2016 Cap Outlook: Dallas Cowboys

Through the 2015 NFL season, Pro Football Rumors has been looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, gauging the salary cap situation for a number of teams with significant cap charges for next season. The cap for 2016 hasn’t been set yet, but we can still assess the salary commitments made by a club and determine whether or not that club will be in good financial shape going forward.

In addition to evaluating each team’s overall cap situation, we’ll focus in on a few key players who may be candidates to be extended, restructured, or released by their current teams. These lists aren’t comprehensive, and depending on a player’s 2015 performance and health, he could drop off one of these lists – or be added to one – as the season goes on. For now though, these are some players to watch.

Using data from Over The Cap, we’re making our way through NFL teams in order of total salary commitments for 2016. Today’s team is the Dallas Cowboys, who currently have the eighth-highest total for their ’16 cap.

Let’s dive in….

Top 10 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Tony Romo, QB: $20,835,000
  2. Tyron Smith, LT: $14,000,000
  3. Brandon Carr, CB: $13,817,000
  4. Dez Bryant, WR: $13,000,000
  5. Tyrone Crawford, DT: $8,750,000
  6. Jason Witten, TE: $8,612,000
  7. Orlando Scandrick, CB: $7,782,271
  8. Sean Lee, LB: $5,950,000
  9. Doug Free, RT: $5,500,000
  10. Cole Beasley, WR: $3,356,000
    Current 2016 cap number for top 51 players: $140,409,470

With the cap figures on extensions for Smith and Bryant set to increase significantly in 2016, many of the Cowboys’ top cap numbers belong to key contributors, which is generally a good thing. Still, it can sometimes provide a more difficult path to clearing room.

Consider the Cowboys’ division rivals in Washington, for instance — Scot McCloughan and co. can quickly clear $16MM+ in cap space by parting ways with Robert Griffin III in the offseason. Outside of Carr’s deal, the Cowboys don’t have many potential short-cuts to gaining big chunks of cap room this winter, so it’ll be interesting to see what moves the team makes if it needs extra space.

Candidates for extension:

Church isn’t the only player the Cowboys will consider extending this offseason. Travis Frederick, who currently rates as the league’s best center, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades, will be extension-eligible, and the team will certainly try to lock up its Pro Bowl center sooner or later. Church, however, is the only obvious extension candidate whose cap number could be reduced with a new deal.

Of course, the Cowboys’ ability to get something done with Church without increasing his 2016 cap charge will depend on whether the two sides can agree on his value. I wouldn’t consider Church one of the NFL’s top safeties, but he has started every game for Dallas since the start of the 2013 season, and his box-score stats have been impressive — he averaged 122 tackles in 2013 and 2014, and has racked up another 78 this year. If the Cowboys think they can extend him without giving him a significant raise, that would be a deal worth exploring.

Candidates for restructure:

  • Tyrone Crawford, DT
  • Tony Romo, QB
  • Orlando Scandrick, CB
  • Tyron Smith, LT
  • Jason Witten, TE

The most ideal contracts for restructuring, from a team’s perspective, are ones without much future dead money, and ones where the cap hits in future seasons don’t increase too significantly. The deals for Crawford, Romo, and Smith don’t exactly fit that bill, but the sheer size of them makes them logical candidates to be reworked if the Cowboys need to create significant cap savings. Dallas could clear close to $5MM in cap space by restructuring Crawford’s contract, nearly $6MM by restructuring Romo’s, and over $7MM by restructuring Smith’s.

Still, if they can avoid it, the Cowboys would be wise to avoid reworking those deals and pushing more dead money to future years. Romo’s, in particular, is starting to look unwieldy, and even if owner Jerry Jones thinks his quarterback still has four good years left in him – which is debatable – the team would be wise to minimize the risk on those later seasons as much as possible.

Smith’s deal is a solid candidate for a restructure, and so is Scandrick’s, which has a significantly higher cap charge in 2016 than in future seasons. Witten’s is a trickier case — the veteran tight end had 703 receiving yards in 2014, the lowest mark of his career besides his 2003 rookie season, and he’s on track for about the same number this year.

With his production on the decline, Witten’s cap hit will rise to $8.6MM in 2016. The club could ask him to take a pay cut on his $6.5MM base salary, perhaps giving him the opportunity to earn back some of that amount in incentives, but given how much he has meant to the franchise on and off the field over the last decade, that may be a conversation the Cowboys prefer to postpone for another year. A restructure could accomplish that.

Candidates for pay cut or release:

As noted earlier, Carr seems extremely unlikely to return to the Cowboys with the Cowboys’ third-highest cap number next year. Of course, I wouldn’t have thought he’d still have the team’s second-highest cap hit in 2015 either, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that the Cowboys will adjust his deal or cut him. But the club’s leverage will certainly increase this winter — if Dallas had parted ways with Carr last winter, it would have created less than $1MM in cap savings. This time around, the team could clear nearly $6.4MM from its cap by releasing him, so he’ll be under more pressure to accept a reduced salary if he wants to remain in Dallas.

As for Gachkar, his $1.9MM cap number isn’t exactly a huge drain on the Cowboys’ 2016 cap, and we usually focus on players with cap hits of $2MM+ in this space. But given how little he has played on defense for the Cowboys this year, Gachkar looks like a release candidate, unless the team is fine with paying him that salary for his contributions on special teams. Dallas could create $1.3MM in cap savings by cutting him.

Contract information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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2 comments on “2016 Cap Outlook: Dallas Cowboys

  1. GeauxRangers

    Carr has actually played surprisingly well this season so I would be kind of surprised if we cut him. I see them letting Claiborne walk and relying on Carr and Scandrick as starters next season. Byron Jones will probably be a starting safety and nickel corner .

    • Luke Adams

      You might be right. I’d still be pretty surprised if Carr returned at that $13MM+ cap number, since (as I noted in the piece) the Cowboys will have a little more leverage this time around to reduce it. But he’s been decent enough that I could see them working out a new deal that gives him some guaranteed money up front in exchange for reducing his salary and cap hit a little.

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