Cowboys' free-agent needs: Quarterback

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
With free agency starting March 10, it is time to break down the Dallas Cowboys' needs and wants. Teams can start talking with players on Saturday.


What they have: Tony Romo ($17 million base salary), Brandon Weeden ($660,000), Dustin Vaughan ($510,000).

The position: Until 2014, the Cowboys have used a high-priced veteran as Romo’s backup from Brad Johnson to Jon Kitna to Kyle Orton. In 2012, the Cowboys gave Orton a $5 million signing bonus.

Last year the Cowboys rolled with Weeden as Romo’s backup and paid him just $570,000 without a signing bonus. This year, Weeden will make $660,000.

Weeden played in four games in 2014 and finished with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. In his one start against the Arizona Cardinals, he completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 28-17 loss.

As much as they like Weeden, they will look to improve if possible.

“We know that the backup is key,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We played a good team in Arizona, we played a good team. But if we’d been better at backup quarterback, who knows? We might have been able to get that game. But let’s give Arizona the credit they’re due. When I look back at the backup quarterback -- where we messed up relative to backup quarterback, I’ll second guess that. On the other hand, you can just go so far with that line of thinking. So when you ask me where we are, what I’m thinking at quarterback, I do think we need to improve what we do if Tony is not in there.”

The Cowboys like Vaughan's development, but he remains a prospect -- not an adequate backup for Romo.

Best available: Ryan Mallett. He is young and showed at least a little promise after his trade to the Houston Texans. At this point in his career, Mallett will want a chance to start, so remaining with Houston is his best bet.

Best Cowboys fit: If the Cowboys want to dip back into their history books, then Matt Moore would be the best option. He signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and had an impressive preseason but the Cowboys were unable to sneak him through waivers. He has spent the last four seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

What they will do: With Romo set to count $27.773 million against the salary cap and more important needs elsewhere, it’s difficult to see the Cowboys making a second financial investment at the quarterback spot. They’ll stick with Weeden.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys decided to release DeMarcus Ware last year, they left the negotiations on a new deal open with their all-time leader in sacks as he hit the market without ever making an offer.

They did not want to submit something Ware would sniff at and feel insulted.

A day later, Ware signed a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos that guaranteed him $20 million, which was a figure the Cowboys never would have come close to matching.

This year the Cowboys are preparing to let DeMarco Murray, their single-season rushing leader, hit the open market with the hope he allows for a chance to match an offer from another team.

Are the Cowboys unwilling to make an offer to Murray because they don’t want to offend the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, like they were with Ware last year?

It sure seems that way.

While owner and general manager Jerry Jones said at the NFL scouting combine he has some flexibility in the parameters in a deal for Murray, it might not be close to what the running back can get on the open market.

There have not been detailed negotiations between the two sides, despite the publicly stated positions by the Cowboys and Murray that both sides want to continue the relationship for the long term. Coincidentally, Ware and Murray are represented by the same agency.

Murray has said money will not be the only factor in his decision. Winning will matter. The Indianapolis Colts went to the AFC Championship Game this past season and have more than $40 million in cap space. The Atlanta Falcons struggled badly last season but have a core in place that can turn things around quickly and have roughly $23 million in cap space available. The Arizona Cardinals can create enough cap space to make a deal for Murray more than possible.

And so can the Cowboys, even with the impending franchise tag of Dez Bryant.

The possible -- or impending -- departure of Murray will be about the Cowboys not wanting to spend big on a running back, not about a lack of salary-cap space.

Stephen Jones said at the combine that if Murray hits the market it would not preclude his return, in the same way Darren Woodson and Jay Novacek hit the market in the past but eventually returned.

It’s a risky strategy.

Murray will be under no requirement to offer the Cowboys a chance to match or come close to an offer before signing elsewhere.

And the Cowboys will be under no requirement to wait for Murray to bring them an offer. They will be able to peruse the free-agent market to find a potential replacement at a cheaper price.

It all makes you wonder if the Murray saga will end the same way as the Ware saga.

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer breaks down the latest on the team's strategy to try to sign DeMarco Murray.

Cowboys to franchise Dez Bryant

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys informed the agent for Dez Bryant on Friday that they will place the franchise tag on the All-Pro wide receiver by Monday's deadline, executive vice president Stephen Jones confirmed.

The Cowboys have to notify the league of the move by 4 p.m. ET Monday, which will guarantee Bryant roughly $13 million in 2015. The Cowboys will not use the exclusive franchise tag on Bryant, but a team would have to give up two first-round picks if Dallas chooses not to match an offer sheet.

At the NFL scouting combine earlier this month in Indianapolis, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he hoped the tag would be a "placeholder" until the two sides can work out a long-term deal with Bryant. Jerry and Stephen Jones had their first face-to-face meetings with Bryant's new agents, Tom Condon of CAA and Kim Miale of Roc Nation, last Tuesday.

During the season, Bryant said he would be "highly disappointed" if he was given the tag.

It will be the fifth time in team history the Cowboys have used the franchise tag. The others were Flozell Adams (2002), Ken Hamlin (2008) and Anthony Spencer (2012, '13).

Bryant changed agents last November after the Cowboys thought they were close to a multiyear agreement with the wideout. They had only a couple of conversations with his new reps during the season and did not meet with them at the combine.

Since joining the Cowboys as a first-round pick in 2010, Bryant has been one of the NFL's most dynamic receivers.

In five seasons with the Cowboys, Bryant has caught 381 passes for 5,424 yards and 56 touchdowns. No player in team history has more catches, yards or touchdowns than Bryant in the first five years of his career.

(Read full post)

Dallas Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. In it we discuss:
  • The financials at running back
  • The quarterback-wide receiver relationship
  • Dorial Beckham-Green
  • Brandon Carr
  • Incentives
  • If you want to see Part 1, click here. Away we go:

    @toddarcher: Without a doubt it would be drafting a Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley or whoever than re-signing DeMarco Murray. Last year's No. 27 pick received a four-year deal worth $7.7 million. Murray should earn more than that in 2015 alone on a free-agent deal. But can you guarantee a rookie running back can step right in and be a huge contributor? You can't, and that's another one of the million factors or so that go into keeping Murray. If the Cowboys don't keep Murray and miss on a potential first-rounder in the draft, then they face the real possibility of wasting the final few years of Tony Romo's career. As much as everybody think the Murray decision is an easy one, to me it's not. The Cowboys can only be wrong. Either they pay him and he doesn't produce or they let him walk and can't replace him. We're not going to give them a lot of credit if Murray stays and plays well.

    @toddarcher: Not really. I think Dez Bryant would be a great receiver if I played quarterback. Well, maybe not, but you have to be careful to not take away credit from Bryant in his development. We always want to credit this coach or that coach or the quarterback while sometimes failing to give the player credit for improving. Now, I think Tony Romo has made some receivers better and made them a lot of money in other spots. Put Laurent Robinson's name at the top of the list. Romo has shown he can make role-playing receivers look better than they really are, but Bryant would be a star anywhere.

    @toddarcher: We hear Jason Garrett talk all the time about the "right kind of guy," and oftentimes it's misinterpreted to mean, "I only want Boy Scouts." That's just not the case. Dorial Green-Beckham might be the best receiver in the draft, but that doesn't mean he will be the first receiver selected. He had issues at Missouri involved with arrests for marijuana and an alleged assault. I'm sure the Cowboys will have a handle on all of that by the time it comes to the draft and will feel comfortable taking him or keeping his name off the board. But there's also a need. I understand the "best player available" theory, but, to me, it's just that: a theory. Need has to be factored in. Dez Bryant isn't going anywhere. Terrance Williams isn't going anywhere. The Cowboys like what they're getting from Cole Beasley. They believe Devin Street can develop. If you're drafting Green-Beckham in the first two rounds, he would be expected to contribute right away. Would that happen here? I understand the Cowboys drafted Bryant when they just had Roy Williams and Miles Austin but they knew they would be moving away from Williams quickly and would have the chance to play Bryant right away.

    @toddarcher: Brandon Carr's agent met with the Cowboys at the combine so there's at least been discussions, but he does have leverage. Well, at least a little because the Cowboys need him. They aren't sure about Morris Claiborne's health. They don't know if Sterling Moore will be back. They aren't sure what awaits in the draft. But I would say that leverage -- as little as it is -- will disappear the longer it goes. The Cowboys can just wait this out and then hold the threat of his release over his head at a point where the money will be dried up for a cornerback that did not have an interception in 2014.

    @toddarcher: Some of them count against the cap immediately whether a player hits it or not. If they don't, then you get a credit. But I want to take this to incentives in general and avoid some of the cap minutiae when it comes to them. I've gone back and forth on how they might encourage performance and protect the team. There are those at Valley Ranch who believe Henry Melton was looking more for his sixth sack than doing what he was supposed to do in the scheme because he would've earned an extra $250,000 with six sacks on the year. So that's a situation where individual incentives can affect the team. 
    IRVING, Texas -- By 4 p.m. ET Monday, the Dallas Cowboys will likely place the franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant.

    It will mark just the fifth time the Cowboys have used the tag since its inception. Bryant will join Flozell Adams (2002), Ken Hamlin (2008) and Anthony Spencer, who was tagged in 2012 and '13, as the only Cowboys’ tagged. Hamlin never played under the tag having reached a six-year, $39 million deal.

    During the 2014 season, Bryant said he would be “highly disappointed” if the Cowboys used the franchise tag. Players largely view the tag as a hindrance, not a financial boon. It effectively keeps them off the open market because other teams are unlikely to give up two first-round picks as compensation.

    [+] EnlargeDez Bryant
    Elsa/Getty ImagesIf the Cowboys apply the franchise tag to Dez Bryant, they'll have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
    They want the security of a long-term deal with heavy guaranteed money, but they have few options.

    They can sit out the voluntary offseason program, skip the mandatory June minicamp, which would subject them to fines, or sit out of training camp and games in protest. But they won’t be getting paid.

    Several executives asked at the NFL scouting combine said the player’s reaction to the tag is not weighed when making the decision. Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a succinct answer when asked the questions: “Uh, no.”

    “The player has no choice in the matter,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It’s something that we agree on that’s been collectively bargained.”

    As much as the players don’t like it, it’s not a tool teams enjoy using much because of the amount of cap space it eats up. While it will not prevent the Cowboys from being active in free agency, tagging Bryant would force them to move money around in ways that could hurt their cap in the future.

    On a long-term deal, the player’s first-year cap number is relatively low.

    “For some players there’s a negative reaction to it but that’s not the case with all players,” Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “For the team, it’s a tool to continue to try to keep good players.”

    Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett said they would not be worried about Bryant’s reaction to the tag, even though there has been heavy speculation that Bryant will stay away from the team in the offseason without a long-term deal.

    When the Cowboys tagged Spencer in 2012 and ‘13, he wasted little time in signing the tender.

    “If you sign it right away, it’s automatically guaranteed,” Spencer’s Dallas-based agent, Jordan Woy said. “You can still negotiate to get a long-term deal. But I don’t see the benefit in not signing it because if I don’t sign it, it’s not guaranteed, No. 1. The team could take it away and if you wait too long other things can happen (like teams not having cap space). Or people could change their mind. I think it’s better signing it and having the guaranteed money sitting there.”

    The likelihood of the Cowboys pulling the tender from Bryant, however, is slim. Another agent said for a player of Bryant’s caliber teams will always create cap space to get a deal done.

    “I’ve never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn’t do it over this kind of money,” Jerry Jones said. “That usually is not realistic. It’s just too much money. And consequently it’s not set up or packaged the way that parties might want -- and I want to emphasize again – it’s not really set up in our best interest at all. There’s a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn’t franchise, but this is here when you don’t have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term. And so if anything it’s in the right situation, it’s a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future.”

    Spencer made $19.4 million in the two years he was tagged, and he played in just one game in 2013 because of a knee injury. Had he signed a longer-term deal, he might not have been able to make the same amount of money.

    If the Cowboys are unable to reach a long-term deal on Bryant, then they could always use the franchise tag on him in 2016, which could bring his two-year total up to $28 million. And if they so desired, they could use it in 2017, according to league rules, and likely have to pay him the quarterback tender.

    Perhaps Hamlin could serve as the template for the tagging of Bryant.

    The Cowboys put the $4.396 million tag on Hamlin in 2008 but reached a six-year, $39 million deal in July that included a $9 million signing bonus. Hamlin, however, lasted just two more years. The Cowboys never got the value they were expecting.

    Monday is the deadline to put the tag on Bryant, but the next deadline is July 15, which is when a long-term deal needs to be finalized or the receiver would play the year under the franchise tag.

    By then we’ll know if the tag is a “placeholder,” or the deal.

    Running back moves show part of Cowboys' dilemma

    February, 27, 2015
    Feb 27
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    IRVING, Texas -- The dilemma the Dallas Cowboys are facing in trying to re-sign DeMarco Murray is playing out at different spots across the league.

    Over the past few days running backs such as DeAngelo Williams, Reggie Bush, Chris Johnson and Peyton Hillis have been released. Steven Jackson will officially be added to the list Friday.

    [+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsAt age 27, one has to wonder how many years of high-level production are remaining for DeMarco Murray.
    Those names get added to the running back market in free agency, which gets added to a fairly decent crop of runners available, including a deep NFL draft class.

    In the laws of supply and demand, there’s more supply, so the prices might be lower. Now, all it takes is for one team to make an extremely lucrative offer to alter the marketplace, but the Cowboys and any team looking for a running back will have to ask how much more will they get from a younger Murray coming off an incredible season than they would from one of these more veteran backs at a cheaper price.

    And this doesn’t take into account whether Adrian Peterson will be available.

    But the point of this post isn’t to make running back-to-running back comparisons between Murray and those backs. It’s to point out the nature of the position. When it ends, it ends.

    In 2011, the Carolina Panthers signed Williams to a five-year, $43 million deal that included a $16 million bonus. In 2013 they extended his deal another two years, guaranteeing him more money while lowering his cap value.

    Jackson signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. The Detroit Lions signed Bush to a four-year, $16 million deal in 2013. They didn’t play out their contracts.

    As I’ve said before with Murray, what will matter most will be the money in the first three years. At 27, it’s reasonable to expect he has another three years left in him to play at a high level. What’s not reasonable to expect is another 1,845-yard season because that had never been done before in franchise history.

    What the Cowboys -- or any team that might sign Murray should he hit the open market -- can expect is three years of quality production. The design of the contract will be for more years and more money but that’s only for cap purposes to help the team and make the deal seem larger than it really is.

    In reality, most free-agent deals are designed to be three years. After the third year, teams want to have a get out of jail free card, which means when they cut a player they create cap room. The Falcons will get $3.75 million in room from Jackson. The Lions gained $1.7 million by cutting Bush.

    Wherever and whenever Murray signs, there will come a day when he will be like Jackson, Bush, Williams, Johnson and Hillis -- former stars with diminishing skills.

    Dallas Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

    February, 27, 2015
    Feb 27
    AM ET
    IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready.

    In it we discuss:
    Away we go:
    @toddarcher: As of today, I think Dez Bryant will play the 2015 season on the franchise tag. I'm well aware of all of the talk out there regarding Bryant over the last week, including a 2011 police report that reported on Thursday, but Jerry Jones said there are no off-field issues pertaining to any player that would prevent the Cowboys from a new contract. That being said, there haven't been any real negotiations lately, so the tag is the best bet right now. Once he is tagged, then the Cowboys would have until July 15 to sign him to a long-term deal. Maybe that would get both sides on the phone to talk about a new deal but the Monday deadline to use the tag has not put any giddy-up in the talks.

    @toddarcher: Who says they aren't looking at a defensive back at No. 27? It's quite possible they go that route. But I would caution you with the term "defensive back." Unless it's Landon Collins, I don't see another safety worth a first-round pick at this point. Cornerback is a real possibility, however, because of all the things they don't have at the position: quality and depth. Brandon Carr's status is up in the air. Morris Claiborne's health is in question. They might not tender Sterling Moore a contract. Orlando Scandrick is the only given. They like Tyler Patmon, but he's viewed more as a sub-package corner than a potential starter in the future. The problem at No. 27 is that the top corners will be gone by then, too. Somehow, the Cowboys need to get a quality corner early in the draft.

    @toddarcher: As a general rule when it comes to Jerry Jones and the draft, I would say never say never to anything. But you're asking about what I potentially see and I just don't see it. It costs too much. The Cowboys have said over and over that they want to build a team the right way and they're not one player away. They would have to give up way too much to get into the top 10 to select a pass rusher. I don't see them moving up inside the top 20, either. But if a player they covet is there at Nos 23, 24, 25, then I can see them making a flip to get up there. Like free agency, I don't see the Cowboys making any drastic moves in the draft.

    @toddarcher: Before the revelation of McClain's impending four-game fine for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, I didn't know how the Cowboys or any team could come up with the right salary number for the linebacker. It was tricky before the fine and it will be trickier now because one more failed test results in a four-game suspension. That said, I believe the Cowboys have the best chance to keep him, based on the relationships he developed with Jason Garrett, Rod Marinelli and Matt Eberflus in 2014. He has people in place that are in his corner. If he had to go to another team, he would be starting all over again.

    @toddarcher: Honestly, I don't. Finding a starter in the later rounds is next to impossible. And I don't see the Cowboys using an early pick on a quarterback until the Tony Romo era ends. But you brought up an interesting name and it's not Bryce Petty, though I do like him. It's Sean Mannion. Who was his offensive coordinator last year at Oregon State? Former Cowboys tight ends coach John Garrett, Jason's older brother. The Cowboys will know everything they need to know about Mannion because of that. I'm not going to pretend to know when Mannion should be drafted, but if it gets to the third day and he's there, maybe the Cowboys take a chance.
    IRVING, Texas -- For his second straight mock draft, ESPN Insider Todd McShay has the Dallas Cowboys sticking with Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in the first round.

    It is a perfectly sound pick if the Cowboys lose DeMarco Murray to free agency. While a running back has not been picked in the first round the last two years, Gordon would give the Cowboys the ability to continue their run-first, run-often mentality that worked so well in 2014.

    But it's not the ideal pick for a team that needs an influx of defensive help.

    What McShay's mock draft does indicate is the possibility that the Cowboys are in a never-never land when it comes to landing a pass-rusher or cornerback. Eight defensive ends and three cornerbacks were among McShay's first 26 picks.

    Even the offensive tackle position was well picked over.

    While you can never ignore the Cowboys trading up to make sure they land a valued pass rusher or cornerback, which I can't name just yet because it is early in the process to know who the Cowboys love, like or loathe, giving up early round picks does not help build the base of a team.

    As much as the Cowboys needed to land DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round last year, giving up their third rounder to get him was costly.

    If the projections continue down the same path, the Cowboys' best hope is to find a team willing to trade up to No. 27 so they can acquire multiple picks in the top three rounds.

    With a deep running back field, you might feel better getting one in the second or third rounds than in the first.

    Adrian Peterson's impact on the Cowboys

    February, 26, 2015
    Feb 26
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    IRVING, Texas -- Now that U.S. District Court Judge David Doty has cleared the way for Adrian Peterson to possibly be reinstated to the NFL, the future of the Minnesota Vikings running back should start to come into focus.

    The Dallas Cowboys have been viewed as a natural landing spot for Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, native, but several obstacles are in the way: age and price.

    Though there is no doubt Peterson is one of the best -- if not the best -- runner in the NFL, the possibility of any team making a trade with Minnesota is difficult. From a financial standpoint, it would work for the Vikings to either cut or trade Peterson, but if a team deals for the running back it has to be able to assume a $12.75 million base salary in 2015.

    Given that the Cowboys are ready to assume a $13 million price tag on Dez Bryant with the franchise tag, the Cowboys would have to make several moves that free up salary-cap room that will impact their decisions in the future.

    If the Vikings release Peterson, who has said last week he is "still uneasy" about returning to the team in 2015 because of how the team dealt with his legal situation, then the Cowboys -- or any team -- could structure a contract in a way that would make it possible for the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player to return to his home state.

    But he won’t be coming for free, and the Cowboys have expressed a desire to be more financially sound than they have in the past.

    The Cowboys have repeatedly stated their desire to build through the draft. Though the possible addition of Peterson would make an already strong offense even stronger, it would likely hurt the Cowboys' ability to improve the defense because of the draft pick or picks it would take for any team to acquire Peterson.

    Even the possibility of Peterson joining the Cowboys, however, could affect the team’s discussions with DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing. Coach Jason Garrett has made clear his desire to retain Murray, as has Jerry Jones.

    With his first and likely last chance to cash in after playing out his rookie contract, Murray is the best runner available currently. If Peterson becomes available, then Murray would be viewed differently, and teams that had been prepared to make strong pitches for him might turn their attention to Peterson instead.

    A different view of the franchise tag

    February, 26, 2015
    Feb 26
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    IRVING, Texas -- Even though it might seem like it, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant will not be the only player handed the franchise tag by March 2.

    One candidate is New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty. If he doesn't reach a deal with the club, he could be given the tag at a price of close to $9.5 million. McCourty earned roughly $10 million on his rookie contract, so the one-year tag would almost match what he made in his first five seasons.

    "To me, that's no reason to stress," McCourty said on Wednesday. "I love it here. The franchise tag is player-friendly now, it's a good number."

    Bryant earned about $11.8 million, so the one-year tag worth $13 million would be more than what he earned in his first five seasons. The only tags higher belong to quarterbacks and defensive ends.

    "I've never seen anybody just pout to the extent that they wouldn't do it over this kind of money," Jones said from the scouting combine. "That usually is not realistic. It's just too much money. And consequently it's not set up or packaged the way that parties might want -- and I want to emphasize again -- it's not really set up in our best interest at all. There's a much better way for our future and our cap this year if we didn't franchise, but this is here when you don't have your meeting of the minds about how you want to structure something long term. And so if anything it's in the right situation, it's a placeholder for addressing it as you move through the future."

    But making a player-to-player comparison is not the best approach. McCourty plays a position that is not as valued as Bryant.

    Safeties don't get paid the same as receivers. McCourty might not mean to the Patriots what Bryant means to the Cowboys.

    While McCourty can look at the $9.5 million tag as a sign of the team's belief in him, other players, perhaps like Bryant, can look at the tag as a negative.

    A player shouldn't thumb his nose at $13 million, but if he has a chance to come close to potentially tripling that figure in guaranteed money in a long-term deal, the angst can be understandable to a degree.
    IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have long been known as one of the NFL's big spenders, but they will have to do more spending than most teams over the next two years to meet the mandated minimum cash spending floor by 2016.

    According to NFL Players Association figures, the Cowboys are at 82.58 percent of their minimum average, spending $211,407,314 in cash in 2013 and 2014.

    Under the new collective bargaining agreement, each team has to be at 89 percent off minimum cash floor spending after 2016 or the league has to collectively be at 95 percent. If not then the difference must be paid to the NFLPA, which will give the money to current and former players who are on the smaller-spending rosters during that time.

    In 2013, the Cowboys spent $127.9 million, according to NFLPA figures, and $83.5 million in 2014.

    Because teams can make simple accounting changes to help with cap space, the union wanted to make sure more cash was getting in the players' hands, which prompted the minimum cash spending floor.

    In order to reach the 89 percent minimum this year, the Cowboys would have to spend roughly $139.9 million in 2014.

    Getting a long-term deal done with Dez Bryant -- or DeMarco Murray -- would go a long way in helping them get there. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 53 players under contract currently have cash value of roughly $80.6 million.

    Large signing bonuses to Bryant and/or Murray, would also count toward the minimum spending levels. The Cowboys can also re-work the contracts of players like Tyron Smith or Tony Romo and have that money count toward the minimum.

    Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys will be more than compliant by the deadline.

    "It's a product of circumstance, that's all I'll say about it," Stephen Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine.

    Debating Dez Bryant's guaranteed money

    February, 25, 2015
    Feb 25
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    IRVING, Texas -- ESPN Dallas columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor came out fairly strong in saying the Dallas Cowboys need to stop lowballing wide receiver Dez Bryant in contract talks.

    Taylor wrote: "Jerry isn't offering Bryant a lucrative long-term deal for one reason: He doesn't have to do it."

    Dez Bryant
    AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIf the Cowboys use the franchise tag on Dez Bryant each of the next two seasons, he'd be guaranteed about $28.6 million.
    There is probably a lot of truth to that. In the past Jones has been criticized for overpaying players when he did not have to do it.

    Taylor offered up what he thinks Bryant should get and what has happened with the negotiations between the Cowboys and Bryant:
    Market value in the world of elite receivers is a five- or six-year deal that averages about $14 million and guarantees Bryant $35 million to $40 million.

    Don't believe any poppycock about the Cowboys being close to a deal with Bryant during the season before he changed agents, because that's organizational propaganda at its best.

    The Cowboys never offered him any deal with more than $30 million in guaranteed money, which means Bryant was never interested in that deal. The Cowboys offered him a deal with about $20 million in guaranteed money.

    How insulting.

    Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine the Cowboys thought they were close to a deal with Bryant. Perhaps one person’s definition of “close” and another person’s definition are different, but it's likely why Bryant switched agents last fall.

    The Cowboys have not had any detailed talks with Bryant’s new agents, Kim Miale of Roc Nation and CAA’s Tom Condon. They didn’t talk at the combine either. Everything is pointing toward the franchise tag at this point.

    But if I have to contest one thing from Taylor's column it is the amount of guaranteed money the Cowboys are willing to commit.

    Since the talk of using the franchise tag on Bryant has been around since last summer when a long-term deal did not get done, the fact that the team only would be willing to guarantee “about $20 million,” doesn’t make much sense to me.

    The franchise tag figures to come in at close to $13 million for receivers in 2015. For the sake of math, let’s use that figure. That $13 million would be fully guaranteed once Bryant signs the tender. The Cowboys can also use the tag in 2016, which would be an increase of 120 percent, which means they would be willing to guarantee Bryant another $15.6 million.

    At the very least Bryant is looking at $28.6 million in guaranteed money over the next two years based off the franchise tag.

    Just logically it would follow that Bryant would not accept a deal that did not include at least that much guaranteed. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has the most guaranteed money among receivers at $48.7 million. Before his recent deal, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was second at $27 million along with Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace.

    From there it goes to Vincent Jackson ($26 million), Andre Johnson ($20.5 million) and Dwayne Bowe ($20 million).

    So based off the franchise tag over the next two years, Bryant’s guarantee would already be second-most to Johnson.

    The debate is how close Bryant gets to Johnson in the guaranteed money. Does he want just a little more? Will he take a little less? How high are the Cowboys willing to go?

    All great questions that cannot be answered at this time.

    But if there was a holdup in the discussions during the season, that was likely it.
    IRVING, Texas -- Twenty-six years ago today, Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys and fired Tom Landry.

    Among Jones’ biggest regrets is how poorly he handled the dismissal of the iconic coach. Last year Jones said he should have taken former owner Bum Bright up on his offer to fire Landry, who was coming off three straight losing seasons.

    Ever since that day Jones has been searching for his Landry.

    While no coach will last 29 years in one spot again, like Landry did, Jason Garrett has the chance to become Landry-like for Jones.

    [+] EnlargeJason Garrett
    Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys awarded coach Jason Garrett with a five-year extension worth $30 million in January.
    When the Cowboys announced Garrett’s five-year extension worth $30 million last month, Jones said he naively believed Jimmy Johnson would have a 10-year contract, like Landry, and everything would work out because that’s how it happened with Landry.

    Clearly that didn’t happen and Johnson left after five seasons. Since Johnson, Jones has had Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Garrett as head coach.

    Switzer and Parcells lasted four full seasons. Phillips was fired midway through his fourth season. Campo lasted three straight 5-11 seasons. Gailey lasted two seasons but made the playoffs both times.

    Garrett is starting his fifth full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. He was the interim coach for eight games in 2010 after Phillips’ firing.

    He has posted a 41-31 record as coach, finally breaking that 8-8 hurdle in 2014 with a 12-4 record and an NFC East title.

    Speaking from the NFL scouting combine last week, Jones was not asked a question about Garrett until the 75th minute of a 90-minute session.

    “What’s to ask?” Jones laughed.

    Last year there was plenty to ask. The three straight 8-8 finishes were an indictment on the Cowboys' personnel but also on Garrett. His team missed out on the playoffs with three straight Week 17 losses from 2011-13. Garrett’s job security was raised to Jones at just about every offseason event he attended.

    Jones maintained belief in Garrett and consistently said Garrett had a long-term future with the Cowboys even if few believed Jones’ words because his actions -- or lack thereof on a contract -- said otherwise.

    But in 2014 Garrett flourished. Freed from overseeing every detail of the offense with the hiring of Scott Linehan, a trusted confidante, Garrett was able to be a walkaround head coach.

    “My biggest responsibility here was to assess that for the future and quantify it for the future,” Jones said last week from the NFL scouting combine. “This was not a reward. You can say the contract is a reward. You wouldn't have gotten it if you had not done good. For me, this was an assessment of this guy can coach. This guy has soaked it up.”

    Jones paid for Garrett to learn on the job, so to speak. The payoff for Jones’ patience came in 2014. For Garrett, the chance to step away from the offense worked out well.

    “I think when you’re a head coach and you’re calling the defensive signals or you’re calling the plays on offense, you still want to be the head coach of the whole football team,” Garrett said. “I made a concerted effort when I became the head coach, when I was calling plays, to do that. I tried to sit in meetings on the defensive side, be with the special-teams group. But there’s a logistical aspect to it too. When you’re the offensive coordinator and playcaller, you have to prepare for that. I just think as much as anything else, once we got Scott Linehan in here to handle that role, I could really, truly spend my time equally between and among those three different units.

    “I think that’s an important thing. It’s not only the time during the week. It’s time during the game. It’s the emotions, addressing the different weaknesses that you might have on the football team, try to shore those up. I just think it allowed me to do that better.”

    It’s what Jones hoped would happen in 2013 when he forced Bill Callahan to be the playcaller, but that did not work out well because Callahan was not as familiar with the Cowboys' passing game. Linehan’s background with Garrett, having worked together with the Miami Dolphins, and their similar offensive systems made Garrett more comfortable.

    Now Garrett spends more time with the defense, trying to learn more about the whys and hows of Rod Marinelli’s scheme. He does the same thing with special teams.

    “He is not the same guy he was when he joined us as offensive coordinator and certainly not the same guy he was when he was playing quarterback for the Cowboys,” Jones said. “This guy has evolved. He has shown abilities to operate with duress. He has shown ability to be reasonable when needed, unreasonable when needed. He will confront any areas that need to be confronted. Will he do it with skill? Yes. Does he set it up so when he needs correct he can? Has he built a proper deal to correct staff or players? Is he good with communicating any need he has with the league, with the organization, all of those things? I gave him $6 million a year for five years.”