Dallas could be in trouble—a heaping, $136 million mound of it.
Yesterday's latest (and likely last) bout of negotiations fixed the 2011 salary cap at $120 million, according to John Clayton, some $8 million less than the ceiling during the last capped year, 2009.
It's also considerably over Dallas' scheduled spending.
That's gonna need to come down. Fast.
Keep in mind: The deal isn't done, meaning language answering pressing questions isn't yet written.
Will there be cap penalties for releasing players under contract? And how much?
What about a hit for exceeding the cap? Rules don't allow it, but a soft penalty could encourage, if not enable, it.
How much service do players need for unrestricted free agency?
Favorable answers could mitigate some of Dallas' problems. At its simplest, if cap penalties are lifted (doubtful), the Cowboys could cut ties with their priciest (and deadest) weight without consequence.
Are you concerned about Dallas' salary cap surplus?
Biggest obligations are due to Roy Williams ($5.1 million in 2011, and $20.39 million thru 2013, when his six-year, $54 million deal expires) and Marion Barber ($4.25 million due in 2011, and $23.25 left on his seven-year, $45 million contract through 2014). Both players don't fit into Dallas' plans, based on draft selections like Dez Brant (first-rounder in 2010) and DeMarco Murray (third-rounder this April).
That, and Williams and Barber have been less deserving of their money than Seth Myers of laughs at the ESPYs.
If Dallas is going to whittle unproductive fat, it'll start there. So long as it can, of course, and cap penalties don't exceed targets' 2011 salaries.
Dallas will need that all that. Remember: Neither draft picks nor notable free agents are signed.
We wouldn't waste tears or cash on some. (Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Alex Barron.)
But some you wish you could, like Marcus Spears. And with half of your offensive line hitting the open market, between Doug Free and Kyle Kosier, along with role players like Sam Hurd and Alan Ball, you start to miss the Monopoly money we're used to.
That goes for securing the future, too. Also unsigned are draft centerpiece Tyron Smith, second-level reinforcement in Bruce Carter, and fresh legs in Murray.
Hey, Dwayne Harris can't fulfill my "soon to have caught you sleeping" potential if he's not on payroll. Serious implications for your team, but my fandom and entertainment throughout 2011, first and foremost.
Lot on the line here.
Not as much money.
Normally, that precipitates tough choices. Direction, strategy—even favoritism would be a conventional factor playing into a conventional string of offseason decisions.
Not so sure that's the case here.
Jerry Jones might print his own money. But he can't use it here.
For those of you mulling the, "offer players stock options as compensation" argument: I'm totally with you. But unless Jerry's willing to go all George Steinbrenner and start a broadcasting network, of which he could offer shares, that's not an option.
Though you never know...
Milking this for all it's worth: Here's to Dallas/Ft. Worth-wide finger-crossing that there's not a clause in the soon-to-be struck CBA that prohibits it. Jerry's crazy and greedy and savvy enough to do it.)
Worst of all: This hamstrings Dallas' free-agency potential. I know I've said this would prove an advantage, given Jerry Jones center-of-the-earth deep pockets relative to the league's Buffalos and Cincinnatis.
It still sort of does, given that other teams will struggle to meet the minimum, likely as punishable as exceeding the maximum—not to mention fielding godawful teams.
Could be worse...
Still, it could be better. A roomier salary cap could have helped Dallas help iself by plugging gushing holes from 2011.
Barring luck and favorable CBA language, it can't.
That means no more help in the secondary, spottier with Gerald Sensabaugh and Ball scheduled to walk. So much for Johnathan Joseph, your discounted and disappointment-less Nnamdi Asomugha...
Or Haruki Nakamura or Tom Zbikowski or whoever Rob Ryan can scoop from big bro's old D.
Maybe even less in the linebacking corps, or at least not the sturdying you assumed from Carter.
We'll have to see the finer nuances of the CBA before we start spooning our eyes out in frustration.
But this ought to be considered at least an early smoke signal.
Fires may be burning.