Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The silent Cowboys actually generated some free agency news recently announcing that 3 players would visit Valley Ranch on Monday: Safety Michael Huff (Oakland Raiders), Safety Will Allen (Pittsburgh Steelers), and Linebacker Justin Durant (Detroit Lions). All areas of need in light of recent moves, but odd news in that the Cowboys have barely $100,000 in cap space today and will still need to carve out money to sign their draft picks from the upcoming draft. That started a swirl of rumors that the Cowboys and Tony Romo were close to inking an extension that would lighten Romo’s cap burden this year and allow the team some maneuvering room. The rumors even included the figures of 4-years, $68 million dollars, and $30 million guaranteed. Depending on the structure of the actual deal, that would be considered very “team-friendly”. As is the case with rumors, as of this posting, no deal appears imminent. False alarm.
However, it is also now being reported that although both Huff and Allen left Valley Ranch without a deal, the Cowboys are prepared to sign Durant to a 2-year deal as soon as they create cap space (either via the Romo extension or a long-term deal with Anthony Spencer, or both). Those kind of discussions do indicate that something on the cap front is close to happening. That’s good news for this year potentially, but let’s review our cap situation for this year and beyond as it stands today. It should send a cold shiver down the spine of any Cowboys fan.
The 2013 cap situation has been widely reported. The Cowboys were already cap-constrained coming into the season and restructured quite a few contracts just to give them enough cap room to apply the franchise tag to Anthony Spencer for the second consecutive year. They also re-signed long snapper L.P. Ladouceur and inked a 2-year, $2.7 million deal with center Phil Costa. They let Dan Connor go when he wouldn’t take a pay cut and signed Ernie Sims to a one-year deal for a reported $715,000. The Cowboys are essentially in “Cap Hell” until they get one or both deals done with Romo and Spencer. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” and what remains to be seen is what’s left on the free agent market once they create some room.
SIDE NOTE: The Cowboys are still paying for some of their past personnel mistakes – they have nearly $6 million dollars in “dead money” counting toward their 2013 salary cap including $2,000,000 for Terrence Newman (cut in 2012), and $2.4 million and $1.35 million respectively for recently released Gerald Sensabaugh and Dan Connor.
So, the Cowboys will ultimately manage through 2013 but what lies ahead? The 2014 and 2015 seasons are already looking like they could be a significant cap challenge. For 2014, the Cowboys are already on the hook for $121 million dollars against a salary cap that is expected to stay near $123 million or even come down a bit. And, wait for it, that does NOT include a starting quarterback. As it stands today, Tony Romo is a free agent after this season so he counts for nothing against the 2014 cap yet. That also would not include other significant free agents like Anthony Spencer (assuming he plays in 2013 under the franchise tag) or Jason Hatcher. It should also disturb fans to know that Doug Free will be the 2nd highest paid player on the roster in 2014 (behind only DeMarcus Ware) if he is still on the team (on base salary – Free is third highest paid counting all payments behind Ware and Carr). LOTS of work left to do for 2014 already.
Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2015 does not look a whole lot better. Currently, there are only 19 players whose contracts extend to 2015. Those 19 players as it stands today already account for just over $103 million dollars in cap money with the league salary cap projected to stay right around $125 million dollars. That technically leaves about $22 million dollars with no Romo and no Dez Bryant and no DeMarco Murray yet accounted for. Ouch!
Of course, the Cowboys can continue to restructure contracts and kick the can down the road. Not a horrible strategy as long as you can continue to draft reasonably well and key players continue to play well as they endure the wear and tear of the NFL. That is not a given based on the Cowboys’ history.
Of course, none of this will matter if the team can somehow catch lightning in a bottle and scratch out another Lombardi trophy this season or next. The Ravens have basically had to dismantle the team that won the big game just this last February but they are still basking in the afterglow of their second world championship. Who cares about the salary cap when you are world champions? The era of NFL dynasties is long gone in this salary cap/free agent dominated league. Get it while you can. Go Cowboys!
(NOTE: All salary data pulled from www.spotrac.com. Great site!)