Cowboys Toeing The Line Of Leverage On Carr

Earlier this offseason, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the club wanted to reduce Brandon Carr's cap hit, but wouldn't consider releasing the player. We take a look at the strange negotiation tactic and what it could mean for the corner's future in Dallas.

NFL negotiations are always about leverage. It’s a rare occasion when a player has the advantage over the franchise; that’s normally reserved for elite players whom any franchise would love to have. Normally the club holds, at the very minimum, a slight leverage advantage in contract conversations. Yes, the Cowboys would like cornerback Brandon Carr to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult to see what leverage they have over him, after they’ve seemingly relinquished it all by saying they will not release him this year.

The negotiations between the Cowboys and Dez Bryant are different. Even though Dez deserves to be paid as one of the best in his profession, at the end of the day Dallas enjoys a slight leverage advantage in the fact that they can retain Dez’s services for two years, on a year-by-year basis, without committing long-term to him. Those two years should be the prime two years of Bryant’s career. It’s only slight, because Dez would likely get paid handsomely for those two years, then hit free agency and leave Dallas.

The Cowboys are negotiating with Carr, but in a different sense. The team would like Carr to relinquish his right to some of the money they promised to pay him. Carr is under contract through 2017, with over $27 million in cash still promised to the player.

When the offseason began, most observers assumed that Dallas would make a move of some sort with Carr’s deal. He seems to be declining, and he hasn’t lived up to the five-year, $50 million contract he received before the 2012 season. Last year was the toughest of his career; never recording a single interception and having a 114.0 passer rating against him. The options seemed pretty straight forward; the team would issue an ultimatum to Carr that he would be released if he didn’t agree to take a pay cut.

However, earlier this month when asked about the possibility of cutting Carr if he didn’t accept a pay cut, Owner/GM Jerry Jones said that wasn’t something the team was considering.

Pretty confusing.

One reason could be because despite his lackluster year, Carr played rather admirably when it mattered most. He was able to play effectively against both Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson in the Cowboys two playoff games. Normally that wouldn’t be enough to override the rest of a mediocre tenure, but apparently it backed Dallas away from the “or else” ledge.

So without that ultimate threat, what’s left for Dallas to negotiate with? If Carr isn’t facing expulsion into a market where the other 31 teams have already made their free agency purchases and have little money remaining to offer a competitive deal, why would he ever accept a pay cut?

Carr’s $12.7 million 2015 cap hit is due to three factors: his original signing bonus proration ($2m), his 2015 base salary ($8m) and the proration from the restructure bonus in 2013 ($2.7m).

If Dallas were to outright release Carr, they would save the $8m in base salary, but the proration (both signing and restructure bonuses) that remains on future years of his contract would all accelerate and leave $7.4m dead money on the 2016 books. Dallas has obviously tried extremely hard to get themselves out of the dead money business this past season.

Due to a new section of the 2011 CBA, unused cap money is rolled over to the following season. In essence, Dallas would “eat” the cap hit in 2015, because the $8m of cap space saved from his no-longer-existent base salary would roll over and “cover” the $7.4 million in dead money. Dallas would save the actual cash payment they are obligated to give Carr, $8m, but would use $12.1m in “cap space”.

It appears that Dallas is attempting to leverage future years for savings in 2015. 2016 is the first year where Dallas would reap substantial savings from not having Carr on the roster. Here’s Carr’s remaining contract after 2015.

Cutting Carr next offseason would give Dallas at least $6.3m in additional 2016 cap space. If they decided to “June 1st” him, that number jumps to $9m (with a “paltry” $2.7m in 2017 dead money). Drafting 3-Sigma athletic freak Byron Jones to pair with Orlando Scandrick means that Dallas should be fairly strong at the position in 2016. The Cowboys might be well-suited to tell Carr, “play ball now, or guarantee yourself to be out in the cold next off-season.”

Dallas could wait until after free agency and the 2016 draft to release Carr, placing him in a near similar situation to what they could do this year.

On the opposite side is the question of whether or not Carr would be inclined to accept this deal. He could say, “I’ll take this $8 million because you still need me this year, and chance that combined with whatever I get on the open market will be more than the amount you’d like to reduce my salary to.”

There should be little doubt that Carr would find a suitor in 2016 free agency. However, due to his age and recent performance, he might find it difficult to average over $2 million per season.

At 29, Bradley Fletcher got a 1 year, $1.5m deal. He and Carr had basically the same PFF rating over virtually the same number of snaps in 2014. Terrance Newman at 36 got a 1-year, $2.25m deal. A 34-year old Rashean Mathis got a 2-year deal averaging $1.75 million. Brice McCain at 28 is earning $2.75 million a year for two seasons. All three graded out significantly higher than Carr did.

When right tackle Doug Free was underperforming a few years ago, Dallas approached him with a similar ultimatum; take a pay cut or hit the road. Free reduced his non-guaranteed 2013 and 2014 salaries (the final two years remaining on his deal) from $7m and $8m respectively to $3.5 million guaranteed each year.

Free’s play improved and at the end of that deal, he worked out a new, 3 year $15 million deal with another $6 million in guaranteed money. Free went from possibly being a free agent coming off a bad year to getting $13 million over three seasons. A similar situation could be awaiting Carr.

If Carr could reasonably assume he’ll make at least $2 million on the open market in 2016, then Dallas would probably need to guarantee him at least the total two year value in order to get him to reduce his salary. That would be the $8 million he’s due in 2015, and the anticipated $2 million in 2016, for a total of $10 million. I expect this to be the target range for the Cowboys. $5 million a season for the next two years, guaranteed. Anything other than this and it probably behooves Carr to play it out.

From Dallas’ perspective, this move would save $3 million from this year’s cap, as well as $4 million from next year’s. And thanks to the rollover clause of the CBA, and the fact they are done with their 2015 shopping, that in effect would be $7m of space on the 2016 cap. Which should come in handy should a reduction come on the heels of say, a Monday announcement of a new Dez Bryant contract.

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