The Dallas Cowboys are NOT in Salary CAP hell. Yes, that’s right. Despite what you read about how badly the Cowboys are looking, there is a good reason that Stephen Jones keeps saying that it isn’t a problem. That is because…
It isn’t a problem.
One of the things that is hard for both fans and most sports writers to wrap their heads around is that the process of restructuring contracts to create more Salary CAP room is a design feature of the current financial system in the NFL. It is not a design flaw. And in recent years, the Cowboys have gotten a little better at how they award contracts. They PLAN for certain contracts to be restructured, especially early in a big contract. They add clauses to the contracts which allow for restructuring to occur, almost automatically.
Case in point:
The Cowboys can easily get under the Salary CAP by restructuring the contracts of only 3 players they signed to extensions just last year – Tony Romo, Sean Lee, and Orlando Scandrick.
This week, the Cowboys cut a few players, and some people looked at it as them trying to shed salaries. But, the 4 players they cut – DE Everett Brown, DT Corvey Irvin, and OG’s Ray Dominguez and Jeff Olson all could have been kept on the roster if the Cowboys really wanted them around. Those 4 cuts only amounted to a total Salary CAP savings of $545,000
These were NOT salary CAP cuts. These were guys the Cowboys signed in the middle of last year’s injury plagued season that they had no interest in keeping on their team. The Cowboys have defensive lineman Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford coming back from injury, and have signed Caesar Rayford and Tristan Okpalaugo to their roster since the season ended. They had enough time to look at both Irvin and Brown, and decided that neither player was in their long-term plans. And although the Cowboys currently only have two guards left on their roster (hint: expect the Cowboys to draft a Guard), both Dominguez and Olson were in training camp a year last summer, and neither has shown themselves capable of playing at an NFL level. All of these players were cut because they lack talent.
There is one planned cut that can be seen as a true salary CAP cut. Cutting Phil Costa will save $1,005,000 million off the Salary CAP - almost twice the savings of the other 4 players combined.
After those 5 players get cut, the Cowboys will have 57 players under contract for 2014 for a total of $141,314,594. But since only the top 51 salaries count against the salary cap, the salary CAP hit for the top 51 players is currently $138,719,594.
The NFL has announced that the salary CAP for 2014 will be $133 million; but, that doesn’t include the $1,280,693 of 2013 Rollover space the Cowboys have left over from 2013. So, the Cowboys “Adjusted Salary CAP” for 2014 will be $134,280,693. That is only $4,438,901 OVER the CAP, not the $25 million that keeps getting reported.
But wait! What about the DEAD money from players who’ve been cut in past seasons? The Cowboys have 20 players no longer on the team that they will take CAP hits for in 2014. The bottom 16, mostly due to left over signing bonuses of undrafted free agents, amount to only $406,439. The majority of that is Phil Costa’s $225,000 DEAD money hit. The top 4 DEAD money CAP hits do hurt because all are over $1 million each. Ratliff, Livings, Spears, and Lissemore together add up to a 2014 CAP hit of $11,628,000. Ouch.
When you add the CAP hits for DEAD money ($12,034,439) to the actual amount in salaries ($4,438,901) that are OVER the Salary CAP, the Cowboys need to shed 16,473,340 to get under the CAP – still considerably less than the $25 million most news outlets are reporting.
And here is how the PLANNED restructuring of the Romo, Lee and Scandrick Contracts gets the Cowboys under the salary CAP before March 11th rolls around.
- Current Salary - $13,500,000
- New Salary - $955,000
- Restructure Bonus - $12,545,000 prorated for 5 years at $2,509,000 per year
- Salary CAP savings - $10,036,000
- Current Salary - $5,500,000
- New Salary - $730,000
- Restructure Bonus - $4,770,000 prorated for 5 years at $954,000 per year
- Salary CAP savings - $3,816,000
- Current Salary - $4,500,000
- New Salary - $730,000
- Restructure Bonus - $3,770,000 prorated for 5 years at $754,000 per year
- Salary CAP savings - $3,016,000
Those 3 Restructured Contracts, contracts which already have restructuring clauses built into them because the Cowboys ALWAYS planned on restructuring them this season, create a total of $16,868,000 in CAP space, getting the Cowboys $394,660 UNDER the CAP by March 11th. And remember, the Cowboys already have 57 players under contract. Most of the teams which are way under the CAP have only 30-40 players under contract for 2014.
So, while it’s not ideal for the Cowboys to have to restructure these contracts, the NFL is not played in an ideal world. This is not Utopia. Every team deals with restructuring the big contracts of its star players. It is part of the financial landscape of today’s NFL. And all of this is before we even begin to talk about renegotiating DeMarcus Ware’s contract, restructuring Brandon Carr, or making Miles Austin a June 1st cut. Don’t be fooled by the headlines. The Cowboys are more than capable of getting under the salary CAP, and still have plenty of room to maneuver to find the room to negotiate contract extensions for its younger star players like Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray.
If You Could Only Pay One: Ezekiel Elliott Vs. Byron Jones
But last week a couple of Twitter polls got me very interested in this topic, and I wanted to expand on my thoughts.
It all started when longtime Cowboys reporter Mike Fisher wrote that as the Cowboys look to sign their own free agents, Byron Jones will likely be the one who gets squeezed out. So while Elliott, Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, and Jaylon Smith remain with the team, Jones will likely be off to find a new home.
if you can only pay one it should be
I put up this poll, pitting Jones against Elliott, and Jones came out as the winner. My colleague John Williams put out the same poll, but with Elliott running away for the victory.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
His had many more votes, which likely makes his poll a bit more representative of the fan base's feelings (which reminds me, follow me on Twitter @KevinBrady88.) Plus, I have been carrying the Byron Jones flag for quite some time, so it's possible my followers are biased towards Jones.
Either way, let's examine the situation here.
On one hand is Ezekiel Elliott. The former fourth overall selection in 2016, Elliott has led the league in rushing two of his first three seasons in the NFL. While this is true, his ability (and usage) as a receiver deserves to be questioned, and his lack of touchdown production in comparison to some other elite-level backs is concerning as well.
Yes, this is not totally his fault, as Scott Linehan and an overall lack of offensive weapons outside of Elliott have handcuffed him a bit. But if we are going to place the blame for his faults onto others, then we should at least attribute some of his excellent raw rushing totals simply to opportunities.
Elliott carried the ball 304 times in 15 games, averaging 20.3 rush attempts per game. The next closet player in terms of total carries? Saquon Barkley, who carried it 261 times in 16 games, averaging 16.3 rushes per game. That's a massive gap.
No individual running back is taking the wear and tear that Elliott is on a per game basis. And while it helps make his raw rushing totals look outstanding, it is also likely hurting his shelf life as an elite runner in the NFL.
The main argument I received supporting paying Elliott over Byron Jones was that while cornerback is more important than running back in a vacuum, Elliott is such a special player that his importance is greater than that of a normal running back.
Maybe. But let's talk about how special Byron Jones is and can be.
Jones' spider chart puts him in elite company, with the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Antonio Cromartie, and Terence Newman. Except, Jones was even more athletic that each of these Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks.
Cornerbacks with the athletic profile that Byron Jones has rarely ever miss, and most of the time they reach an All Pro level. This is exactly what Jones did in 2018, getting named second team All Pro and to his first Pro Bowl in the same season. Both these honors also came during his first season as a full-time cornerback. Imagine what his ceiling can look like as he continues to work with Kris Richard and get more comfortable in his permanent home.
There's no doubt that Jones struggled a bit more in December last year than he did in September, but he was playing at a pace few players ever have played at or kept up over a long period of time. Even accounting for these "struggles," Jones was graded as the sixth best cornerback in all of football by Pro Football Focus. Elliott, on the other hand, had his overall value questioned by PFF.
Of course PFF is not the be-all-end-all here, but it's certainly a piece of the argument. Both Elliott and Jones will command top money at their position whenever it is their turn to get signed. The Cowboys have struggled for years to find themselves a number one cornerback. Despite paying Brandon Carr big money and trading up for Morris Claiborne, it simply hasn't worked. Really since Newman began aging, they haven't gotten that guy.
On the other hand, Dallas produced two 1,000 yard rushers back-to-back seasons before Elliott even became a Cowboy. Running back is a more replaceable position at the top than cornerback is, and if Dallas believes that Jones should be considered "at the top" of his position group, than the choice between the two becomes clear.
I will say, however, that there is a human element to this as well. Elliott is a clear leader on this team, and if the Cowboys strong-armed him out of town, it could have serious implications across the roster. Jason Garett loves Zeke, Jerry Jones loves Zeke, and quarterback Dak Prescott loves Zeke.
Zeke is going to get paid by the Cowboys, I have no doubts or issues with that, but if all these guys getting paid squeezes an All Pro corner out of town, that could bite this franchise in the butt down the line.
Jason Garrett Has Hard Road Ahead in Contract Year
It seems like every year we talk about how hot is Jason Garrett's seat. This year though, it will be one of the biggest storylines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys. Garrett will enter the 2019 season without an extension. However you feel about the Cowboys head coach, being in a contract year automatically means dealing with low job security.
What is clear though is that Garrett's contract year might be a difficult one.
First of all, the Dallas Cowboys haven't managed to get their superstar 26-year old pass rusher signed to a long term deal. DeMarcus Lawrence has made it clear that he will not play under the tag and until a contract is signed, he'll even postpone his pending shoulder surgery.
Cowboys Nation is hoping to see D-Law get his long term deal before it's too late, and as we know, the Cowboys want to sign him. Who wouldn't? But there's a reason it hasn't happened yet and if this drags out, it won't be good for the team. Jason Garrett can't be happy about not having his best defensive player ready to work.
Rather than an unfortunate situation, this feels more like a bold approach by Garrett. After firing Scott Linehan, the Cowboys promoted Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. Moore's potential has since been praised by players and coaches around the country and I'm actually excited about what he can bring to the table. But he's still a rookie OC. Young coaches like Sean McVay have taken the league by storm but it still feels like a bold move by Garrett to put Moore in this position. This was undoubtedly a Jason Garrett move and it only makes sense for the Cowboys to let him put together his own staff before the season.
Under the "Cowboys are one player away" narrative, many believed a big free agency signing was bound to happen in Dallas. Specifically, the discussion revolved around one of the newest members of the Baltimore Ravens, Safety Earl Thomas. So far, though, it's been same old, same old for the Cowboys during the start of free agency. Top free agents are off the shelves and Dallas has been pretty quiet so far.
Also worth noting is that the Cowboys will not have a first round pick during the 2019 NFL Draft. Now granted, that first round pick they don't have was worth it thanks to Amari Cooper's arrival but it's still a difficult situation for a football team that has many needs, including one at wide receiver after letting Cole Beasley leave for the Buffalo Bills.
A potential holdout by DeMarcus Lawrence, a rookie offensive coordinator, no splash in free agency and no first round pick... Jason Garrett's approach to his contract year certainly seems like a risky one. Not to mention this is only what we're talking about now. What if Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott or Cooper decide to holdout (even if it's just for a while and eventually come back)? Hopefully this isn't the case, but with the way things go in the NFL today it wouldn't be a surprise.
The Dallas Cowboys will play in an NFC East that might sound like an easy division but surprises happen every single year. If Jason Garrett manages to lead his team to a successful season under such circumstances, he should earn the respect of many fans that want him out of the picture. The question will of course be: "How much does he needs to accomplish to keep his job?" Will making it to the playoffs be enough? Or will he need to make a bigger statement?
Would Cowboys Trade Joe Looney if the Saints Came Calling?
The hits keep coming for the New Orleans Saints. Not only are their fans extremely disappointed in the way the Saints 2018 season ended, and rightfully so, but now they have to deal with the fact that one of their best offensive players has decided to retire. Ouch!
Source: Saints C Max Unger has retired. Wow.
No matter how you slice it, Max Unger's decision to retire is a huge blow to the Saints offense. The three-time Pro Bowl center is still one of the best in the game at his position and he's a huge reason why New Orleans has been so successful on the offensive side of the ball since he joined the team in 2015.
Unger's ability to keep the middle of the pocket from collapsing on Quarterback Drew Brees, while also blocking for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the running game is the lifeblood of the Saints offense. Without him, the entire offense could be in trouble. Finding someone to step in and fill those huge shoes won't be easy.
As luck would have it, the Dallas Cowboys may have the answer to their problems. Joe Looney had to step in and replace Travis Frederick, another one of the top centers in the NFL, and filled in admirably during his absence. He could do the same thing for the New Orleans Saints.
With Frederick set to return to the Cowboys starting lineup in 2019, Looney suddenly becomes nothing more than a backup C/G once again. Because of that, he could become expendable, making him an intriguing tradable asset for teams looking for a starting caliber offensive lineman with versatility to play any interior position. This could be exactly the kind of player the Saints are targeting.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, they don't have a lot of draft capital in the 2019 NFL Draft to find a starting caliber center. Like the Cowboys, they don't have a first-round pick this year and don't make their first selection until the second-round. After that, they don't have another draft pick until the fifth-round. This further complicates replacing Unger as well as trading for anyone, such as Joe Looney.
It's highly unlikely the Saints are willing to part ways with their second-round pick and the Cowboys would probably want more for Joe Looney than a fifth-rounder. Looney after all has proven to be a serviceable starter, which is probably more valuable for Dallas considering the unknown about Travis Frederick's health moving forward.
So, even if the New Orleans Saints picked up the phone and called the Dallas Cowboys to acquire about trading for Joe Looney, I just don't think the two teams would be able to come together on trade compensation. I guess that means we can put this potential trade rumor to bed.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Realistic Free Agents Cowboys Should Sign Before the Draft
NFL Draft4 days ago
Hypothetical La’el Collins Trade Could Recoup Cowboys a 2019 1st-Round Pick
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft Target: Georgia Bulldogs WR Mecole Hardman
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Dallas Cowboys Consider Blake Bortles for Backup QB?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
REPORT: Cowboys Keeping OL Joe Looney, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns in 2019
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should the Cowboys Use Their 2020 First Round Pick in 2019?
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Cowboys Show Interest in Browns DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Player News5 days ago
Chiefs Release Eric Berry, Should Cowboys Be Interested?