Offseason Manifesto: The Bryant Situation

Before Dallas can do anything else in Free Agency, they must first address the Dez Bryant situation. One of the league's top individual players will be free to negotiate with the other 31 teams if a resolution isn't reached by March 7th. The form of that resolution will dictate everything else about the Dallas offseason.

In Part Three of our Offseason Manifesto, the first free agent we tackled was in-house, as we looked at what it would take to bring back Dez Bryant at expected market value. What if it isn’t that easy, though?

Here’s the refresher of the Bryant offer CowboysHQ thinks will get the job done:

POSITION PLAYER
CONTRACT TERMS
2015 CAP HIT

WR

DEZ BRYANT

7 Years/ $100m

$5.245m

Here’s how the headline would read: ”Cowboys sign Dez Bryant to 7 year deal worth over $100 million with over $50 million in guarantees.” The reality is just like most NFL contracts, there’s a lot of window dressing on a very nice, but not crazy deal..
SIGNING BONUS GUARANTEED
3-YEAR AVG
AVG ANNUAL
$22.5M
$37.245m
$14.08m
$14.32m
YEARLY BREAKDOWN
YearBase SalaryProratedOther BonusesCap HitDead MoneySavings
2015 (26)$745,000 $4,500,000  $5,245,000 $37,245,000 ($32,000,000)
2016 (27)$9,000,000 $4,500,000  $13,500,000 $32,000,000 ($18,500,000)
2017 (28)$10,000,000 $4,500,000  $14,500,000 $18,500,000 ($4,000,000)
2018 (29)$14,000,000 $4,500,000  $18,500,000 $9,000,000 $9,500,000
2019 (30)$14,500,000 $4,500,000  $19,000,000 $4,500,000 $14,500,000
2020 (31)$14,500,000   $14,500,000 $0 $14,500,000
2021 (32)$15,000,000   $15,000,000 $0 $15,000,000
-- -- -- TOTAL CONTRACT VALUE: $100,245,000 $0 $0

Comparisons: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Brandon Marshall

Here’s the scoop. The true guarantee of this deal is around $35m, with some extra amounts being guaranteed for injury that morph into a full guarantee at the start of the corresponding league years. There is a missing tier in between the salary structures of Johnson and Fitzgerald, and then Harvin, Bowe and others. That is a talent tier as well. Truth is, Johnson and Fitzgerald were paid at levels far greater than they should have, and the general feeling is that even though Dez is on their talent-level, he will nestle in under their salary amount. He does, however, command to be compensated at a higher level than the overpaid likes of Harvin, Wallace and Bowe. The important numbers from Bryant’s camp’s point of view are the cash in the first two years ($30m) and the 5-year Average ($13.7m) putting him above everyone except for Johnson. Dallas’ camp will think it won because the 3-year average of just north of $14m is less than the Harvin average.

Look at the breakdown of the yearly averages and the corresponding dead money. Dallas can reasonably have either a rebuild plan or buyer’s remorse after just three years and realize almost $10m of projected cap savings. The amount would be even greater should they choose to make Bryant a June 1st cut. The 7-year deal also gives them the flexibility to restructure the deal in 2016 or 2017 should they need to move money around. The club could also restructure his 2016 base salary and still see savings if they walked away from Bryant prior to 2018. It would take restructuring both 2016 and 2017 to turn a 2018 walkaway into a “wash” similar to what escaping from Brandon Carr’s current deal is for Dallas.

This deal rewards Bryant for the job he’s done and the expected impact he will have for the remainder of the Romo Window, and then leaves Dallas options once that window closes.

This is one of several iterations of deals that we believe would be fair compensation. This in no way is either the only structure, or the only amounts that could be included in the finalized deal the two sides agree on. Herein lies the (multi) million dollar question, though. What happens if the two sides CAN’T agree to a deal?

What if Dez doesn’t think that $14 million per year is enough? Dez Bryant’s camp insisting that the player be compensated at the same levels as Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald ($16m per year average) instead of the $14m per laid out is an admitted possibility. What if the Cowboys don’t mind that number, but want to limit the amount of guaranteed money they offer?

The fallback plan, as has been alluded to by VP Stephen Jones, is to exercise the Franchise Tag Option on Bryant.

NFL teams have a two-week window to place the Tag on potential free agents. The decision will have to be made between February 16th and March 2nd, leaving five days buffer before teams can begin negotiating with other team’s free agents. For the complete off-season calendar, go here and bookmark.

A franchise tag for Dez Bryant would hopefully lead to a long-term deal prior to the opening of free agency. But what if it doesn’t? All tenders are immediately counted on the salary cap; so if Dallas were to tag Bryant, the entire, one-year total would make an immediate difference in how Dallas approached the rest of their offseason.

Franchise tag amounts for each position are based on a percentage of the cap. The league will announce the official 2015 cap near the end of the month, but most projections put the total at around $142 million. Wide receivers that are slapped with the franchise tag would be 8.949% of the cap, or $12.71 million.

(UPDATE: With a new projection of $143 million for the cap, Dez Bryant's franchise-tag would again be 8.949% of cap equaling a $12.797 mil price tag for the tag.

In Part 3, we gave Bryant a $22.5 million signing bonus and almost another million in base salary. So why does that work better for the cap than a franchise tag? Amortization. Remember, signing bonuses are prorated over five years (or length of contract if shorter than five years). So while we were able to get Bryant’s 2015 cap number down to $5.245 million, a franchise tag adds another $7 million to his cap hold!

This will severely limit the things Dallas wants to do, and seeing as the team currently possesses only $8.5m in projected space, means that Dallas would be forced to restructure or release other players just to get under the cap before the new league year starts on March 10th.

The franchise tag allows teams to remain in control of a free agent, but here we show how it is in both party’s best interests to get a long-term deal done. Dallas will want to enter free agency with the choice to restructure players as necessary, not be forced to. Bryant will want the long-term security of a multi-year contract, and the greater “cash now” payment of a signing bonus in March as opposed to salary-only spread over 17 weeks.

We’ve firmly dispelled the ridiculous nature of “Cap Hell” sentiments, but fans should beware… there are plenty of other hurdles to be cleared in order to get Dallas on the path to Lombardi Number Six.

In Part Five, CowboysHQ will take a look at contingency plans for other positions they need to fill.

To catch up on the entire Offseason Manifesto Series, click on the following links:

Part I: Needs Assessment – The overview of the challenges Dallas faces in the ’15 Offseason

Part II: Reallocation Way – The ways that Dallas can responsibly create cap space and slay the Cap Hell myth

Part III: Free Agency Fire – How Dallas can maximize cap space with worthwhile, high impact free agents.


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