The Dallas Cowboys have some small salary-cap problems on their hand, at least temporarily, so they're going to need to shift around some deals to open up space in 2014. The most likely outcome is that they restructure some contracts to free up space without letting go of impact players.
The 'Boys have some veterans who should be open to taking a salary reduction, including defensive end DeMarcus Ware and tight end Jason Witten. According to Spotrac, those two players alone have a combined salary-cap hit of $24.4 million in 2014 alone.
Other players, such as quarterback Tony Romo, might convert part of their 2014 base salary into guaranteed money to free up even more cap space. Romo is due $13.5 million in base salary alone this year, with a $21.8 million cap hit. By converting, say, $10 million of his base salary into a signing bonus, his cap hit would shrink closer to $13 million or so.
And of course there will be some salary-cap casualties as well. Here are the top six players who could very well be on the roster bubble in 2014.
2014 Cap Number: $16 million
Potential Dead Money: $8.6 million
Coming right out of the gate with a shocker. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware turned in a pretty poor 2013 season whether we're grading him according to his own standards or even those for a typical pass-rusher.
It seems blasphemous that Dallas would cut Ware, and in reality, I think it'll try to restructure his contract. If I were the GM, I'd ask Ware to take a pay cut. If he refused, I actually think the Cowboys need to send him packing.
Look, this isn't about whether or not Ware is "finished" or if he can be a quality starter. The issue is if he's really worth the money Dallas could save by cutting him if he wouldn't take a pay cut. By releasing Ware, Dallas would save $6.4 million on its 2014 salary cap.
For Ware to remain in Dallas, the equation would need to look something like this:
- DeMarcus Ware — ($6.4 million + replacement cap hit) > Replacement Player + ($6.4 million - replacement cap hit)
When you frame it like that, you can make an argument that Ware is no longer productive enough to make up for multiple millions against the cap.
2014 Cap Number: $8.2 million
Potential Dead Money: $7.9 million
The reason that wide receiver Miles Austin could be on the outs in 2014 is that his cap figure currently exceeds the dead money Dallas would need to take on to release him. If the Cowboys cut Austin, they'd save around $300,000 this year. They'd of course need to sign another receiver, which is one of the hidden costs of releasing someone, so in reality, they'd probably break even.
My guess is that Austin will take a pay cut because it would benefit both parties. If he doesn't, though, the question for Dallas will be if Austin's place on the roster is inhibiting the team's ability to develop another wide receiver. If they deem the long-term value of another wide receiver as far greater than Austin's potential short-term impact, he could be gone.
2014 Cap Number: $1.8 million
Potential Dead Money: $333k
I personally think right tackle Jermey Parnell should remain in Dallas, but the Cowboys would save nearly $1.5 million if they release him. That's fairly substantial for a backup player, although I think Dallas realizes Parnell's potential value behind the volatile Doug Free.
My guess is that Parnell won't be cut because he offers so much upside, but it wouldn't shock me since his release would open up a little cap space.
2014 Cap Number: $1.5 million
Potential Dead Money: $200k
Due to linebacker Justin Durant's cap number and the fact that Dallas would save $1.3 million in releasing him, I think it's likely that he'll be out of town in 2014. It would be different if Durant were a developmental player, but his ceiling is limited as a 28-year-old linebacker.
With any veteran, the question is, "what can he offer us over a replacement player, and is that difference worth the salary cap space we could save in releasing him?" With Durant, I think the cap space is worth more than his value over a replacement.
2014 Cap Number: $733k
Potential Dead Money: $0
Defensive tackle Nick Hayden's future is cloudy at best because he has no guaranteed money remaining in his contract. If the Cowboys cut him immediately, they wouldn't owe him a penny. His base salary for 2014 isn't exorbitant, but Hayden also didn't play very well this year.
The question for Dallas is pretty simple: Is Hayden worth $733,000? I don't think he is, but you might see him stick around simply because, with Jason Hatcher leaving via free agency, the Cowboys really don't have anyone to play the position.
2014 Cap Number: $542k
Potential Dead Money: $142k
This is probably more wishful thinking on my part than anything else, but running back Joseph Randle's future in Dallas shouldn't be guaranteed. The Cowboys would save $400k by cutting him (although they'd of course need to bring in another running back). If they can find value on a late-round running back in this year's draft, I think they should admit their mistake on Randle and move on.
Randle's release would actually represent something significant in Dallas, which is the team admitting it made an error and quickly rectifying the situation.