Cowboys: Contributions, Contracts and The Cap – Quarterbacks

Tony Romo

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

IRVING, Texas — Football evaluation in the NFL isn’t just about "football evaluation” anymore.

"When you put that together with the financial part of it, the salary cap part of it, we think it’s really important to do the football evaluation thoroughly independent of that,” Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "And then you add that as an element. It’s an element that’s alive and well in the National Football League. Money matters in the salary-cap era we’re in right now. But I do believe the football evaluation is primary, and then you add that element into it, and then you make your best decisions for your team in regards to that player and how he fits in your team."

However it’s done, it ends up going hand-in-hand; the Cowboys cannot simply evaluate, say, Tony Romo strictly off his talents as a quarterback.

And neither can we, thus the start of FOX Sports Southwest’s position-group-by-position-group review and forecast based not just on contributions, but on cap and contracts, too.

And we start with Romo and the quarterbacks.

The NFL predicts a coming camp of $127.6 million. While some national outlets have projected Dallas as being "a train wreck due to being $35 million over,” sources inside Valley Ranch have guided us to understanding that the Cowboys are actually about $22 million over.

And they don’t talk in "train-wreck” terms.

The centerpiece of Dallas’ expense is Romo. Last March they signed him to a contract extension publicized as being worth "$108 million.” The truth: The Cowboys made a full commitment to Romo for three years and $57 million. Inside of that, however, there are "levers” the club plans to pull. That can push some money out, but as it relates to 2014, one lever might give Dallas $10 million of cap room with one pull.

And the "train wreck” is averted. As it was always going to be.

Romo’s back surgery, which will require up to four months of recovery, is a wild-card here. And is does likely alter the Cowboys’ thinking elsewhere at the position. At one point, capable veteran backup Kyle Orton (on a three-year, $10-million deal) was considered a possible cap casualty allowing Dallas $1  million of room (albeit with $3.3 mil of dead money.) Now? The Cowboys will be careful not to be naked at the position, and should probably take a second look at the group of pedigreed street free agents that had tryouts in Irving when Romo went down (David Carr and John Skelton among them).

Additionally, the personnel department will be respectfully  ignoring owner Jerry Jones’ recent remarks regarding the unlikely possibility of drafting a QB in April. Jones said that in a way that was likely meant as support for the idea of Romo’s full recovery, and he said it prematurely in the sense that NFL teams haven’t yet created their grades for quaterbacks or any other position; the owner simply has no way of knowing what QB will be available when, and what that potential draftee’s value might be relative to draft position.

Having said that, there is an NFL model for how to draft QBs. The Packers regularly take a flier on a prospect, believing that hitting on a mid-round quarterback is of much greater value than hitting on a mid-rounder at any other position.

As the Cowboys nurse Romo back, consider bringing Orton back, and look under every rock, they would be wise to steal that extremely cap-friendly strategy.