There's been a lot of reaction the last few days to the potential for a $23 million reduction in the NFL's salary cap from this year to 2021. If the drop is that severe, most teams are going to have some tough personnel decisions to make. The Cowboys are no exception; could the lower cap force Dallas to cut Offensive Tackle Tyron Smith to retain Quarterback Dak Prescott?
That may sound crazy to you, and rightfully so; nobody wants to see one of the best left tackles in football leave the team. But the reality is that Dallas has very few ways to create cap space in 2021 and Smith's contract is arguably the most reasonable option.
As I broke down a little more yesterday, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to a potential minimum salary cap of $175 million for next year based on projected revenue losses as COVID-19 affect the 2020 season. The current cap is at $198 million.
If the worse-case scenario happens then Cowboys are projected to only have about $33 million in cap space in 2021. And that's before they've signed any of next year's rookies or, more importantly, re-signed QB Dak Prescott.
Paying Dak on the franchise tag in 2020 is going to cost Dallas around $31 million. If they tag him again next year, that number jumps up to over $37 million.
Remember, that $33 million in projected space is already accounting for expiring contracts such as Tyrone Crawford's, Sean Lee's, and others. So if the Cowboys need more space in 2021 it'll have to come from releasing or restructuring players who are under contract beyond this season.
Tyron Smith's contract would offer $10.5 million cap relief in 2021 if he's released, generating just $1.745 million in dead money. The only other contract which offers anything close to that is Zack Martin's; $7 million in cap space if released. But Dallas isn't going to part ways with arguably the best guard in football.
Smith is still a great left tackle but his game has declined a little in recent years. He's also missed three games every season from 2019-2019, and he turns 30 this December.
Thankfully, this isn't the only way out. The Cowboys and Prescott could finally sign a long-term deal and structure 2021 so that it has a drastically reduced cap hit. That would solve most problems right there.
But after failing to reach an agreement for two years now, the potential that Dallas will have to franchise Dak a second time is very real. And if that coincides with a severe reduction in the salary cap then a difficult move like cutting Tyron Smith will have to be discussed.
If that day comes, some would argue that they'd rather keep Smith to protect our next QB and let Prescott walk. And if the financial situation gets bad enough then that may very well be what Dallas is forced to do.
But if the Cowboys are determined to keep Dak Prescott as their QB of the future, the unique challenges of COVID-19 could force them to do things they'd never imagined a few months ago. Based on his contract, age, and NFL mileage, losing Tyron Smith may become the lesser of evils.