Cowboys face tough cap decisions in 2014

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
8:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Now comes the fun part for the Dallas Cowboys.

With their projected salary cap of $127.6 million in 2014, they have to find a smart way to shave nearly $25 million to get under the cap. Preferably they would cut more than that in order to have room to sign players in free agency.

The task might seem daunting, but with a couple of clicks on a computer, they can get that $25 million pretty easily.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware has reached double-digit sacks for seven consecutive seasons, but he'll need four sacks in the final three games to keep the streak alive.
AP Photo/James D. SmithHow to handle DeMarcus Ware's contract looms as a big decision for the Cowboys in the offseason.
The question is how much money do they want to push into the future on veterans?

“We’ll have extensive personnel meetings in regards to (the cap),” coach Jason Garrett said. “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. 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.”

The Cowboys will restructure the contracts of Tony Romo and Sean Lee. Those two moves will create about $13.4 million in salary-cap relief, while also increasing the cap numbers on those players in future years. However, when the Cowboys signed these deals, this was their only option.

In the past the Cowboys have restructured DeMarcus Ware's contract with no questions asked. He was putting together Pro Bowl seasons, and it was worth it. Now coming off a six-sack season and turning 32 in July, is it worth it to do it once more?

He is to count $16.003 million against the cap with a $12.25 million base salary. If they simply restructure his contract again, the Cowboys would gain nearly $8.6 million in cap space. But they have to factor in future cost, age and performance when making the move. Ware has said he would restructure, but clarified his “pay cut” stance after the season. If the Cowboys choose to cut Ware, they would free up $7.4 million in room.

The Ware decision looms as the Cowboys’ biggest of the offseason, especially if he does not take a pay cut. They do not have an in-house candidate to take his spot, and could gamble that he returns to form in 2014.

Brandon Carr will have a $12.217 million cap number. Restructuring his deal made sense before the season started, but might be a question now because of how he played in 2013. If they redo his deal like they did in 2013, then they are adding to his cap figures down the road, which would make it harder to release him.

The feeling is they will bite the bullet and re-work the deal, creating about $4.7 million in room.

Restructuring Jason Witten's deal will create $2.6 million in room.

If you look at Romo, Lee, Carr and Witten, that is nearly $21 million in room. The decision on Ware could create as little as $7.4 million, and as much as $8.6 million.

Wide receiver Miles Austin figures to be a June 1 casualty, which will open up $5.5 million in space, but would carry more than $5 million in dead money in 2015. Most of that money will be used to sign the draft picks.

The Cowboys have other avenues to create space (Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Kyle Orton) in varying ways.

Getting under the cap will not be an issue. Getting under the cap enough to be able to make upgrades in free agency is another story.

Teams have to overpay in free agency. Signing Carr to a five-year, $50 million deal two years ago is proof, but that was the going rate for a top cornerback on the market. It is rare to get the on-field value to match the contract in free agency.

The Cowboys would be better served to be bit players in free agency and keep their own, like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Dan Bailey, with longer-term contracts.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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