By Matthew Postins
Earlier this week, RattleandHumSports.com posted as comprehensive a list as possible of Dallas Cowboys player salaries as they stand right now. The idea was to determine where the Cowboys stand in terms of the 2013 salary cap.
By our calculations the Cowboys were approximately $22.6 million over the projected $121 million salary cap for 2013. You can access our list of every Dallas Cowboys player salary for 2013, but the Cowboys are a top-heavy team when it comes to the cap. More than $92.1 million in cap space is wrapped up in 10 players.
So now that we’ve examined the damage. It’s time to examine how to fix it.
In the NFL there are only two ways to fix situations such as this – cut the player or restructure their deal. Twenty-one Cowboys are set to make at least $1 million in salary in 2013.
Earlier this week we discussed the four players that are set to earn $10 million or more in 2013. Today we’ll examine the rest of the current Cowboys that are set to count at least $1 million against the cap in 2013.
$3 million and above
Ten players will count at least $3 million against the salary cap in 2013. Who is the most likely to get a restructured deal?
Wide receiver Miles Austin carries an $8.3 million cap hit. But $6.372 million is non-guaranteed base salary. In fact, the whole deal is curious because it’s tied mostly to base salaries and not bonuses. It’s one of the contracts that got Dallas in trouble with the NFL during the uncapped year in 2010. The Cowboys could do a couple of things here. First, they could convert that large base salary into a bonus and pro-rate. Or, they could something really compelling and cut Austin, save approximately $5 million in base salary, according to RotoWorld.com, and either re-sign him or go after a less fragile wide receiver in free agency. The Cowboys will likely find a way to keep Austin.
Tight end Jason Witten, who counts $8 million against the cap, won’t be cut. If he gets a restructured deal, it will likely mean converting his $5.5 million salary into a bonus and pro-rating it over the remaining five years of the deal. That’s cap-friendly and could save Dallas at least $1 million in space, perhaps more.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff counts $7 million against the cap, but $5 million is base salary. Ratliff’s return is no guarantee. His skills appear to be in decline, he missed half of 2012 with injuries and the move to the 4-3 Cover 2 may not be a good fit. Plus, there’s his DUI arrest last month. His seven-year, $48.625 million contract featured $18 million in guaranteed money. Cutting Ratliff brings his base salary into play for cap space, though some of his guaranteed money may accelerate. Still, if Dallas doesn’t see him as a fit cutting Ratliff could free up roughly $2-3 million in space, depending on when he’s cut. Like Doug Free, cutting Ratliff after June 1 allows the Cowboys to spread Ratliff’s remaining guaranteed money over two years, not one.
The rest of the group is made up of linebacker Dan Connor, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, safety Gerald Sensabaugh, cornerback Morris Claiborne, wide receiver Dez Bryant, backup quarterback Kyle Orton and left tackle Tyron Smith. Of this group, Connor is in the most trouble. Connor counts $4.35 million against the 2013 cap. He’s in the last year of his deal, which means that cutting him means the remaining $1.35 million in bonus money must count against the cap in 2013. However, his $3 million base salary means the Cowboys would save $1.65 million for a player who should be relatively easy to replace.
The Cowboys won’t cut Sensabaugh, but they could convert his $3 million base salary into a bonus to save space. Unlike Connor, Sensabaugh has several years remaining on his deal.
Under $3 million
The Cowboys have 10 players that will count more than $1 million under the salary cap for 2013, but under $3 million. Ordinarily, you don’t target players in this salary range. But, depending on how the Cowboys intend to reshape their roster, a few players could get their walking papers. Here are the most likely:
Defensive tackle Marcus Spears. Spears still has three years left on his contract, but all of his guarantee money has counted against the cap. Shedding Spears’ salary saves the Cowboys $2 million. He has been less productive the past few years and probably isn’t a fit for the new defensive scheme.
Offensive guard Mackenzy Bernadeau. Dallas gave him a four-year deal in 2012, including $3.25 million in bonus money. Prorated over four years that’s $812,500. Bernadeau’s base salary for 2013 will be $2.25 million, now that an escalator kicked in for playing all 16 games. His play was below average and the Cowboys may want to replace him. But he has $2.437 million in bonus money that must be accounted for. Bernadeau could be a post-June 1 cut, which would allow Dallas to pro-rate the bonus money to $1.2 million in 2013 and in 2014, enabling them to save $1 million in cap space in 2013.
Fullback Lawrence Vickers. Vickers is a fine player who, in the right system, is a great lead blocker. But the Cowboys’ offense wasn’t a good fit. Vickers is due $1.1 million in base salary in 2013, but has just $100,000 in bonus money remaining. Cutting Vickers saves $1 million.
Center Ryan Cook. Acquired by Dallas last year right after the preseason, Cook counts $1.25 million against the salary cap in 2013. But $1.1 million is base salary. Cutting Cook gets Dallas about $1 million in cap savings.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and offensive guard Nate Livings would seem to be potential casualties to the naked eye. But here’s why they may not be. Hatcher’s $2.83 million cap hit is manageable because his $2 million base salary could be converted to bonus money, if needed. Plus, he appears to be a good fit for the 4-3 scheme. Livings is harder to cut. He received a $6.2 million bonus when he signed and his bonus counts just $700,000 against the cap in 2013. His $1.7 million base salary is manageable. The rest of his $4.96 million cap hit in the next four years is not, even if you cut him post-June 1. It makes more sense to wait until 2014 when his base salary jumps to $3.4 million.