The Cowboys are currently projected to be more than $20 million over the 2014 salary cap, which means it's time to cut costs somewhere in Dallas.
Team executive vice president Stephen Jones discussed this issue on 105.3 The Fan (via The Dallas Morning News) back in October, saying: "We knew what we were up against this year, and certainly know that we’re up against a very tight situation next year. We’ll certainly manage through that."
While Jones might play cool and collected when discussing his team's cap issue to the media, there has to be at least a little panic down on Valley Ranch.
The Cowboys need to ask big-name (and big-cost) players like Brandon Carr, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware to restructure their current contracts. Those three players alone are set to cost the team more than $49 million against the $126.3 million cap next year.
Dallas now projected to be NFL-high $31 million over salary cap next year. One NFL exec called Dallas' cap situation in 2014 "a train wreck"— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 20, 2013
Owner Jerry Jones doesn't need to ask all three to take a pay cut, but it would be smart to move some of that money around.
If he could convince at least two of these guys to move some money due to later years in the contract, the Cowboys would be in much better financial shape. Ware already seems to be on board with this idea, telling David Moore of The Dallas Morning News that he is willing to restructure his deal.
"I said I’ll do what I need to do to help the team out," Ware told Moore.
Dallas needs to move some money around just to get under the salary cap. Needless to say, this leaves the team a bit strapped for cash when it comes to free agency.
Players like Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are unlikely to return. The Cowboys just don't have the money to pay either player what other teams are sure to offer. Hatcher has already come out and said he's going to test the waters.
Cowboys DT Jason Hatcher says he will test the free agency market once the season is over. Hatcher is having a pro bowl season with 9 sacks— Desmond Purnell (@DesmondPurnell) December 3, 2013
The other realization is that Miles Austin is likely going to become a cap casualty due to the $5.5 million he currently counts for.
The Cowboys need to find a savvy way to improve their team through free agency but also get under the salary cap. Considering their current financial situation, that will be difficult to do. Cutting Austin and reworking other players' deals is a fine start to accomplish this, though.
Dallas needs significant help on the defensive line if it loses both Spencer and Hatcher. Big D could also use some help at the safety position considering the play of undrafted rookie Jeff Heath last year.
The best way for the Cowboys to fix some holes on their roster but still stay under the salary cap is to do one of two things. First of all, they need to restructure the contracts of guys like Carr, Romo and Ware.
Then they can grab a big-name veteran in free agency to shore up the defensive line and bargain shop for a cheap, but talented safety. Players like Greg Hardy or Jared Allen come to mind.
Dallas' other option is to do the opposite and spend big on a guy like Jairus Byrd, and then bargain shop to replace Spencer and Hatcher.
Getting under the salary cap will certainly come at a cost with some players having to put the team's needs ahead of their own. Others will have to find a new team to play for despite some solid years with the star on their helmet. The business side of the NFL is rarely pretty.
One way or the other, the Cowboys have got to put together a roster that can put this franchise in a position to compete either this coming season or the next. Getting rid of or fixing contracts that are in the way of that goal is something that must happen between now and August.