Proclaiming that the Dallas Cowboys have salary cap issues is no revelation. But while Jerry Jones’ problems with the cap have been well documented, the Cowboys’ cap mess is more alarming than people realize.
Actions carry consequences in all marks of life. Although shortsighted front office-men sometimes operate without regard to this principle, the NFL salary cap is not an exception to this rule.
The 2014 league year begins on Tuesday March 11 at 4pm ET. At this point, all clubs must be under the 2014 salary cap—a figure not yet officially announced but projected to be around $126,300,000.
There are several ways that a team can manipulate their salary cap in order to clear up space in the short term. But each of these manipulation practices carry big-picture costs. The Cowboys have consistently used these different techniques, which is why their current situation is so alarming.
Jason’s up-to-date estimates have Dallas at $24,614,943 over the 2014 projected cap. And because of the Cowboys’ past moves, the only way that they’ll get under this figure in time for the 2014 league year is by exposing themselves to even greater cap problems in the future.
The Saints and Lions cut loose some of their current players in order to clear up cap space this past week. On Wednesday the Saints saved $16.905 million in 2014 cap space by parting ways with veterans Will Smith, Jabari Greer and S Roman. The next day the Lions released Nate Burleson & Louis Delmas, saving $11.08 million in the process.
2014 Cap Number
But Dallas can’t use this mechanism. Here’s why:
Think of releasing a player and gaining cap space as an equation.
(Player X 2014 Cap Number)-(Dead Money Associated with Contract of Player X)= 2014 Cap Savings
If you look at every Cowboys player who has a legitimate 2014 cap hit (let’s say $2 million or greater, and I count 14 of these guys), 7 have dead money hits associated with their contract that exceeds their 2014 cap hit (meaning no cap benefit would be derived from cutting one of these guys); 3 others have dead money hits that are less than $500,000 below their 2014 cap hits.
The only player who would be worth cutting outright is DeMarcus Ware (he’d save them $7.4 million in cap space immediately). But of course Ware is Dallas’ best player and a perennial Pro-Bowler.
You can try playing GM with our Salary Cap Calculator and figuring this mess out on your own—it’s an arduous task.
Because of their cap situation, Dallas’ only choice is to continue doing what they have been doing—restructuring contracts. And don’t get restructuring confused with renegotiating, where a player agrees to actually take a pay cut and earn less money. With a restructure a player’s base salary is converted into bonus money—this lowers a player’s current cap figure and recycles the money into future years.
Or stated otherwise, it lowers a player’s current cap figure and puts that franchise in a bind in future years.
Last offseason the Cowboys reworked the contracts of multiple players. They added two voidable years to DeMarcus Ware’s contract (a very dangerous practice), and restructured the contracts of Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Doug Free, Jay Ratliff, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeu and Ryan Cook.
They will have to do the same thing this offseason, except they’ll likely have to rework the deal of QB Tony Romo ($13.5 million 2014 base salary), meaning their future commitment to Romo will be even greater than it already is.
One mechanism that Dallas can use to help itself in the short-term is the June 1st cut, which is explained on our Salary Cap Calculator page and copied below:
“When a player is cut on or after June 1, only the current year’s prorated bonus and guaranteed base salaries (if they exist) count against the current cap year. All other such cap money is accelerated against next year’s cap.
Remember that although a team may use a June 1 designation to cut a player before June 1, the team cannot get the benefits of the designation until June 1. Before then, the team must carry all guarantees against the current cap year, like a normal cut.”
The Cowboys will likely use this June 1st method with WR Miles Austin, as this will save them $5,500,000 in cap space for the 2014 league year instead of the $393,800 that cutting him outright will save. However, since the savings won’t actually benefit the Cowboys until June 1st (as explained above), this method won’t help Dallas get under the cap by the 2014 league year. What it will do is provide them with the necessary cap room that they’ll need to sign their 2014 rookie class. But of course there will be consequences to this action—Dallas will have to deal with the money saved when the 2015 league year rolls around.
Ultimately it’s a vicious cycle—a cycle that was not helped by the steep penalties Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed on the Cowboys for failing to comply during the 2010 uncapped year (if you want to know why teams had to comply with any type of rules in an uncapped year, give Sean Gilbert’s “The $29 Million ‘Tip’” a read.)
America’s Team has won one playoff game since 1996. Based on their current cap situation, this lack of success may not end anytime soon.