It’s all but official: The Tennessee Titans will release running back Chris Johnson on Friday, ridding themselves of his lucrative contract in the process. The latest Dallas Cowboys rumors suggest the team inquired about a trade for Johnson earlier in the offseason and is interested in signing him once he becomes a free agent. Naturally, Dallas’ “interest” in a big-name player isn’t a surprise and no one will be shocked if the team makes the mistake of actually signing him.
Having said that, it’s unlikely the Cowboys will sign Johnson because the team doesn’t have a truckload of salary cap space to spend this offseason, especially considering some of that will have to be used on Dallas’ 2014 NFL Draft picks. Sure, the Cowboys could structure those rookies’ deals so they make minimal amounts in 2014, but that would make the team’s current salary cap problem even worse in the coming years.
Right now, Dallas has a little over $5 million in cap space, thanks to more moronic restructuring for guys like Tony Romo, and will get another $5.5 million once Miles Austin is gone as a post-June 1 cut. Some folks will look at that and say there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t try to sign Johnson to a deal that pays him $3-4 million per year, which is reportedly what he’ll be seeking as a free agent.
However, those same folks still are missing the big picture: Dallas needs as much cap space as possible to give long-term contract extensions to Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant this season without backloading them to the point the team can’t even sign draft picks in future years. Jerry Jones has made it clear both of those players’ contract extensions are top priorities on his to-do list in 2014, so if signing an inconsistent, mentally-weak player like Johnson disrupted those plans, Jerry wouldn’t do it. Well, no one would put it past him, but at this point, it’s a relatively safe assumption he wouldn’t.
Yes, everyone knows DeMarco Murray is injury-prone, but if you think the Cowboys would suddenly start using the ground game the way they should with Johnson on the roster, you’ve lost your marbles. Even if Emmitt Smith was in Dallas’ backfield in 2014, Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Bill Callahan — whoever is actually calling the plays — would still just pass, pass, pass and pass some more. So from that perspective, the Cowboys would be wasting cap space on a guy like Johnson even if they had tens of millions to spend.
On the surface, though, using a third of the Cowboys’ total and potential cap space on Johnson, who wouldn’t be utilized properly even if he was a consistent, mentally-tough player like Dallas needs, just isn’t a good idea. Sure, Cowboys fans want more star power, especially on offense, but if the players aren’t the right fit and won’t be used in effective ways anyway, that cap space could be more wisely used on positions of need and balancing out new rookies’ contracts and veterans’ contract extensions to try and get out of this salary cap black hole Jerry has created.
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