For a split second everything seemed to be taking a turn for the better in Valley Ranch when the Cowboys were able to create some cap space through contract restructuring and player releases.
Then they used all that saved money on franchise player Anthony Spencer.
Spencer will cost the Cowboys $10.6 million in base salary this season.
That $10.6 million comes immediately off the cap and now the Cowboys (approximately $6 million over the cap) find themselves in a position where they have to release and restructure more players.
When does the madness stop?
Jerry Jones wants to win now and I get that. This is a talented team that has the potential to compete, and you don’t want to watch that window close.
My question comes with the idea to franchise Anthony Spencer.
Spencer had a tremendous 2012, posting 95 tackles, two forced fumbles and 11 sacks. He was able to come in and lift up a Cowboys defense that was hurting and in desperate need of a productive leader.
What about the past years though?
Spencer statistically over the last three years has been very average. In 2009-11 his stat lines were the following:
2009: 67 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles
2010: 63 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles
2011: 66 tackles, six sacks, four forced fumbles
Based on that statistical trend, Anthony Spencer is a player who averages 65 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles as season. That kind of production isn’t worth $10 million a year.
Now I get the franchise tag rules, you pay a base salary that offers no guaranteed money over one year and the player is then off your books. What I don’t get is why the Cowboys are franchising a player they're not willing to commit long term to—and in the process, back-loading restructured contracts to create the cap room to afford him.
On Twitter a few days ago, I saw these tweets from @CowboysNation (www.dallascowboysnation.com):
Ok guys Cowboys payroll for 2014 is $110M without deals for Romo, Lee and other pending free agents. #CowboysNation— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) March 2, 2013
in 2015 the #Cowboys already have $104M committed without deals for Dez/T.Smith/Carter/Murray and the 2014 needed deals. Getting dicey.— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) March 2, 2013
Does anyone understand how huge that number is? The Cowboys are committed to $110 million in 2014 and $104 million in 2015 to 30 players or less. With cap numbers expected to see only a minimal increase, that means that you must fill your 20-plus depth positions with only $13 million.
Now we look at the big players who will be free agents in 2014 and 2015:
2014: Sean Lee and Tony Romo
2015: Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray
It seems to be nearly impossible to retain all of these players in the future.
Now all of the sudden the young core Jason Garrett so skillfully put together to make the Cowboys a long-term, competitive team will be ripped apart because of a lack of organizational foresight and fiscal responsibility.
Add to that the young players who miss out on quality opportunities because of the retention of a guy like Spencer, or the inability to grab true franchise caliber players who fit immediate needs (Andy Levitre anybody?) and you wonder if the Cowboys will ever get it right.
The Cowboys have gambled to win now and it will certainly keep them losing later. They better hope their risk produces a great reward.