Next week marks the start of the new league year and the beginning of NFL free agency. With the 2014 salary cap set at $133 million the Dallas Cowboys have the next week to clear their books of roughly $17 million to comply with this year’s cap figures.
That’s a tall order, but not nearly as bad as it might have been had the salary cap not taken a much higher jump this year than had previously been expected.
The Cowboys announced Friday that they had released defensive end Everett Brown, defensive tackle Corey Irvin, guard Ray Dominguez and guard Jeff Olsen creating about $1 million in relief and is only the start of a much larger effort.
If the Cowboys want to get under the cap though, they will have to do a lot more. Restructuring the contracts of players like Sean Lee, Tony Romo and Orlando Scandrick could create as much as $17 million and would bring Dallas into salary cap compliance, though just barely.
Dallas also has the option of reworking the contracts of Jason Witten and Brandon Carr though their contracts are not suited to this as well as the players already mentioned.
Another report surfaced Friday from the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson that the Cowboys would cut center Phil Costa, a move that could potentially save them about $1.5 million but as of late Sunday evening Costa was still under contract.
That brings us to the big ticket items, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin.
Austin is the more likely of the two to be cut but doing so actually costs them more money against the cap then it would be to keep him. With no word out of Valley Ranch about a possible restructure for Austin the most likely course of action will be for Jerry Jones and company to designate Austin as a post June 1 cut saving the team $5.5 million on this year’s cap but only after June 1st.
That isn’t a lot of help to them much with free agency is set to begin in just seven days so a restructure is still not out of the question.
Ware is a more complicated issue. As Mr. Jones noted last month, it’s hard to invasion a Dallas Cowboys defense in 2014 without #94 on the field. A base salary of $12.5 Million and a cap hit of $16 million might mean he won’t be unless a deal can be reached.
From the Cowboys perspective Ware has underperformed the last two seasons while fighting off injury and would like to pay him a contract perhaps similar to Doug Free’s that allows for a portion of his original contract to be earned back if he reaches certain incentives. It’s uncertain if Ware would take an actual pay cut though. Cutting Ware saves the team about $8 million.
Normally when a team restructures a contract the player isn’t actually taking less money. Their base salary is reduced to somewhere around the league minimum and the rest of the money they would have made is given to them in base salaries in future years and or a signing bonus which is then spread over the remaining life of the contract.
This practice is; however, partially why the Cowboys find themselves with their current cap limitations. Ware himself has done each of the last three years.
Doing all of this barely gives the Cowboys room to sign their draft picks, talk about salary cap hell.
If they want to sign someone like Jason Hatcher or the even more unlikely Henry Melton, Dallas will have to work some more cap magic and hope that this year’s market for defensive lineman is similar to the one from last year.
Should they want to bring back Anthony Spencer it would certainly cost them a lot less. After being injured for two straight seasons it’s unlikely that he will command a price that will put Dallas out of contention.
Bringing in a high priced free agent isn’t in the Cowboy’s cards. Any money they do manage to free up should go to making sure Hatcher’s helmet continues to have a star on it next season.
Maybe Will McClay and the pro personnel department have a few more George Selvie type surprises left in their bag. If Dallas wants to get better in 2014, they better hope he does. Whatever they do end up doing, they better do it in a way that keeps them from being right back in salary cap hell next season
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