Cowboys' salary cap hell in 2014? There's really no such thing
OCT 21, 2013 1:46p ET
There is no argument here regarding the Cowboys' cap challenges for 2014 – and that's true whether you believe ESPN's numbers (claiming Dallas is $31 million over) or numbers we've gathered (making it possible the Cowboys are $22 million over what we can project to be a $123-million cap). The argument is about "the train wreck," and whether there are planned escape routes to avoid what is now perceived as some sort of head-on collision with financial disaster.
With the help of the capologists at Blogging The Boys, let's battle through the sparks and the smoke to bullet-point our way to answers:
• Some league-wide perspective might be helpful. The Cowboys are presently scheduled to be over next year's cap. As near as we can tell, 13 other teams might share that distinction. Does this mean almost half the NFL's teams are about to "wreck"? Or is there more media-attention value in mentioning Dallas' circumstance than there is mentioning, say, Detroit's or New Orleans'?
• Some historical perspective is also due. In 2011, Dallas faced "cap hell." A "head-on collision with financial disaster." Yessir, a "train wreck." They were $18 million over the cap in July 2011. But... they never collided with a train. The Cowboys released Roy Williams, Marion Barber and Leonard Davis and restructured the contracts of Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin. Those moves allowed the re-signing of/extensions for players like Jason Witten, Doug Free and Jason Hatcher.
• In 2012? "Cap hell" once again was predicted due to $30 million of dead money. The how-to's were so tricky that even owner Jerry Jones himself admitted to fearing "Armageddon." But exec Stephen Jones oversaw moves that eventually allowed the over-the-cap Cowboys to sign Brandon Carr to a $50 million, five-year deal.
Not only was "Armageddon" avoided, but the Cowboys actually entered the season $12.6 mil under the cap.
• In 2013? Same song, different verse. The Cowboys started $20 million over the cap. But by the time the season arrived, they'd re-upped Romo and Sean Lee and left themselves plenty of room to also sign Brian Waters. (Oh, and I'm told they've also touched base with kicker Dan Bailey, with plans to retain him as well.)
• And here we are in 2014... but wait. We AREN'T in 2014. Why is this a story for a first-place team in October? Why is Cowboys Nation suffering from hyperventilation and aneurysms NOW? That's a question for ESPN to answer. Meanwhile, we're busy with answers that truly matter inside Valley Ranch.... which will include the moving of some money and the dumping of some money... as occurs every year with Dallas and pretty much every team in the NFL.
Examples of options:
• The restructuring of the contracts of Romo and Ware alone, depending on how they are done, could create as much as $19 million in cap space in 2014. Forget for a moment whether that means more years on those deals and whether that's advisable (in the case of Ware, perceived to be in physical decline, there may be more drastic measures considered). Just know that it is do-able... and a restructuring of those two deals moving $19 million essentially gets you near where you must be if you buy the $22-million-over number.
• Want more money, or different sources for it? Restructuring the contracts of Carr, Lee and Witten can be made to open up $12 million of room for 2014. In fact, the Romo and Lee deals are specifically built for a 2014 re-jiggering.
• Want to escape Miles Austin's contract? He can be designated a June 1 release, thus creating $5.5 million in space.
• Ready to move on from veteran backups Kyle Orton, Mackenzy Bernadeau, and Phil Costa? Doing so would generate an additional $3.9 million of cap room in 2014.
• Want to give up on more non-standouts? Justin Durant and Jermey Parnell have contracts structured purposely with almost no prorated signing-bonus money. If they are released, that's another $2.75 million of room. (Also available on many of these players: A Doug Free-like proposal where they cut their salaries to remain with the team.)
If Dallas were to pull the trigger on all the above? The Cowboys could generate about $43 million of cap space in 2014.... and be $10 to $20 million UNDER the cap.
I don't mean to treat the transactions needed to manage the NFL salary cap as simple or painless. But they are realities in every NFL city. And there are options in every NFL city. Worrying, "Will the Cowboys have enough money?" is a pointless endeavor. There might be a year when a good player is allowed to leave because of the cap (Anthony Spencer, before his injury, was going to be that in 2014.) Some year, there might be a handful of those, if affordable draftees don't come through... and the team will suffer for a year and you will have your football version of Jerry's "Armageddon." Of course, then there will be the year after that, when cap room is ample and the process begins again.
Amid the sparks and the smoke, there's no fearsome train bearing down on the Cowboys. All that's coming is the continuous search for solutions.