The second it could happen, it had to.
You doubted CBA legalese would let Dallas shed Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo from their 2011 payroll. Since the old labor deal slapped steep penalties on off-loaders, you figured players would fight to keep that protection.
Apparently they didn't. Reports that Dallas informed Williams and Barber of their imminent releases weren't accompanied by quotes for fines. Same deal for murmurs about Colombo's likely fate. That means all salary savings will come tax free.
The second that detail surfaced (since nothing else did) ties had to be loosened. Based on the numbers—the estimated $5 million in savings for dropping Williams and $4.75 million for Barber, with the prospect of $2.4 million more post-Colombo—it was Dallas' only option.
That quiets the $16 million screaming over the $120 million salary cap. League rules allow $3 million of muffling from future caps—and can do the same three, $1.5 million exceptions in each of the next two years—but this excess would have hollered and wailed beyond ignoring. It was that loud.
Now, Dallas has sidestepped a likely fine, and can continue trekking its Super Bowl course. Step One is free agency, with an opening stride of a corner or safeties or pass protection.
Do you agree with Dallas' latest roster cuts?
Land all three, and you're up to a warm-up jog.
But wherever Dallas chose to stick the flags, they would need cap room to mark their targets, and to compete with other teams. This free agent map is the widest and longest in league history, and one tugged at with desperation like never before.
That includes in-division rivals like the Eagles, committed to only $80.8 million in 2011.
That includes up-and-comers like Tampa Bay, straight caking with just $59.7 million in payroll.
But company can't placate misery here. Who cares how tight-pocketed an off-season Dan Snyder wasted himself into (Washington has $115.2 million)? Our concern is Dallas' flexibility, first and foremost.
We want the range for Nnamdi Asomugha. (Though I don't). We want gymnastics enough for Johnathan Joseph, one of Rob Ryan's boys in Michael Huff, or his older brother's old restricted free agents in Tom Zbikowski (3rd-round tender) or Haruki Nakamura (6th-round tender).
You get that with the roster cuts already, and prospective savings from giving Terrance Newman an inglorious snip-snip.
Listen: If you want this thing to float from Arlington to Indianapolis before touching down in February, you've got to boil away the fat.
To that, I say spark up the stove.
How else do you capitalize on one of the best cores league-wide? One with split circuit, Tony Romo-Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten connections?
How else do you milk a schedule that pits DeMarcus Ware against young (Anthony Davis in San Francisco, Trent Williams in Washington, Russell Okung in Seattle, Roger Saffold in St. Louis) and foggy (David Diehl in New York; Jeff Backus in Detroit) and nobody (Demetrius Bell in Buffalo) left tackles, hurting for reps after a lockout and trimmed off-season calendar?
This team is poised for brilliance in 2011. None of these guys would've been a part of that.
Could Williams have padded his 1,324 yards over three seasons with Dallas into something reputable? Could Barber have neared the vicinity of 1,000 for the first time since his mega-deal?
Sure. They could've made something out of the begrudging touches they'd get, given only to ease the self-loathing of watching nearly $10 million wander the sidelines in uselessness.
But any NFC Championship hopes would've come in spite of them. And not just their missing numbers: consider this an Advil and massage, sparing us the headache that would've been two malcontents in training camp.
One squawked toward the tail end of last year. The other chirped as 2008 waned. Would you want to deal with that today, as Dallas opens up in San Antonio?
I want passion and promise from Jason Garrett's first remarks of 2011, not a report on who's sulking and why.
To that end: yes, this was messy but it had to be. Dallas couldn't offer the serendipitous process, cushioned over months and what players prefer. This had to be quick and calculated and timely enough to get players into camp.
That's not just outside targets. That goes for a fresh-on-the-market Marcus Spears, along with the crop of 2010 Cowboys laid out in this bag-and-tag free agency.
All those, plus unsigned rookies, need deals before they can enter camp. Talk about a hitch in the plan. Resorting to pass skill for every drill of the first week, because Doug Free and Tyron Smith aren't legally able to participate while the team fiddles with its finances.
Some of the cuts leave questions unanswered, like who will caulk the gaps at guard once Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier, also likely to be axed, are gone. With Romo's shoulder finally resembling a shoulder again, you'd hate to see it crunched like an aluminum can in a compressor on opening day because we couldn't afford to protect him. That is like buying a zillion-dollar yacht, then skimping on insurance.
But answers are coming Thursday, the first day signings can occur, in the form of broad-bicepped acquisitions Dallas can now afford. If not for these moves, guards Davin Joseph (with Tampa Bay in 2010) or Harvey Dahl (Atlanta) or Marshal Yanda (Baltimore) don't get the invite.
This had to happen. The machine had to be ratcheted to perfection.
We're far from that yet, still awaiting what moves are made, and for how much.
But regardless of those to come, this first turn was a success.
Check out Jason Henry's story questioning the Cowboys' cuts.