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Friday, 6 February 2015

Dallas Cowboys: Breaking Down The Salary Cap

The Patriots are known for their cap management.  It's why they continue to field relatively complete teams year in and year out- their only superstar contract belongs to Tom Brady, who continually signs off on changes to help the team manage its cap.

And now they've won another Super Bowl.

The Cowboys want to follow that same philosophy, but they have some star players that need re-signing, and that can only happen if the cap is managed properly.

The base numbers:

2015 Projected Cap: $142 million (may increase).

Cap space rolled over: ~$3 million.

Cap hits from the top 51 Contracts: ~$136.6 million.

Current Cap Space: ~$8.7 million.

With the current crop of free agents, that's not enough to re-sign more than a couple of the free agents that helped make 2014 such a successful season.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to create cap space on the roster.  There are two major methods employed by teams- re-working the deals of existing players, or cutting players that are overpaid with non-gauraunteed salaries.  

It is worth noting that during the offseason, when a player is bumped from the top 51 cap hits, their contract no longer counts towards the salary cap despite being on the roster.

The following are the big opportunities, separated into two categories.

Cuttable overpaid players:

Henry Melton is the primary opportunity.  Currently, he costs $9.25 million against the cap, and his 2015 salary will be guaraunteed if he is still on the roster on March 10.  Cutting Melton by March 9 frees up $8.5 million in cap space after his signing bonus accelerates onto this year's cap.  The cap space is needed more than he is, so he will be gone.

Brandon Carr is not a terrible corner, but he certainly hasn't played like a $50 million man.  A cut early in the offseason does not save any cap space in 2015, but cutting Carr after June 1 saves $8 million by shifting some of the cost to next year.  The threat of a cut should result in a re-negotiation with Carr, but could pay for some summer moves if needed (including signing draft picks).

The smaller cuts:

Cutting Mackenzy Bernadeau would save $1.5 million, although as a starter he's worth the hit for now and will stay.

Cutting Jeremy Mincey would also save $1.5 million, and will likely happen if the Cowboys rebuild the defensive line.

Cutting LB Dekoda Watson if the Cowboys resign other LBs would save $1.25 million, while cutting DTs Terrell McClain and Amobi Okoye during a rebuild would save $900,000 and $870,000, but really, this money would just pay for their replacements.

Contracts to restructure:

Overusing future cap space is dangerous, as the Cowboys saw last year.  With Romo approaching the end of his career and no sure successor on the roster, it's time to win big as soon as possible, so it's a risk they have to take.

Restructuring a contract is like using a credit card- you add resources now, but pay a heavy price later.  The salary converted to a signing bonus gets split over the next five years.  Potential future cap problems can arise, but this trick can be used repeatedly, so the entire salary does not have to be immediately restructured.

Tony Romo currently has a $17 million base salary, up to $16 million of which can be converted into a signing bonus, resulting in up to $12.8 million in savings from restructuring Romo's contract.  Again, this isn't a requirement, just a hidden well of cap space that can be dipped into as needed.

The other big salary to adjust is that of Tyron Smith, who was recently extended.  Around $10 million can be converted from his base salary, saving the Cowboys around $8 million.  It's also far less risky than restructuring Romo, as Smith is only 24 and should be around for a long time to come.

While using all of it right now isn't the smart move, the Cowboys could create up to $40 million in cap space.  If deals are structured right, this space could leave room for the Cowboys to re-sign or replace all their role players and at least three big stars in free agency, putting this year's draft in "best player available" status.

With this space and proper drafting, the Cowboys can easily be contenders again in 2015.

This article was restructured by the author before submission to save around 75 words, leaving enough room to add this little joke at the end.

Keep an eye out for a basic outline of the draft plan for the Cowboys coming soon, as well as an "ideal offseason" charted out for the Cowboys in a few days.


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