon Carr…I can’t see much interest around the NFL in Rolando McClain, so the Cowboys should be able to retain him on a similar one year contract as the one he signed last season…I would take the chance on bringing back Lance Dunbar since he would be a cheap option. Dunbar, if he can stay healthy, can be a very effective special team player and 3rd down running back.

Free Agents to Let Walk

I would let Greg Hardy go despite the talent that he has. Hardy brings potential problems to the locker room and is certainly going to get negative coverage from the press. Dallas made a mistake signing him to the large salaried contract that ate away at a lot of the cap flexibility the team had gained in the prior few seasons. They would be better off bringing back DeMarcus Ware for a year than going long term on Hardy…Matt Cassel was terrible as a fill in for Romo and should not be considered as a backup next year…Dallas is already heavily invested in the offensive line and I’m not sure they can sink another $2 million or so into the unit with Mackenzy Bernadeau…Jeremy Mincey should be able to be replaced by someone younger.


Contracts to Modify

The first step to gaining some additional flexibility with their salary cap will come by restructuring the contract of left tackle Tyron Smith. This is one of the most team friendly contracts in the NFL and Dallas could probably convert the next two year’s salary to bonus money and it would still remain one of the most team friendly deals. This will create nearly $7.4 million in cap room, which is more than sufficient to operate for the year…There will be talk given to doing something similar with Dez Bryant and Tony Romo but Dallas should avoid the temptation on both, especially Romo. Romo’s contract is a nightmare and while he is still a terrific quarterback there has to be concerns about how his body holds up in the future…Bryant already received a massive signing bonus and adding another large prorated bonus will put Bryant in a category where if his play were to decline the Cowboys would be in a major bind. Bryant’s contract should only be restructured if an absolute necessity to sign someone. They could create about $6 million in room with him.

Players to Consider Releasing

Given the lack of depth at the position Dallas could very well look for Brandon Carr to take a massive paycut, but they may be better served to just release him and get his contract completely off the books this season. Cutting Carr, who has the worst contracts on the roster, would save $6.4M against the cap this year and eliminate the $2.7 million charge for him in 2017 when his contract voids.

Salary Cap Analytics by Bryce Johnston

The Cowboys will need to largely rely on improved health or performance from players currently under contract in order to increase their win total in 2016, as the team possesses just the 30th most True Cap Space and just a few players under contract likely to be released for salary cap purposes.  The Cowboys also maintain the highest Commitment Index score in the NFL, meaning the team has truly committed more of is salary cap space in 2017 and beyond than any other team.  While this may be cause for spending prudence in most situations, the team’s recent success and aging quarterback may justify doubling down on the salary cap commitment and weathering out the ramifications a year or two or three down the road.   Tyron Smith’s contract is well positioned to take the place of Tony Romo’s contract as the one in which base salary is annually converted to signing bonus in order to free up salary cap space in the current year.

-Bryce Johnston, @NFL Cap Analytics

Expected Contract Termination OutcomesExpected Contract Value 2.0 utilizes an algorithm based on a player’s contract characteristics, age, position and 2015 performance to forecast probabilities as to the outcomes of contract termination decisions.   The lower the Expected Outcome, the more likely the player’s contract will be terminated in 2016.  A pay cut is treated as a termination.  We have applied ECV 2.0 to all contracts scheduled to count $2 million or more against the 2016 salary cap with the exception of exercised 5th year rookie options.  Expected Savings is the calculated by multiplying the probability a player will be released by the cap savings realized by the team upon such release.

PlayerPositionExpected OutcomeExpected Savings
Tyron SmithOL99.7%$0
Dan BaileyKP99.7%$2,970
Tyrone CrawfordDT99.2%($49,200)
Zack MartinOL99.1%($24,539)
Dez BryantREC96.3%($450,000)
Travis  FrederickOL93.0%$93,659
Sean LeeLB92.5%($67,680)
Orlando ScandrickDB88.9%$203,462
Cole BeasleyREC85.7%$50,944
Tony RomoQB85.5%($1,611,720)
Doug FreeOL57.5%$1,063,000
Brandon CarrDB55.2%$2,861,499
Barry ChurchDB53.8%$1,271,875
Darren McFaddenRB30.4%$1,426,390
Jason WittenREC27.6%$3,178,667
Expected Change in Cap Room+$7,949,327

True Cap SpaceRealizable Cap Space depicts the total amount of salary cap space potentially at the team’s disposal in 2016, and True Cap Space makes further adjustments to take into consideration amounts that are accounted for in practical terms.  Most True Cap Space will be used on players currently under contract as a result of the team choosing to not release them.

True Cap Space (2016)
Adjusted Salary Cap$153,852,589
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts($45,972,103)
Realizable Cap Space$107,880,486
Fully Guaranteed Salary($18,818,001)
Minimum Salary Cap Holds($21,150,000)
True Cap Space$67,912,485
League Rank30th

Commitment Index – Commitment Index identifies the degree to which a team has “mortgaged its future” by measuring its net future salary cap commitments  as a percentage of the average net future salary cap commitments of all teams.  A Commitment Index Score of 100% is average, and a negative Commitment Index Score indicates that the team has more current salary cap space than future salary cap commitments.

Commitment Index (2017+)
Prorated Signing Bonus Amounts$70,400,575
Fully Guaranteed Salary$3,476,625
Current Cap Space($6,908,119)
Net Commitment$66,969,081
Commitment Index Score388%
League Rank (1st = Most Committed)1st

Offseason Plan

The Cowboys need to just chalk up 2015 to injuries and keep their fingers crossed that they can get 16 games out of Romo in 2016. The reality is the Cowboys are pretty financially leveraged and their best course of action is to lay low in free agency and make sure their salary cap stays stable in the future. They have the best offensive line in the NFL and right now they are able to keep that together because most of them are on rookie contracts. If they overextend themselves in free agency now that impacts keeping that strength together in the future when they make the inevitable post Romo turn.

If Dallas is to enter free agency I would expect them to look for help in the secondary before anything else. Trumaine Johnson may be the highest upside/lowest cost starting player available. Other names include Prince Amukamara, Janoris Jenkins and Sean Smith. Smith is probably going to be too expensive to consider.

Though Darren McFadden did run for 1,000 yards I think there is always going to be concern about his durability and its essential Dallas has a durable runner. Lamar Miller could provide them a back that might be more similar to what they had with DeMarco Murray. Alfred Morris might be another name to consider for the right price to rotate with McFadden. There will likely be rumors of Matt Forte as well, but they should look to get younger rather than older as they can’t afford the veteran missing 3 or 4 games in a year.

Dallas will have an interesting decision to make on the QB position. On one hand they need to begin planning for Romo’s successor, but they also need a viable alternative if Romo goes down this year which often is not a rookie drafted in the 2nd round. The best backup available might be Chad Henne of the Jaguars. Once cuts begin they should entertain the idea of Josh McCown, who also can’t stay healthy but should be fine for a few games, and Robert Griffin III, though he may look for a home with more opportunity to start. They will be linked with Johnny Manziel, but for Dallas the youth should come in the draft not a risk like Manziel whose priorities do not seem to have anything to do with playing in the NFL.

Most of Dallas’ needs are going to be filled in the draft. It makes more sense for them to draft a defensive end that spent a good deal of money in free agency on one. It makes more sense to find a linebacker in the draft than signing one. It makes more sense to draft backup linemen than sign aging veterans to fill in. At most Dallas should bring in one “name” free agent and hold firm the remainder of the offseason. If they can find their quarterback of the future to sit behind Romo for a few seasons, Dallas can avoid that rebuilding process that often hits these veteran teams.

The last thing you can do if you are Dallas is become older and more leveraged. They need to start setting aside for eventual extensions for Travis Frederick and Zack Martin so they can at least keep their good young talent to help bridge to the eventual post Romo era. The offensive line is already in place and building up a young defensive front will give them a chance to avoid going through what we are seeing the Saints go through or what the Raiders went through a few years back..

Temptations won’t be easy to avoid, and last year Dallas could not avoid it with the possibility of Hardy, but far better to be content with what you have and hope the injury bug doesn’t hit, than be stuck down the line in a salary cap quagmire.

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