Cowboys 2015 Salary Cap Overview, Part 1 Of 2

In this first of two parts, we examine the Cowboys' 2015 projected salary-cap situation, and key in on decisions that the money men will be discussing as the season plays out. There are a lot of guys wearing stars right now that aren't under contract beyond December. Which FA's get fed? And how?

Recently, the talk about which players are going to receive contract extensions from the Dallas Cowboys in the near future. The large majority of this scuttle is evacuating an orifice not intended to convey intelligence.

Many times, these “scoops”, as CowboysHQ debunked earlier in the week (premium), have ultra-thin correlations to the truth and are used to create the type of anarchy Gemma Teller would be most proud of.

The majority of those orifice are simply full of it. Rest assured, CowboysHQ is committed to letting you know the only hole to pay attention to… the one at the bottom of Jerry Jones’ never-ending pocket. The man that can buy everything will certainly have some decisions to make on a variety of players over the next 6 months.

What if I told you that of Dallas’ current roster, over one-third of the league limit 53 players are scheduled to be free agents next season? What if I told you this club that is supposedly always on the threshold of imminent financial doom could easily devise a way to be more than $40 million under the projected 2015 cap in order to deal with these players? Would this article be something you were interested in?

The Background

Dallas, like all 32 teams in the NFL’s Entourage, will have to inform the league of how much salary cap space they are “rolling over” into 2015 by December 27th, 2014. That is a clause in this current version of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that allows teams to move leftover cap space from the current year, into the next year.

As of now, Dallas has about $4.58m left of space to either use on extending a current player, bringing in outside help, or roll over into 2015. The projected salary cap for next season currently stands between $140 and $145 million. Now, it must be remembered that this is just a projection. The calculation of the salary cap is determined by Article 12, Section 6(c)(i) in the 2011 CBA, that uses projections of future revenue to determine how much money is distributed evenly to the 32 teams.

(i) Calculation of the Projected Player Cost Amount.
The Player Cost Amount shall be calculated as the sum of (1) 55% of projected League Media AR; (2) 45% of projected NFL Ventures/Postseason AR (other than AR from new line of busi-ness projects pursuant to Subsection 1(a)(xii)(2) above); (3) 40% of projected Local AR; and (4), if applicable, 50% of the net AR for new line of business projects pursuant to Subsection 1(a)(xii)(2) above; less (5) 47.5% of the Joint Contribution Amount.

The key phrase above is "projected League Media AR". That indicates that the league looks forward to how much they are going to receive from the TV deals to calculate the current year's cap. This is why it's likely that the new deals put in place (DirecTV re-up, CBS Thursdays) contributed to the big jump in 2014. From this money, a certain percentage goes to benefit costs, and the rest goes into what is publicly known as the salary cap ceiling. In essence, the new deal with DirectTV and the multi-year, full-season Thursday Night package that was sold to CBS were likely anticipated in some manner by the league and had a lot to do with the super-spike that brought the 2014 cap to $133 million. The 2015 cap may or may not increase from it’s projected level, but for the purposes of this article, we will split the difference and project $142.5 million.

Currently, the Cowboys have $138.3m committed to their 2015 cap. That figure includes just under $8m in “dead money”, accounting money that has been allocated to a future cap year for a player that is no longer an active member of the team. As a short primer, each NFL contract has money split into three parts: signing bonus, base salary + incentives, and workout/roster bonuses. The latter two hit the salary cap in the year they are paid out, but signing bonus are allocated, or spread out, over a specified period of the contract. It’s a simple accounting tool that allows money to be paid one year, but hit the books over several years.

When a player is released or traded, if they still have unaccounted for bonus money, that turns into a cap “hit” that is referred to as dead money. The majority of the Cowboys’ $8m of dead money is from releasing Miles Austin and Kyle Orton. The remaining $130 million is spread out over 44 players who are currently under contract with Dallas for the 2015 season.

Those are the baseline numbers needed to move forward here. We are projecting the cap for 2015 to be $142.5 million. The Cowboys have $138.3 million committed to salaries for 44 players for 2015. The club is currently set to carry over $4.58 million of unused 2014 cap space.

Devil In The Details

Before we start calculating what Dallas can and can’t do in 2015, we have to circle around on a couple earlier points. When Josh Brent is activated, he will add salary to the Cowboys numbers, while the release of whomever makes room for him might elevate the dead money total for next season. Also, we spoke of incentives earlier.

Player incentives (milestones, playing time, etc) are not often publicized, but fall into one of two categories. Likely to be earned (LTBE) or not likely to be earned (NLTBE). If a player achieved those goals in the previous year, than the incentives are considered LTBE. If not, NLTBE and they are retroactively added to the cap for the current year. That means that teams need to leave some room in their cap to absorb these achievements.

To be on the safe side, let’s assume the Cowboys end up using another $1 million in cap space for the remainder of the year, and carry over $3.5m to 2015.

That put’s the Cowboys usable salary cap space at $146m, and their remaining space at just under $8 million.

( $142.5m projected cap + $3.5m carryover - $138.3m allocated = $7.7 million remaining).

In-House Free Agent Decisions

If and when the Cowboys extend a player during the 2014 season, we’ll deal with how the amortization of the signing bonus comes into play with fitting big things in tight spaces. For now, we’ll just assume that the following list of players will be free agents at the conclusion of the year. It’s a surprising full list of important players.

At the top of the list, the top of the skill position food chain.

PlayerPositionHow Acquired
Dez BryantWRDraft '10
Demarco MurrayRBDraft '11
Rolando McClainLBFree Agent '14
*Doug FreeOTDraft '07
Bruce CarterLBDraft '11
Ron Leary (RFA)OGUDFA '12
Dwayne HarrisWR/KRDraft '11
Sterling Moore CBFA '13
Cole Beasley (RFA)WRUDFA '12
Lance Dunbar (RFA)RBUDFA '12
Anthony SpencerDEDraft '07
Justin DurantLBFA '13
George SelvieDEFA '13
Nick HaydenDTFA '13
Josh BrentDTSupp Draft '10
Chris JonesPUDFA '11
Jermey ParnellOTFA '10
Darrion Weems (RFA)OTFA '12
Tyler CluttsLBUDFA '13
Claude SpillmanLBUDFA '14
Again, we’ll save for another day the talk of which of these players the club needs to be retained, but it’s fairly obvious that all of them, or even all of the key players towards the top of the list can’t reasonably be kept in house for $7.7 million in space. Or can they?

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