Cowboys' Cap Space Ranks Above League Average

The NFLPA has updated the 2015 Salary Cap figures heading into training camp. We take a look at the Cowboys situation, as well as a sneak preview to an upcoming Premium article taking a deeper look at the composition of Dallas' cap space.

The landscape of which NFL rosters are determined is normally painted on the canvas stretch across training camp. While that just may be the case, the pigments used to bring each roster to life actually exist are formed after the dollar sign and before the decimal. The NFL Salary Cap determines just how each team goes about getting a team together to prepare for the upcoming season. Teams that manage the cap well are able to stockpile assets and spread talent up and down a roster.

Teams who don’t, end up having top heavy or underachieving rosters; things that eventually lead to the firing of GMs. Today, courtesy of the NFLPA and Bill Huber of’s Packer Report, we’re given a snapshot into how each of the 32 teams is doing in giving themselves salary cap flexibility.

Jacksonville Jaguars91$21,768,205$133,082,375$34,842,132 
Tennessee Titans89$11,254,828$128,955,091$24,836,887 
Cleveland Browns91$18,908,285$139,482,247$21,723,553 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers90$1,063,033$124,862,619$19,485,670 
Oakland Raiders91$7,400,000$132,063,449$19,247,707 
Cincinnati Bengals89$8,697,310$134,714,739$16,854,096 
Atlanta Falcons89$2,845,290$129,678,214$16,009,001 
Green Bay Packers89$7,791,106$135,790,531$15,118,975 
Carolina Panthers90$4,939,773$134,343,982$14,466,055 
Philadelphia Eagles90$15,715,700$145,383,862$13,926,916 
Miami Dolphins91$7,770,411$140,690,504$11,674,833 
Dallas Cowboys91$3,260,740$136,707,255$11,309,458 
AVERAGE/TEAM $5,670,168$137,544,462$11,294,992 
Arizona Cardinals91$4,256,919$136,977,488$10,976,778 
San Francisco 49ers90$4,206,936$138,993,308$10,301,072 
New England Patriots88$6,442,054$134,256,496$9,759,988 
Minnesota Vikings90$5,723,960$139,497,855$9,568,505 
Indianapolis Colts90$7,699,867$142,485,589$9,376,203 
Seattle Seahawks92$4,825,000$138,425,017$9,271,121 
San Diego Chargers90$1,500,000$133,307,265$9,103,747 
Chicago Bears89$1,545,934$136,529,215$8,077,619 
Houston Texans90$966,613$137,483,080$7,981,066 
Washington Redskins91$108,621$138,409,000$7,621,145
Pittsburgh Steelers91$778,469$136,043,396$7,453,473 
Baltimore Ravens91$5,791,927$137,237,876$7,331,651 
Denver Broncos91$5,870,000$142,671,435$6,832,989 
St. Louis Rams89$0$137,462,935$6,648,852 
Buffalo Bills91$2,647,907$138,974,640$6,245,690 
New York Jets91$12,619,394$150,743,316$4,844,478 
New York Giants91$151,000$138,176,317$4,673,966 
Detroit Lions89$939,171$141,058,448$2,697,943 
New Orleans Saints92$1,710,130$141,891,218$2,639,612 
Kansas City Chiefs92$2,246,790$145,044,035$538,565

Dallas' 2015 cap space isn't the same as other NFL teams, however. The unique nature of their deals with Greg Hardy, and to a lesser extent Rolando McClain, means that additional space is almost assured to be used up. Greg Hardy's game-play bonuses will count immediately on the 2015 cap each week they are paid out. This could balloon Hardy's cap hit and the team's overall total between $2 and $8 million depending on his suspension appeal.

Now that the various waves of free agency are over, teams who are left with cap space have various options. First, they can consider giving extensions to players already under contract. This is a practice the Cowboys have used many times in the past, including last season when it inked Tyron Smith to a 10-year extension to presumably make him a Cowboys-for-life.

Current candidates for that kind of extension include defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. Crawford was one of several players who CowboysHQ previewed could be next up for more security. Read our writeup of the viability of the 2016 Free Agents class here.

Another option is to plan to roll over the remaining cap space. As part of the 2011 CBA, teams are allowed to roll over any unused cap space to the following year and use it to augment the league-wide cap figure. In 2015, Dallas rolled over $3.2 million of unused 2014 cap space. That includes the calculations for likely to be earned and unlikely to be earned bonuses.

Teams can also use the excess cap space as a safety net. Should injuries force a team to have to survey the free agency leftovers, this additional space is fundamental. Dallas had to use similar tactics in 2012 as Will McClay kept bringing in street free agents off the assembly line for Dallas’ defense.

Salary Cap wizardry is a necessary talent quality teams assign plenty of resources to. One area good teams spend is on personnel who studies how other good teams utilize their cap space. In an upcoming Premium feature, CowboysHQ will be taking a look at how the 2015 Cowboys compare to the last 20 Super Bowl winners and how they spent their money.

Here’s a sneak preview excerpt from ‘Is Cowboys’ Positional Breakdown Prime For Success?’

We will take a few liberties and assume that Greg Hardy will play in 10 games and that Dez Bryant will play the season under the franchise tag; neither are anywhere near certainties. Other than those assumptions, all other comparisons will be based on the players’ current cap hits that include LTBE (likely to be earned) incentive clauses.

Top 5 Salary Cap Spending

The 2014 Patriots used 28.7% of their cap on their Top 5 players, one of the lowest percentages of the last two decades.

Here’s a look at the Top 5 Cowboys salaries for 2015:

PlayerCap Hold (in millions)% Of 2015 Cap
Tony Romo, QB$14.97310.08
Dez Bryant, WR$12.8238.63
Brandon Carr, CB$12.7178.56
Jason Witten, TE$8.5125.73
Sean Lee, LB$5.4503.67

The Cowboys still appear to be a bit of a top-heavy roster, albeit still within the range of teams that have secured the Lombardi. The only Super Bowl champions who had a higher percentage of their cap tied into their Top 5 players is the 2002 Buccaneers and the 94 49ers. Both were veteran-laden rosters at the end of their championship caliber runs, meanwhile the Cowboys have a mixture of vets and players on rookie deals. Dallas is currently in the midst of a second wind when it comes to their championship aspirations

One could look to a possible reduction in Brandon Carr’s salary to lessen the burden, but Greg Hardy sits right on the outside of this list and will knock off Sean Lee if his suspension is reduced by just one game, much less the four most fans are hoping for. Despite the hopes of some, the transition to a more balanced roster still hasn’t been fully achieved.

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