As you know by now, the Dallas Cowboys restructured quite a number of player contracts Thursday in a successful effort to get themselves under the salary cap. The reworking of deals for DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, Brandon Carr, Jason Witten and Ryan Cook, combined with the news that this year's cap will rise to $123 million, has the Cowboys about $5 million under. So at the very least, if nothing else happens between now and March 12, they will not be in violation of the salary cap rules. This is good. The Cowboys know first-hand what can happen when you're in violation of made-up salary cap rules. They have no interest in finding out what happens if you violate the real ones.
Questions remain, though, as well as work to be done. According to Todd Archer, the Cowboys sit about $5 million under the cap right now, but that doesn't count the likely $2.646 million (and possible $3.969 million) in tenders to their restricted free agents. Getting under the cap is one thing, but it's not the extent of Dallas' ambition. They'd like to get under it far enough so that they can move around in free agency, address needs and improve the 2013 roster. So here are two of the big questions to which people seem to want answers this morning:
1. How will this impact the Tony Romo contract negotiations?
The Cowboys still want to sign Romo to an extension beyond 2013, both because they like having him as their quarterback and because it's the best way to reduce his massive 2013 cap number and give them room to maneuver this offseason. The fact that they managed to get under the cap without reworking Romo's deal helps swing the leverage back in the team's favor ever so slightly, but Romo's side can still operate under the belief that the Cowboys need the deal done soon to put themselves in the best possible position to win this year. Of course, Romo himself also would like to see the team in the best possible position to win this year, so he has some incentive to get this done as well. I continue to believe Romo will get a long-term contract signed that will cover the remainder of his career. I don't think Thursday's news has much impact on the chances of that happening, one way or the other.
2. Will all of this allow them to retain Anthony Spencer? As Todd points out, clearing about $6 million more in cap room by Monday would allow them to designate Spencer as their franchise player if they wanted to do that. But as nice as Spencer would look at defensive end in their new 4-3 alignment, I don't think that's what the Cowboys want to do. They'd like to have Spencer back, and would be happy to talk about a long-term deal with a 2013 base salary lower than the $10.6 million it would cost them to franchise him for the second year in a row, but franchising him would leave them too cap-strapped to address offensive line and other needs. And frankly, the size of the deal Spencer is looking to get after a career year playing on the franchise tag is likely more than the Cowboys want to spend to keep him. So while it remains possible, and Thursday's restructures likely made it moreso, I'd still expect Spencer to move on, and the Cowboys to go to whatever Plan B is for their four-man defensive line without him.