Dallas Cowboys Current Salary Cap Situation

After looking at the draft pick situation, we turn our focus to 2015 cap space as our bye week status checks continue.

The bye week is a chance for players and coaches to refresh themselves every year. Fortunately for the Cowboys, with the bye coming so early in the season, it gives several players another week of recovery from injury without missing an additional game. For writers, it gives a chance to opine on football-related topics that aren’t centered around the upcoming game. One topic that seems to always be on the minds of the non-LCD fan, is the Cowboys salary cap picture. Where are they right now? Where will they be next year? Who will be with them?

A team’s current salary cap is comprised of several parts, some dynamic, some static. Base salaries, prorated signing bonus allocations, roster and workout bonuses, incentive clauses and dead money all play a role in calculating a team’s cap. That then gets further complicated by whether or not the incentives are likely-to-be-earned (counted in advance) or not-likely-to-be-earned (counted after the season), whether a player is ever suspended (base salary is withheld) or released with non-guaranteed money involved. Also, under the most recent CBA, teams are allowed to “carryover” unused cap space from one season to the next.

The 2015 Salary Cap limit was $143,280,000. Due to 2014 carryover, Dallas actually had $147,793,955 to work with. Here’s a look at the breakdown of Dallas’ current cap situation (all figures courtesy of OverTheCap.com).

2015 NFL Cap$143,280,000.00
Dallas '14 Carryover $4,513,955.00
Dallas 2015 Cap $147,793,955.00
Active Spending -$124,115,846.00
Dead Money -$15,302,334.00
Current Cap Space $8,375,775.00

Now, the Cowboys don’t really have $8.3 million in cap space that they can use or rollover to next year. As explained in yesterday’s draft pick writeup, Greg Hardy’s per-game roster bonuses take away from the salary cap space as soon as each game starts. With 10 games unaccounted for, Dallas needed to have $5,781,250 of space available (2 games worth, $1,156,250, was already included in the cap because Hardy was active for 2 games last season).

Once Hardy’s roster bonuses are included, Dallas is down to $2,594,525 remaining cap space. As mentioned earlier, there are other mechanisms in the players’ contracts that will fluctuate this space. If a player has an incentive bonus for a feat he achieved the previous season, it is counted on the cap immediately. If said player doesn’t achieve that bonus, the money is returned to the cap at the end of the year.

For instance, Rolando McClain also had per-game roster bonuses built into his contract. He was active for 14 games last year, so 14 of those bonuses ($93,750 per game) were counted against the cap. McClain’s four game suspension means that at most, he will be active for 12 games in 2015. At least two of those game bonuses will be “refunded” from the cap at the end of the year. On the other hand, incentives not achieved the previous season don’t count towards the cap hit. If they are reached, then at the end of the year, they are added to the cap hit. This dance takes place for multiple players every year, making it nearly impossible to lock down an exact cap figure until all the team and league accounted is completed.

Dallas has made several moves over the course of the season. Trading draft picks for current places reduces the available space as they are taking on new salaries; see Brice Butler and Christine Michael. This is balanced out if the players released to make room aren’t vested veterans who had their salaries guaranteed after they were on the roster for Week One. The new acquisitions were the reason Dallas recently restructured Jason Witten’s contract. He converted $3.6m of his base salary into a signing bonus that would be spread out evenly, $1.2m on each of the remaining three years of his deal (including this current year). That resulted in $2.4m of 2015 cap savings.

When one looks at the current remaining space of just under $2.6m, it’s obvious what Dallas’ motivation was. Any additional moves would need more cap space than $200,000.

2015 NFL Cap$143,280,000.00
Dallas '14 Carryover $4,513,955.00
Dallas 2015 Cap $147,793,955.00
Active Spending -$124,115,846.00
Dead Money -$15,302,334.00
Current Cap Space $8,375,775.00
Greg Hardy Bonuses -$5,781,250.00
Projected Year-End Space $2,594,525.00

Next, we’ll take a look at the 2016 expected cap and how it will affect players currently on the roster. 


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