[Disclaimer: This article is a correction/revision of a previous post titled “Cowboys in a Pre-Draft Salary Cap Crunch.” I used some faulty information in that piece and apologize for the inaccuracy. Jess.]
You’ll never find an exact answer for what your favorite NFL team’s current salary cap space is. However, the two best public resources out there are OvertheCap.com and Spotrac.com. After looking at those sites today it’s clear that the Dallas Cowboys have some work to do between now and when they start trying to sign their draft picks.
The official NFL salary cap for 2016 is $155.27 million. Each team gets an adjusted salary cap based on their carryover amounts from the previous season. For the Cowboys, that figure is $159.3 million. These are exact numbers that are released by the NFL and the NFLPA.
As of today, OverTheCap has Dallas current salary hits at $151.4 million. Spotrac has our cap amount at about $1 million less. Spotrac projects that Dallas will need about $9.2 million to sign all nine of their current picks. That’s about $4.4 million for the first-round, $1.1 million for the second, and then roughly between $650 and $450 for the subsequent picks. Obviously, those figures can change depending on Dallas trading picks.
So that’s the good news; Dallas has about all the cap room they need to sign their picks. However, it also means they won’t have any funds left after the draft for any other free agent moves.
Remember, there will be veterans who get released after the draft. Dallas is a great example of this as they may be waiting to release Brandon Carr until they see if they land a major cornerback prospect in the first few rounds. Plenty of other teams have their own similar situations and could send veterans packing once they’ve found rookie replacements.
Let’s hypothesize that the Cowboys don’t end up with a defensive end who can help right away. They will likely be going back to a free agent like Jason Jones, who’s already visited, or seeing who gets released after the draft. They will need to free up funds to sign those players.
Here’s a look at ways the Cowboys can still make some cap room, if needed
1. Brandon Carr
Dallas gets $6.38 million in space if they cut Carr outright and $9.1 million if they make him a post-June 1st cut, which increases our dead money for 2017. This is the clearest and simplest way to free up the needed money.
I’ve gone into far more detail about Carr’s contract situation and all the nuances and potential outcomes in this separate article from earlier today. Suffice to say that it’s going to be a major question mark going forward.
Cap Space Potential: $6.38M – $9.1M
2. Barry Church & J.J. Wilcox
Church is in the final year of his deal with a cap hit of $4.75 million. Dallas can recoup $4.25 million by releasing him at any point before or after June 1st, since it’s an expiring deal. Wilcox also has an expiring deal worth $1.8 million and Dallas can save $1.6 million by cutting him.
We’re going to assume that Byron Jones is playing safety next year. We also know that Dallas just made a four-year commitment to Jeff Heath as a special teams leader and versatile backup. That alone makes one of last year’s starters expendable. If Dallas also adds a safety prospect in the draft then it becomes even easier to cut one of them, and even opens the door for releasing both.
Cap Space Potential: $1.6M – $5.85M
3. Jason Witten
Witten has two years left on his contract with cap hits of $8.6 million this year and $9.5 million in 2017. There’s only $4.2 million in guaranteed money left, giving Dallas some flexibility to restructure the deal and create cap space by converting salary into signing bonus.
Dallas will likely make some move on Witten’s contract given his reliability and status with the team. He’s a player that they won’t feel any major concern about by increasing their liability on his contract. It’s hard to fathom a scenario where Dallas would release Witten next year. Keeping that option open would be their only reason for not moving money around.
Cap Space Potential: Up To $6 Million (Appx.)
4. Ronald Leary
Dallas gave Leary a second-round restricted free agent tender worth about $2.5 million. This money is not guaranteed, though, and they still have the option to release Leary or trade him.
Leary still has plenty of value for Dallas as a backup guard. However, if the Cowboys could get a draft pick for him while also clearing cap space then it could be the better scenario. Leary has the scare factor of his degenerative knees but has also proven to be a starting caliber guard for the best offensive line in the NFL.
Cap Space Potential: $2.5 Million
5. Morris Claiborne
The former first rounder has a one-year deal for $2.7 million and only $500k guaranteed. If the Cowboys end up drafting Jalen Ramsey or another cornerback that projects as an immediate top-three player then they could opt to release Claiborne.
Dallas doesn’t want to do this. They are hoping that Claiborne, still just 26, could have a great year and be worth a continued relationship. They don’t want to admit defeat with a former sixth-overall pick if they don’t absolutely have to.
Cap Space Potential: $2.2 Million
6. Darren McFadden
This is another “if they draft this guy” scenario. If the Cowboys end up with Ezekiel Elliott, or even a second-round running back, then there’s a strong case for releasing last year’s starter.
McFadden’s 2016 cap hit is $2.1 million and only $100k of that is guaranteed. Dallas has already added Alfred Morris in free agency and brought back Lance Dunbar. If they add a notable running back rookie as well then how much do they really need McFadden?
Cap Space Potential: $2 Million
7. Other Post-Draft Releases
Dallas could look at cutting several other veterans depending on what they end up with after the draft. Here’s a look at some guys who could be expendable if rookies are added at their positions and the cap savings they over:
|Andrew Gachkar, LB||$1.3m|
|Terrance Williams, WR||$1.67m|
|Gavin Escobar, TE||$979k|
|Terrell McClain, DT||$1m|
|Jack Crawford, DE/DT||$860|
|Lance Dunbar, RB||$887k|
Some of these would certainly be harsh moves. Guys like Crawford and Dunbar just re-signed with you for one-year deals hoping to prove themselves. However, just one of their cap savings amounts pays for nearly two of your mid-late round picks. It would be cold-blooded economics, but it could be necessary if bigger moves aren’t made.
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There are two other obvious, big contracts to consider; Tony Romo’s and Dez Bryant’s. However, Dallas is reluctant to do anything with those deals given the health issues of both veterans. They don’t want to limit their future options and will do everything they can to avoid restructuring either.
Dallas could arguably keep the current roster intact if the draft yields help in a few key areas. Defensive end is, in my opinion, the only spot where they have a clear liability issue. They don’t have anyone outside of DeMarcus Lawrence who can be relied on yet as a starter. If they don’t get a pass rusher in the first few rounds then I feel they will have to seek free agent help after the draft.
Through free agency they’ve covered themselves, at least to a minimum, at other positions. I would even include cornerback and safety, despite what many others might say. If the top three corners next year are Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, and Morris Claiborne then you’re not bad off. A starting safety duo of Byron Jones and Barry Church is improvement from last year. Throw in some improved pass rushing and I think these five could surprise some people.
Clearly, who Dallas drafts will go a long way to determining what salary cap moves are needed. There’s the potential for none at all to made, or maybe just minor moves with lesser players.
If they do want to add any more talent after the draft, though, then they will have some choices to make.