In this day and age of sports, it’s advisable for fans to “root for laundry” rather than become too attached to players. The cold hard truth is that, at the end of the day, the sports that we love are a business, and sometimes, tough business decisions have to be made.
The 2014 offseason for the Dallas Cowboys might end up being one of the most significant in recent memory. Several popular players might never wear the star again, but, some significant players might be “locked up” for years to come (I use the term “locked up” very loosely, as there really is no such thing, in the NFL).
The Cowboys salary cap situation, on paper, looks terrible. The 2014 cap is expected to be $126.3 million, with the Cowboys adjusted cap expected to be about $127.6 million, according to former agent Joel Corry, meaning that the Cowboy need to cut just a little over $25 million just to get under the cap (unless noted otherwise, all salary and cap figures used here are from Mr. Corry’s article or from e-mail correspondence with Mr. Corry).
However, things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.
Corry does a nice job breaking down the numbers and how the Cowboys can save money, before even having to cut anyone. You can (and should) read the entire explanation for yourself, but the biggest takeaway is that the Cowboys can save $22.504 million by restructuring the contracts of Tony Romo, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr and Jason Witten.
That means, obviously, that some additional moves still need to be made, but that the number the Cowboys will actually be working with is significantly lower and much more manageable.
That does not mean that tough decisions won’t have to be made.
To me, there are six significant players that figure most prominently into the Cowboys offseason.
First, three players that the Cowboys probably need to say goodbye to: Miles Austin, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware.
Next, two players under contract that need to be extended: Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith.
Finally, one free agent that needs to be re-signed: Dan Bailey.
Austin, Hatcher and especially Ware, are three very popular players that the Cowboys just can’t afford to keep.
Austin is being paid like a #1 receiver, but his production more so matches that of a #4 or #5. Now, most of that can be attributed to injuries, but it hasn’t been just a one time thing with Austin and injuries. A clear pattern has emerged and Austin just simply isn’t worth the money any more. The production and progression of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley make it much easier to get jettison the oft-injured receiver.
Hatcher was arguably the most consistent player on defense this past season, and had a career year. But, he’s also 32 years old and again, last season was a career year for him. Who is to say that it wasn’t an anomaly? Dallas simply doesn’t have the money or the leeway to be able to take a gamble and sign him for what he’ll go for on the open market. It’s in their best interest to just say goodbye and thank him for everything. Financially, I’m not sure they even have another option.
(Side note on Hatcher: I find the argument that Hatcher should give the Cowboys a “hometown discount” utterly absurd. Hatcher has played his butt off and earned himself a big payday, almost certainly the only chance that he’ll get at signing a big contract. He has more than earned the opportunity to go out and get every cent that he can. Would loyalty be nice? Absolutely. But it shouldn’t be expected, nor should we hold it against players when they leave a team that can easily cut them at any time, as soon as his production drops. Again, it’s a business, people.).
Ware is probably the most controversial of my proposed cuts, but the important thing to do when evaluating him is to forget the great player that he used to be (and he will go down as one of the all-time great Cowboys and great players in NFL history), and look at the player that he is now, and the player he will be, moving forward.
Ware himself said that he would be willing to take a pay cut, but then backed off of those comments the following day, “clarifying” that he would be willing to restructure, but not necessarily take a cut. Outright releasing Ware would save about $7.5 million and, given Ware’s declining production and increasing injury concerns, the Cowboys would be smart to do it, if they can’t reach a similar number by restructuring.
It isn’t nearly as difficult to convince most Cowboys fans of my next suggestion: that Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith, both scheduled to be free agents in 2015, need to be re-signed for the foreseeable future. For all of the flack that Jerry Jones takes as a GM, he hit home runs on both of these former first-round picks. They are the Cowboys only two Pro Bowlers this season, and Smith is the only All-Pro (second team).
Other than quarterback, left tackle is arguably the most important position in football and the Cowboys have one of the best in Smith, who allowed only one sack in 1,023 snaps.
Bryant still has his problems, but he’s only getting better and more mature (if you scoff at that, think about where he was only two years ago and where he is now. It’s quite an improvement. And there’s no reason to think it won’t continue.) and his talent is right there with the best in the NFL.
I don’t think that I’m breaking any news to the Cowboys front office that locking these guys up is a priority, but the bigger issue will be finding the money to do it.
Finally, even though kickers are often the butt of the joke and sometimes seen as “not real football players,” the Cowboys have something special in Dan Bailey. I love guys like Tony Romo and Sean Lee, but if you put a gun to my head and asked me who the most reliable player on the Cowboys is, I would say Bailey. My colleague Kim Dunning already covered this subject more extensively, so I invite you to read her thoughts, as they pretty much mirror mine.
Of course, the Cowboys will make other cuts, other signings and possibly restructure other contracts, but those are the six moves, concerning the six most significant players, that I think will most benefit the team and need to be made.