It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys have salary cap issues that will be even worse in 2014 than they are now. That problem has been pushed to the back burner (as usual) now that play has begun and the focus has turned to the team’s play on the field. However, the recent incident involving Anthony Spencer being lost for the season is only foreshadowing of a much greater executive problem the Cowboys will face in the upcoming offseason and beyond.
The Cowboys are going to be roughly $25 million over the salary cap when the 2013 NFL season ends, which means they’ll have a lot of work to do before the 2014 season even begins. That’s the result of Jerry Jones continuously backloading contracts and restructuring deals to make more cap space when it’s convenient and without thinking about future repercussions. So now the Cowboys have a very tough hole out of which to climb to get under the cap for 2014, and that doesn’t include any offseason moves, including signing draft picks.
The astronomical figure above regarding the Cowboys’ 2014 salary cap space doesn’t even include Spencer, who has played his last snap in a Dallas uniform. Jones can say what he wants, but there’s no way the Cowboys can bring back Spencer, who has received the franchise tag in each of the last two seasons, and would need that same nomination again or a new contract to play in Dallas next year. That’s why it’s pretty obvious Jones simply overruled Spencer and Jason Garrett‘s words on the player’s health and announced the defensive end will undergo season-ending knee surgery, much to the confusion of everyone else at Valley Ranch — Jones wants Spencer gone now so he can focus on the major problem facing him in 2014.
The problem is Dallas has several players who desperately need new contracts before the 2014 season, and that’s on top of the $147 million the Cowboys already have dedicated to contracts next year. Lower-profile players who make big impacts like Jason Hatcher and George Selvie both have expiring contracts this season and higher-profile stars like Dez Bryant and Bruce Carter will enter contract years in 2014.
Jones’ usual solution for situations like these is dump a bunch of veterans; that’s why guys like Terence Newman still have dead money toward the salary cap now. Well, unless Jerry is willing to part ways with the likes of the players listed below, he’s got his work cut out for him:
Miles Austin ($7.8 million)
Doug Free ($7 million)
Jay Ratliff ($6.9 million)
Tony Romo ($8.1 million)
DeMarcus Ware ($8.5 million)
Jason Witten ($8.6 million)
The number listed to the right is not those players’ salary for 2014 — it’s the amount of dead money that will count toward the salary cap if the Cowboys cut or trade any of them next year. Ratliff is the only expendable player listed because his cap number is $8.2 million, so the Cowboys would save only $1.3 million by letting him go. Cutting Free would actually cost the Cowboys more than keeping him since his cap number for 2014 is only $6.5 million. So basically, Jones has dug himself a hole out of which he may not can climb.
The result could be guys like Bryant, Carter, Hatcher, Selvie and many others need new contracts playing for different teams in the next couple of years. In addition, players like Ware will be the only ones expendable from a financial aspect in 2014, so the Cowboys could lose both of their premiere pass rusher in back-to-back seasons. Sure, all of that seems really farfetched rolling off the tongue, but the Cowboys have no way of preventing it at this point. Jones is likely to try and pull some strings between now and then, but the last time he did that (in an uncapped year), it cost the Cowboys $10 million in cap penalties.
So while the “loss” of Spencer may be a small step in what seems to be the right direction, dead money is going to derail any attempt by the Cowboys to improve their roster in 2014. To say Jones got his hand caught in the cookie jar this time is a drastic understatement.