The 2021 offseason is going to be hard to manage with a projected lower salary cap due to revenue losses during the pandemic. In addition to a reduced pool of funds to work with, the Dallas Cowboys will also be carrying $9 million in “dead money” against its cap from some of their 2020 roster moves.
This $9 million mostly comes from the untimely retirement of Center Travis Frederick last March. With $11 million in dead money remaining on Frederick's contract, Dallas chose to split that over two seasons by delaying his official removal from the team until after June 1st.
Even when a player voluntarily retires, as opposed to being released, the effect on the salary cap is the same as if he were cut.
Travis Frederick announced in March he would retire. For salary cap reasons, Cowboys waited until after June 1 to process the transaction. Retirement could have created $11.04M in dead money vs. 2020 cap. Instead, he’ll count $4.975M this year and $6.065M in 2021.
Whether you want to call it “kicking the can down the road” or “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” this always stings when the bill finally becomes due. It's especially rough in this case because of how health issues forced Frederick's retirement and cost the Cowboys one of their top players still in his traditional prime.
The next-biggest chunk of dead money is $2 million from the release of Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy. When McCoy ruptured his quad last August the Cowboys exercised their option on an injury clause built into the veteran's contract. It voided nearly everything but the remainder of McCoy's signing bonus.
Had McCoy suffered a different injury then he would've had far more protection and guarantees as most NFL players do. But this known issue with his quad led to specific contract terms and, unfortunately, they ended up becoming very relevant.
The Cowboys and McCoy are reportedly interested in resuming their relationship in 2021. While a new deal won't officially negate any of the $2 million in dead money from McCoy's last contract (shoutout to @KDDrummondNFL for the clarity on this), it could impact negotiations as Dallas tries to find a more creative way to mitigate that cap hit.
Another $750,000 in dead money comes from the release of DT Dontari Poe in the middle of the season. Brought in last year to be a true run-stuffer, the former Pro Bowler was ineffective on the field and ultimately a progress stopper for younger talent. Poe was cut in late October as Dallas shed other veterans like DE Everson Griffen and DB Daryl Worley when their season looked in doubt.
The last amount worth mentioning is about $143,000 from DE Joe Jackson. The 2019 5th-round pick failed to make the roster in his second season and was released. The Cleveland Browns claimed Jackson off waivers so took on the remainder of his rookie contract but Dallas still has to eat the dead money from his original signing bonus.
So all together these four players account for nearly the full amount of dead money currently on the Cowboys 2021 salary cap. I say “currently” because some should be more coming, such as the expected release of Punter Chris Jones to save $2 million in cap space but add $500,000 in dead money.
This hardly the worst year for dead money that the Dallas Cowboys have faced in the salary cap era. But given this rare reduction in the league's revenues and the lower cap figure for 2021, any funds tied up in former players or contracts hurts more than it might have otherwise. The Cowboys and 31 other teams will be figuring how to navigate this new challenge in the months ahead.