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Cowboys Can Find the Money for Lawrence, Martin, and Irving

After being away from the internet for a month and not being in tune with Cowboys Nation, I’m playing a little bit of catch up and hearing talk that the Dallas Cowboys won’t be able to afford to pay DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, and David Irving.

Let me just say, “Hogwash” to that notion.

Yes, the 2018 salary cap is a bit tight at the moment, but they can always find ways to create more room through extensions, restructures, and well-timed releases — no I’m not advocating releasing Dez Bryant.

As Inside The Star’s Jess Haynie detailed, there are a few moves they could make with Tyrone Crawford and James Hanna to create more cap room.

Extensions for Lawrence and Martin could also create more cap room.

But to keep it simple, let’s just look ahead over the next couple of years and see what the Cowboys’ salary cap projections look like in 2019 and 2020.

Cowboys en Español: 14 Millones Disponibles, Carroll Arrestado
Dallas Cowboys RG Zack Martin (AP Photo/James D Smith)

2019 Salary Cap Projections

According to OverTheCap.com, the Dallas Cowboys are looking at a cap space number of $55 million in 2019. Their “effective cap space,” or the maximum cap space a team will have when it signs at least 51 players to its roster for that season, is $51 million.

The good news for 2019 is that right now, only Orlando Scandrick‘s dead money ($1.6 million) is on the ledger for next season. Tony Romo‘s dead money finishes on the 2018 cap, so that albatross is done.

They currently have 43 players under contract for the 2019 season and that includes Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams‘ contracts. If they make any moves with them, there will be some dead money added to the cap, but it would/could also free up some cap space as well.

Let’s look at what Irving, Martin, and Lawrence could be paid when signed to long-term deals.

The highest paid guard in the NFL is Left Guard Andrew Norwell, who just signed his deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars worth $13.3 million annually. If we take that number and assume Zack Martin will get paid more than that, we’re looking at $13-14 million annually.

At 4-3 defensive end, Olivier Vernon is still the highest paid at the position at $17 million per year. Jason Pierre-Paul is right behind him with the $15 million per year contract he just signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Vernon’s contract appears to have been outside the market range for the top 4-3 defensive ends as no one else with a long-term contract is making more than $15 million a year.

For DeMarcus Lawrence, it’s likely $15 million per year with 45% guaranteed over five years is probably the minimum he’d take.

I’d bet his agent is trying to get him closer to or more than what Vernon is making with the New York Giants, and probably the 50% guarantee that Calais Campbell got with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s say, for reference, Lawrence gets $17 million per year over five years, with 50% guaranteed. Between him and Zack Martin, now we have $24-million dollars remaining in “effective cap space” to sign David Irving and the rest of the top 51.

The average of the top-five 4-3 defensive tackles sits at $15.36 million dollars. Irving could get that on the open market. For the purposes of this article, let’s say he gets $15 million per year, that would leave Dallas $8 million in cap space for the 2019 season.

Even if he gets the top contract for a defensive tackle, that’s around $17 million, which would still leave the Dallas Cowboys with $4 million in cap space for the 2019 season.

A franchise tag for Irving in the 2019 offseason isn’t out of the question, especially if they get deals done with Martin and Lawrence. Again, that’s without cutting or restructuring any other contracts, which we know the Cowboys front office loves to do.

DeMarcus Lawrence
Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

2020 Salary Cap Projection

So, you’re concerned that those three contracts will eat up all but $8 million of the 2019 salary cap. Well, let me offer you some information to take some of that anxiety away.

In 2020, OverTheCap.com projects the Dallas Cowboys will have $138 million in cap space, or $118 million in effective cap space. Those numbers figure as the fifth-highest cap space available for 2020, at this point. Fifth!!!

When was the last time the Dallas Cowboys were in that kind of position?

Now, that doesn’t include our estimated figure of $46 million that you’ll be paying DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, and David Irving, but if we subtract that money, you’re still looking at $97 million in total cap space, or $72 million in effective cap space.

At that point they’d only have 16 players (the three mentioned above included) under contract in 2020, but they’d still have a ton of money to get their team filled out.

Dez Bryant’s contract would be finished. The only bad contract that is still on the ledger at that point is Tyrone Crawford’s $9-million cap hit. But if you decide to move on from him, you save $8 million, with very little in dead money.

Feel better?

Dak Prescott will be free by 2020, so that will be a big contract. I’d figure Dak, right now, is in the $20-25 million per year range. Kirk Cousins just signed for $28 million annually and Jimmy Garopollo got $27 million annually. Derek Carr is making $25 million on a deal he signed just a couple of years ago. Dak, with a big season could set the bar for highest paid quarterbacks, but that would be surprising. Cam Newton is a free agent in the 2019 offseason, so his extension will be the one to watch for Dak’s figure.

Hopefully the Dallas Cowboys can take advantage of Dak’s $630,000 and $720,000 cap hits over the next two years, because quarterback is about to get expensive again.

The Dallas Cowboys front office will have to decide whether or not to pick up Ezekiel Elliott‘s fifth year option, which I think they’ll do, or they’ll extend him.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

One of the skills of this Cowboys front office is their cap management ability. We look at contracts and the salary cap as a static thing that is hard and fast, like rock. They look at the salary cap and contracts like a potter looks at clay.

They know they can mold it and form it to look how they want it to look. Contracts are malleable to their creative workmanship.

The Dallas Cowboys front office can always find the money.

If they want Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and David Irving to be on the roster, they’ll find a way to have them on the roster. If for some reason they don’t want them on the team, it will be for some reason other than money.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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