Dead Money and the Dallas Cowboys


Over the past few weeks we’ve seen, both on this website and throughout the media, articles concerning all the contract restructuring the Dallas Cowboys have done. However, rarely (except for here on, has it been pointed out all the dead money accumulation in the future the Cowboys have put together in the process of these restructures. Sure, most places mention how much cap space the team cleared for 2013, and a lot of people will look at it and think it’s a great thing. As we’ve alluded to a million times here, this great news is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Specifically with the Cowboys, Jason has written a bunch about the mess they’re in now and will continue to be in down the line. Based on all that, I wanted to take a look at just where all the dead money is tied up with the Cowboys now and in the future. Keep in mind that the dead money totals in this post do not include amounts from any projections of rookie signing bonuses and/or guaranteed salaries, and so these numbers will be changing soon.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of dead money and how it applies to a team’s salary cap (for those who are, just skip this paragraph), dead money doesn’t refer to what it costs on a team’s salary cap to keep a player on their roster for the season. Dead money refers to how much money a player will cost a team on the salary cap if the team cuts ties with that player (or in some cases, trades that player). In a given year, a player’s dead money count can come from a number of things, such as signing bonus proration from future years that have accelerated to the current year due to the player being released, guaranteed base salaries down the line, etc. Calculating dead money isn’t one set formula for every player, many have unique contract structures that will drastically alter that player’s dead money total in a certain year; the specific point in the year when the player is released and/or traded can also have an effect (See Jason’s many posts on some guy named Revis, Darrelle). Dead money totals in the future can become extremely concerning to a team’s salary cap situation; older players who are no longer performing at the necessary level with big dead money hits from contracts negotiated in their prime become prohibitive (due to the money that accelerates to the current year’s cap when an older player with big dead money hits gets released). Thus, the dead money totals you see aren’t what these players are costing the Cowboys today, but instead it is what it would cost against the cap if these players were released in the specific year listed. Keep in mind that if a player is released, his dead money totals in the future no longer apply. This means, if Player X is released in 2013, he no longer has a dead money total in 2014 and beyond. Most dead money totals from future years simply accelerate into the current year’s salary cap.


As mentioned above, we’ve heard a million times about all the restructures the Cowboys have done to free up cap space now. As such, I didn’t want to spend so much time on the dead money this year since, well, 2013 is already here. Regardless, as of today, Dallas has about $168,629,424 in dead money on the roster. The five largest amounts of dead money for the Cowboys in 2013 come from Brandon Carr ($22,300,000), DeMarcus Ware ($15,823,943), Tony Romo ($13,499,835), Morris Claiborne ($13,307,320) and Jason Witten ($12,060,000). Safe to say these players aren’t going anywhere this year, so their dead money totals as of right now are an afterthought.


As of now, the Cowboys have 30 players on the roster whose contracts carry dead money totals into 2014. The total amount of dead money for 2014 is currently $97,616,072. The highest dead money players may be in their 20’s at this point (Carr wth $16.868 million and Claiborne with $9,610,842), but the average age of the next 6 players is 31.8:

Witten (32):    $8,648,000

Ware (32):       $8,571,500

Romo (34):      $8,181,000

Austin (30):    $7,855,600

Free (30):        $7,000,000

Ratliff (33):     $6,928,000)

The 6 players listed directly above account for 48.3% of all potential dead money on the Cowboys cap in 2014.


In 2015, the Cowboys have 20 players with dead money totals for a sum of $56,492,180. Of the 11 highest dead money hits on the team, only 3 will be in their 20’s:

Carr (29):        $12.151,000

Claiborne(25): $5,175,069

Scandrick(28): $3,602,500

The other 8 highest dead money totals come from players who are age 31 and over:

Ware (33):       $5,317,750

Witten (33):    $5,236,000

Austin (31):    $5,106,200

Romo (35):      $4,908,000

Ratliff (34):     $4,196,000

Free (31):        $3,980,000

Orton (32):      $2,000,000

Livings (33)     $1,400,000

The average age of those 8 players is 32.75, and they would account 56.89% of the potential dead money on Dallas’ cap that year (as constructed today).


As of now, the Cowboys have 13 players carrying dead money into 2016 for a total of $22,079,050. The problem here is that the top 5 are all age 30 and over, with the only one in the top 8 (dead money of $1 million or more) under 30 is Orlando Scandrick.

Carr (30):        $7,434,000

Austin (32):    $2,356,800

Ware (34):       $2,064,000

Witten (34):    $1,824,000

Romo (36):      $1,635,000

Scandrick(29): $1,501,250

Ratliff (35):     $1,464,000

Orton (33):      $1,000,000

While most of these figures for 2016 obviously aren’t huge, the Cowboys are a team that haven’t exactly left themselves in the best salary cap situation year after year, and so every available dollar counts. The point of this post isn’t really to say that they’re absolutely doomed down the line, or that they can’t get out of it, because I’m sure there are ways they can at least ease the burden. The point is, the Cowboys certainly do have a large amount of dead money tied into aging players and, unless they are extremely confident these players will play at a high level throughout the life of their contracts, this is just not a great practice. It’s more than likely a lot of these players won’t be on the team this long; most will probably be released at some time and so this team is going to see a large accumulation of dead money onto their salary cap at some point. Whether or not the Cowboys can find a way to balance the likely hits their cap will take remains to be seen, but what we can say as of right now is that we wouldn’t want to be them when it happens.

Twitter: @AndrewOTC