You've probably already read somewhere that restructuring Dez Bryant's contract is one easy way the Dallas Cowboys can improve their 2017 salary cap issues. While I have no issue with this when it comes to some other players, moving money on Bryant's deal could wind up being more trouble than it's worth.
Right now, Dez is scheduled to count $17 million against the Cowboys' 2017 cap. He has $25 million left in dead money, the guaranteed bonuses that have to be paid out through the life of the contract. His deal expires after the 2019 season.
Dez Bryant Has Red Flags
Dez Bryant turns 29-years-old in November. He has missed 10 games over the last two seasons and played hurt, with limited effectiveness, in others. He still has moments and whole games where he looks like an elite receiver, but most Dallas fans would admit that he's not quite as explosive or dominant as in the past.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not here to bash Dez. However, the good of the team always comes first no matter who we're talking about. Restructuring Bryant's contract may be good for Dallas' in the present but could cause problems in the future.
When contracts get restructured, guaranteed money gets pushed into later years to create immediate cap space. That means you lose flexibility in those later years when the cap hits are at their highest. Even if the player isn't performing to the level at which you're paying him, releasing him either doesn't save you anything on the salary cap or even limited savings simply aren't worth the penalty.
Comparison to Tony Romo's Contract
Romo's contract situation is a good example of potential problems. The Cowboys have restructured his deal several times and now can't trade or cut him without a $19 million penalty. Granted, Dallas didn't expect to be in this position so soon with Romo. Still, this shows the value of preserving your flexibility for when unexpected things happen.
Now, compare that to Jay Cutler and the Bears. Despite his being signed through 2020, Cutler's deal only has $2 million left in guaranteed money. The Bears will almost surely be cutting him this offseason and saving $14 million in salary cap space off of the scheduled $16 million cap hit.
Cowboys Need to Preserve Salary Cap Flexibility
Within the next two years the Cowboys will need to give guard Zack Martin a long-term deal. They may also be looking at new deals for guard La'el Collins, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and safety Byron Jones.
Oh, and some kids named Zeke and Dak are going to be needing more money in a few years, too.
Can the Cowboys afford to keep pay Dez like an elite receiver if he continues to decline and miss games? Here's a look at the final three years of Dez Bryant's contract:
- 2017 – $17 million cap hit ($25m dead money)
- 2018 – $16.5 million cap hit ($8m dead money)
- 2019 – $16.5 million cap hit ($4m dead money)
One smart thing that Dallas did was keeping the later years of the deal from having escalating cap hits. Even with that, though, Dez is still currently scheduled to have the highest cap hit of any NFL wide receiver in 2017.
If the contract remains untouched, Dallas can save $8.5 million in 2018 or $14.5 million in 2019 by releasing Bryant. Those numbers will drop significantly if his deal is restructured, limiting the Cowboys' flexibility and the value of parting ways.
Even if he's no longer elite, Dez Bryant will still be a quality starting wide receiver for the next few years. If you were to cut him, replacing him might cost about as much as you'd be saving.
These decisions are never easy and especially when they come to beloved players. Dez means a lot to the team and its fans, but what just happened with Tony Romo is a warning that you should always be prepared for things to change. All it takes is one season for some little-known player to soar up the depth chart and demand a new contract, like Miles Austin in 2009.
Or, like Dez Bryant himself in 2010, you never know when a talented receiver might fall to you in the late first round. Dallas could find Dez's replacement sooner than they think, making it all the more critical to preserve their ability to release him.
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So, what's the final verdict? To be honest, I don't know if there is a definitive answer at this point. I believe the ideal solution is to try and avoid restructuring Dez Bryant's contract this year if you can.
See how 2017 goes; can Dez stay on the field and maintain a high level of play? If so, perhaps you can do some things in 2018 and 2019 free up salary cap space without the same worries.
However, this March there could be a much-needed pass rusher, defensive back, or some other free agents that the Cowboys want to sign. If you can't make those deals without restructuring Dez Bryant then you simply may not have a choice.