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Dallas Cowboys Free Agency: Cap Penalties and Nnamdi Asomugha Sweepstakes

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Dallas Cowboys Free Agency: Cap Penalties and Nnamdi Asomugha Sweepstakes
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
Cutting two of those pictured above -- recent cuts Roy Williams and Marion Barber -- will cost the Cowboys some $20.9 million in cap penalties for 2012.

I was afraid of this...

I wrote a few days ago that the moment Dallas knew it could unload its batch of bad contracts -- marquee names like Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis -- it had to, under the assumption that Dallas would only do so in the event that a major cap penalty wouldn't be triggered during 2011.

What sense would it make, you'd reason, to cut a player worth $11 million if a future cap hit about matched that? Why not just begrudgingly keep him on the roster, and milk whatever use you can from him?

When Dallas announced the cuts -- and of offensive linemen Robert Brewster and Travis Bright, linebacker Kelvin Smith and receiver Troy Bergeron and kicker Kris Brown -- the prevailing implication was that no immediate consequences would be levied. Wasn't mentioned in any of the stories, or mentioned by any major affiliates.

And I was 100 percent right: No immediate consequences...

That ominous cliffhanger and italicization serve a purpose; there will be ramifications of unloading that much roster space -- well in excess of the 2011 benefit.

Multiple sources are reporting that the cuts, which saved Dallas some $16 million, come with a $20.9 million cap hit at the start of the 2012 league year.

Are you concerned by how hamstrung Dallas present AND future spending will be, because of the cap penalties?

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"For those wondering about dead money in the cap, it is a cap cost that eats up cap dollars," John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) tweeted yesterday.

"The Cowboys will have $20.9 M less room in 2012"

That means that if, say, next year's cap is set at $120 million -- same as in 2011 -- Dallas will only be able to spend $99.1 million on player salaries.

That $99.1 million pot includes any future transacting in the free agent market, in which Dallas hopes to be a significant player this year. But it also poses a threat here and now.

Potential signees will understand Dallas' compromised leverage for the start of the 2012 year, and would likely be miffed by the team's only method of working around it: Offering contracts that are both front- and back-loaded, minimizing as much payroll as possible during next year.

Remember: The team can afford them both now -- especially with the $17 million projected savings whenever Tony Romo, Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware rework their deals -- and in 2013.

It seems 2012 might be a different story altogether.

But don't let your feathers ruffle too much. This bullet may bite a helluva lot less forgivingly than the one that plugged Forrest Gump in the keister, but the alternative isn't much better. If Jerry Jones decided against cutting the three players for fear of a future cap hit, he'd still have to pay these players incrementally rising salaries.

Remember: Save for signing bonuses, most NFL contracts are back-loaded (1), meaning that as the years pass, the money goes from stream to gush to surge. So to leave all of them under contract would have, ultimately, hampered Dallas' leverage similarly anyway.

Plus: We have to remember the intangible value, incalculable by even the savviest "capologist." Not only did the organization rid itself of two catastrophic malcontents and underachievers, but it enabled Jason Garrett to flex his muscles like we haven't seen since Bill Parcells.

And if you want to argue that The Tuna lost some of his spunk in that twilight gig -- same reason he backed out of the job in Miami -- we'd have to go back to Jimmy Johnson.

That's a long drought of organizational insolence.

But one that, much a credit to that move, is putting along to its end.

For our brainstormers out there:

Mike Greenberg reported on Mike and Mike in the Morning earlier that tallies of team expenditures, and judging whether they abide by new league rules, is taken after the season -- not when the regular season opens as conventional wisdom would tell you.

They were talking specifically of the salary floor, which mandates that teams spend 90 percent (in this case, $108 million) of the league-wide limit in cash, but it stands to reason that the league office wouldn't have multiple methods to enforce correlated rules.

So, it is possible that Dallas could simply drop payroll toward season's end to get under the cap.

If that sounds like the worst conceivable idea ever, it probably is. Not only would doing so strip the team of its best talent (a term we use loosely, given how the conventional wisdom that you compensate based on performance went straight to hell with our last three mega deals), but it would perpetuate the game of catch up; Dallas would simply be slapped with the same fines for the following league year, handcuffing any possible activity.

Count the Star in Nnamdi sweepstakes

It seems that Dallas is, in fact, a major player in the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes. Obvious front-runner New York was named in a morning report by John Clayton on Mike and Mike, but Dallas was also mentioned as a possibility.

A third team was also alluded to, though it could not be disclosed, given that Nnamdi has somehow been sworn to secrecy. My guess, given the absence of a Russian football league funded by the KGB that you'd think would offer a similar tight-lipped mandate through negotiations, is he's referring to the Buccaneers.

The 49ers were not mentioned. The team released high-price and -profile cornerback Nate Clements yesterday, leading to speculation that they would be in contention. They were for a while, but have reportedly pulled out.

"49ers telling people they are out...Right now, Dallas and Jets, Ryan brothers are battling," was the tweet Michael Lombardi (@michaellombardi) posted.

Clements signed an 8-year/$80 million deal with San Francisco in 2007.

On the Bucs: You'd genuinely think that Malcolm Glazer will wake from his coma eventually, and realize that his fan base is on the precipice of storming team facilities like projections in Inception and zombies in 28 Weeks Later (2).

Jonathan Joseph's signing this morning in Houston and Santonio Holmes 5-year/$50 million with the Jets makes Dallas chances more plausible, especially given Asomugha's relationship with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who worked with him extensively in Oakland before heading to the Browns in 2009.

Philadelphia had also been rumored as interested, though landing Dominique Rogers-Cromartie makes them infinitely more situated at the position.

There was this report from the New York Daily News: "We're trying to get an answer out of [Nnamdi Asomugha], one way or another," a source told the paper.

Seems that Nnamdi is waffling like Brett Favre in front of an LCD flatscreen.

(Or his Hattiesburg, Miss. abode...)

The prevailing sentiment around Nnamdi's intentions, however, is that he'd be willing to take a pay cut to play for Rex Ryan.

I genuinely hope so.

New fleet of Cowboys under contract, in camp

Third-round pick DeMarco Murray inked his four-year contract late Thursday night, rounding out this crop of newbies. Second-round selection Bruce Carter also signed his deal.

Bad news for Carter: He'll start the season on the non-football injury list, still recovering from ACL injury.

Bad news for everyone else: Let the hazing begin.

We'll see who are good sports about the usual shenanigans, picking up exorbitant bar tabs and and submitting to mohawks that look carved by drunken ferrets. (So long as no one bitches about carrying pads, the Jason Garrett era might begin without a hitch...)

The potential candidates include fourth-round OL David Arkin (Missouri State), fifth-round CB Josh Thomas (Buffalo) from Cedar Hill, sixth-round WR Dwayne Harris (East Carolina) and seventh-round OL Bill Nagy (Wisconsin) and FB Shaun Chapas (Georgia).

(In elderly, raspy and totally sinister voice): Enjoy, vets... Enjoy.

Tyron Smith penned his four-year slated deal, worth $12 million for the No. 8 overall pick. Thank for the headache-less start to the season, rookie wage scale.

Interesting note about Smith: Dude's apparently getting housed by DeMarcus Ware in practice, when he took some first-team reps during yesterday's second session.

Seems to be a pretty good sport about it though, telling ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins that getting slapped around is the the mother of improvement.

And all this time we thought it was "necessity" and "invention." Psh... Silly us...

***

(1) Would seem pretty ridiculous to pay a guy an overwhelming majority of the money up front, almost begging for complacency and indifference.

Oh? That's what Dan Snyder did with Albert Haynesworth?

I see...

(2) None of that Zombieland mess. We're talking legit, foamy-mouthed and red eyed walking dead, who are actually more hauling ass than anything. Seems muscle memory trumps rigor mortis after you turn.

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