We are expecting an inordinately high number of tough battles and surprises for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021 as they build their 53-man roster. With a gloomy forecast for their salary cap in 2022, the financial impact of these decisions will carry extra weight and likely serve as the tiebreaker between players vying to make the team.
While salary cap impact is always a consideration in any roster move, it's less of a focus when a team is flush with cap space. That is definitely not the case for the Cowboys; currently up against the wall in 2021 and projected to be well over the cap next year by at least $20 million or more depending on the final numbers.
There are lots of ways that Dallas can help that 2022 situation with restructuring and cap casualties next year. You've likely already seen breakdowns of how they can move money around on Dak Prescott's new contract to create space, and others like DeMarcus Lawrence's and Amari Cooper's offer similar opportunities.
Also, many expect the 2022 salary to be higher than current projections once the NFL's increased revenue from new TV deals and expected easing of pandemic restrictions is realized.
However, another way the Cowboys can help themselves next year is by increasing their 2021 cap room and rolling it over. The team strategically rolled over $27 million in unused 2020 cap space to help them get through this difficult offseason; the 3rd-highest rollover number in the NFL this year.
That was an unusually high rollover for Dallas and was created specifically to deal with re-signing Prescott and combating the expected salary cap reduction in 2021. While we shouldn't expected the 2022 cap rollover to be nearly as high, anything the Cowboys can do to increase that amount is beneficial.
Let's put this into a hypothetical; final cuts are here and they're looking at the cornerback position. We'll assume that Trevon Diggs, Kelvin Joseph, and Nahshon Wright are all making the team based on their youth and draft status. Let's also go ahead and give a spot to C.J. Goodwin as the team's ace on special teams.
Dallas could elect to keep two more corners at this point, especially if they see Goodwin as a pure specialist, but what if it's only one? That choice would likely come down to veterans Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis.
While Lewis could easily win this battle based on merit alone, what if the scheme change under Dan Quinn and other factors evens things out between the two? What if money becomes the deciding factor?
Brown's contract would create $2.5 million in 2021 cap space if he's cut after June 1st and pushed $1.5 million in dead money onto the 2022 cap. If the Cowboys are focused on rolling over that money instead of using it now, that would net out to $1 million in cap relief in 2022.
Meanwhile, Lewis is playing on a brand new deal and his release would only generate about $220k in cap relief. It would also push over $1 million in dead money to 2022 and create a net deficit against next year's cap.
Again, I would expect Jourdan Lewis to earn a roster spot over Anthony Brown just based on performance. But if the coaches see them as equals on the field, the extra cap benefit by cutting Brown would be an obvious tiebreaker.
It's not a lot of money on its own, but all of those decisions can add up fast. The Cowboys used that strategy to create a huge rollover amount in 2021 and, potentially, may need to again to deal with their cap situation next year.
That puts Anthony Brown and other veterans on notice; they can't afford to leave any doubt about their value this season. If they're even close to playing at the same level as younger and more cap-friendly competition, they won't survive at final cuts.