By Matthew Postins
Last month RattleandHumSports.com put together 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.
So, let’s do some salary math, shall we?
The big ticket items
Four players – quarterback Tony Romo, cornerback Brandon Carr, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and offensive lineman Doug Free – each count at least $10 million against the cap.
So who gets a new deal and who gets cut?
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is on the record saying that Romo will be here for a while. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, who negotiates contracts and manages the salary cap, said on Tuesday that the Cowboys want Romo back.
So, with a $17 million cap hit looming in 2013, a contract extension for Romo, who is entering the final year of his deal, makes sense. But how do you do it?
History could be a guide.
In 2008 Romo restructured his contract to help the Cowboys save cap room. That year, according to DallasCowboys.com, Romo received $12 million in guaranteed money, money that can be prorated over the life of the contract. That saved Dallas some money. The Dallas Morning News reported that Romo restructured again in 2011. This time the Cowboys converted most of Romo’s $9 million in base salary into an $8.1 million roster bonus. Dallas added three voidable years to his deal (2014-16) and the restructuring saved Dallas $1.1 million in cap space.
Romo will get a restructured deal. There is $11.5 million in salary, with $5.7 million in bonuses, in 2013. If history is a guide, the Cowboys will take a good portion of Romo’s base salary, re-package it as a bonus and pro-rate it over the length of a new five- or six-year contract to save money. Some estimates have the Cowboys saving as much as half of Romo’s projected cap hit for 2013. How much money the Cowboys save will depend greatly on the length of the contract and the amount of 2013 base salary converted into a bonus.
Carr will get a restructured deal as well. In fact, according to ESPNDallas.com, Carr’s original five years, $50.1 million deal, included a trigger that will automatically reduce his cap figure by approximately $10 million for 2013. So give the Cowboys credit for planning ahead, if that’s the case. The Cowboys will likely get this savings out of doing something with Carr’s massive $14.3 million base salary for 2013.
Ware isn’t going anywhere either, despite his $12.2 million cap figure. Ware has done the creative deal before. According to ESPNDallas.com, the Cowboys took his $6.7 million base salary in 2011, converted $5.89 million of it into a bonus and prorated that amount over the span of his current deal. That saved the Cowboys about $5.3 million in space in 2011. The problem is that Ware only has $5.5 million in base salary in 2013 and $6.72 million in bonus money is already part of his pro-rated cap figure. There are three years remaining on his deal. So the Cowboys could extend his current deal a year or two to pro-rate the current bonus amounts further. Unlike Romo and Carr, converting his base salary into guaranteed bonus money may prove trickier because there’s less of it.
Free is the one in trouble. The veteran offensive lineman had a horrible year at right tackle. Worse for Dallas is that Free makes left tackle money. He is set to count $11.175 million against the cap. But $7 million of his cap figure for 2013 is non-guaranteed base salary, meaning that if Dallas cuts him, that money goes away. Seven million represents about one-third of what the Cowboys have to shed before the new league calendar begins. Free has already received his guaranteed money. It’s just determining how much he’ll count against the cap if he’s cut.
One thing to keep in mind is the timing, if the Cowboys decide to cut Free. The Cowboys need the money now, but by waiting to cut Free after June 1 the Cowboys could save $7 million and pro-rate Free’s cap hit for two years, as opposed to one if they did it before June 1.
So what will the Cowboys do? Free appears to be the most expendable player, so it’s likely he’ll be cut. Carr, Romo and Ware will all see something happen to their contract to save cap space. In fact, if done properly, it may free up enough money to move the Cowboys under the cap. But it won’t be enough to allow the Cowboys to adequately compete for free agents, much less free up enough money to keep players like linebacker Anthony Spencer.
So, in our second installment we’ll examine the players that will make $1 million or more in 2013, look at which deals can be restructured and see which players might make sense to cut for cap purposes.