Zack Martin — perhaps the best guard in the NFL — presents the Dallas Cowboys with one of their biggest financial decisions of the 2018 offseason. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 if the Cowboys don’t get a long-term extension done within the next year. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys can afford to wait.
Having played out the four years of his original rookie deal, Martin is now entering the optional fifth year that only applies to first-round picks. Teams have the right to exercise this fifth-year option and keep the player for one additional season, but not without a significant increase in the player’s salary and cap hit.
In Zack Martin’s case, this 2018 option year will pay him $9.3 million.
Last year, Martin’s cap hit was $2.85 million.
That’s a significant increase in his cap cost, which the Cowboys are not in a great position to deal with.
You’ve likely seen projections that the Cowboys will have roughly $18-$19 million in salary cap space going into the offseason. Thankfully, that figure already includes Martin’s fifth-year increase. But Dallas could bring Martin’s number down, and give themselves some more spending power, if they go ahead and get his long-term deal done now.
The model for this is Martin’s fellow Pro Bowler, center Travis Frederick. The Cowboys signed Frederick to a long-term deal in 2016 for $56 million over six years.
Now, you may do the math there and see an average over $9 million per season. And with two years of inflation to consider, Martin’s contract will likely be a little higher. So wouldn’t the cap hit on his long-term deal be about the same as this one-year option? Why does it matter?
After the Cowboys extended Travis Frederick, they immediately did a contract restructure. This pushed more guaranteed money into the later part of the contract by converting salary into a signing bonus. This freed up significant cap space, lowering Frederick’s 2016 cap hit to a little over $2 million.
Dallas can and should do the exact same with Zack Martin.
If they can get the long-term deal done before March, along with the immediate restructure, they could likely drop his current $9-million cap hit to somewhere around $2-3 million.
That’s $6-7 million they can use to sign free agents, or perhaps put toward their efforts to re-sign defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
The nice thing about a player like Zack Martin is that he is about as low risk as it gets. While he is 27 years old, Martin has started every game for the Cowboys since he joined the team in 2014. He rarely, if ever, appears on the injury report.
And again, he may be the best guard in all of football. Therefore, the Cowboys have every reason to get this Zack Martin situation settled immediately.
When it comes to player movement and cap management, it should be their top priority before free agency opens in March.