Cowboys Pen is Mightier than Sword when it Comes to Cap
It should be unlawful for ESPN to yell “Salary-Cap Fire” in a crowded Cowboys theater.But the network does so on an almost daily basis during every Dallas Cowboys off-season – maybe because mentioning the Cowboys moves the ratings needle or maybe because somebody in Bristol truly does not understand how the NFL’s salary cap works. But for whatever reason, the Cowboys are constantly immersed in this “controversy” where financial acumen and talent evaluation clash…..or do they?
The NFL’s 2014 salary cap is expected to be about $133 million, and certainly the higher the better if you are the “always-spending” Cowboys. Various reports (from ESPN and elsewhere) have placed Dallas in a fiscal danger zone because of the cap, screaming that the Cowboys are “$20 million over the cap” and “my-oh-my whatever shall they do?” The panic created by the reports leads to the sincere-but-naïve question so often posed: “Will the Cowboys get under the cap?”
They will indeed, and they will do so by 3 p.m. on March 11 – because that’s the law. And they will do so easily, with three flicks of a ballpoint pen. The Cowboys would need to trim close to $20 million from their cap by March 11th, and the club has various paths to do the job. The contract given Tony Romo was structured in a way to have a switch flipped that will save Dallas cap room. That represents a “delay” tactic that is similar to putting money on a credit card, and for a 33-year-old, it’s imperfect. But the contracts for Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick have similar “switches” that will be flipped. And they are young enough that the moving of their money comes with few pitfalls.
When Dallas executes those three ballpoint-pen moves, guess how much the club saves? Close to $20 million – pretty much exactly the amount it needs to save. They can do something with the contracts for Jason Witten and Brandon Carr (though they would be delay tactics as well) that would get $8 million more in room. Depending on how they handle DeMarcus Ware’s negotiations, they can create another $7.5 million of room. A June 1st release of Miles Austin would mean another $5.5 million of cap space. Releases of bit players like Justin Durant, Phil Costa and Jermey Parnell equal another $4 million.
This is not to suggest that Dallas doesn’t have cap “issues.” When you spend a lot and don’t win a lot? That’s an issue. But every team has similar issues and the smart ones don’t view the salary cap as the enemy, but rather as a tool that, when properly employed, helps you win. The cap can be restrictive in the sense that the weekend newspaper report suggesting a Romo-for-Manziel trade between the Cowboys and Texans is essentially an illegal fantasy.
The cap can punish you or reward you. It can help you or hurt you. But mistakes – and “Jenerous Jerry” has made millions of dollars worth of those – can be survived and even erased. That’s especially true for clubs that draft successfully, which is the ultimate cap-beater. So why isn’t the Cowboys cap angle I’m espousing here presented everywhere else? Contrary to one colleague’s accusation, it’s not because I’m a misguided Cowboys homer; my view of what the cap is and how to deal with it applies to everybody from Seattle to Jacksonville, too.
There are three games being played here. One game is assembling a football team with talent. The second game is doing so while fitting it all under the $133 million lid. And the third game? The constant whining of those who either view, or pretend to view, the NFL salary cap as a Cowboys-tormenting boogie man, a devil demanding his due, a fire in a crowded theater.