Why Cowboys' Salary Cap Shell Game Will Cost Them Dearly in Long Run

Gary DavenportFeatured Columnist IVJune 18, 2016

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 09: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones looks on before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2013 offseason in a precarious position in relation to the salary cap. But as the team scrambles to free up space, the game of monkey move-up they are playing could end up costing the franchise dearly in the long run.

As Todd Archer and Calvin Watkins of ESPN reported, the Cowboys have entered into a restructuring frenzy this week, re-working the deals of several prominent players, including tight end Jason Witten, cornerback Brandon Carr and wide receiver Miles Austin.

According to a source, the Cowboys converted $4.56 million of Witten's $5.5 million 2013 base salary into a signing bonus to save roughly $3.65 million against the cap. Carr's $14.3 million 2013 base salary was converted to a base salary of $715,000 with the difference of $13.5 million being moved to a signing bonus to lower his cap figure. When the Carr move is enacted the savings count as $10.8 million.

These moves come on the heels of Wednesday's restructuring of linebacker Demarcus Ware's contract. That deal reportedly saved the Cowboys about $4 million against the 2013 cap, and Archer and Watkins state that the team has already approached defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and cornerback Orlando Scandrick about restructuring as well.

Add all those deals together and toss in the possibility of the team inking quarterback Tony Romo to a contract extension that is more cap-friendly, and Dallas is in much better shape for 2013 than they were at the beginning of the week.

However, the price in future years could be steep.

Sure, by converting the salaries of those players into bonuses the Cowboys are able to amortize it out over the length of the deal, which in turn affords short-term cap relief.

The rub is that now every dime of that converted money is guaranteed. The Cowboys could release any or all of those players tomorrow, but that money still has to be paid—and every cent will still count against the cap at some point.

Millions of dollars that were on the Cowboys' books in pencil are now written in pen.

Even the cap relief is temporary. As Watkins and Archer point out, Demarcus Ware's cap numbers in future years have now increased to $15.08 million in 2014 and $16.5 million in 2015.

What if Ware flops in his conversion to a 4-3 defensive end? Well, now the Cowboys are stuck.

They've robbed Peter to pay Paul.

Granted, some will say the Cowboys basically have no choice. Dallas was projected to be over $20 million above the 2013 salary cap, and restructuring contracts was one of the few avenues that the Cowboys had to address that deficit without gutting the roster.

For a team that still envisions themselves as a Super Bowl contender that may have been an easy decision.

That's the problem, though. Years of shortsighted spending are what forced the Cowboys into this corner to begin with.

Now owner and general manager Jerry Jones appears to be applying the same drunken sailor economics to getting Dallas under this year's cap.

Yes, it may help the team in 2013, but it greatly decreases the amount of financial flexibility the team will have in the future. Such poor money management isn't going to help the Cowboys' chances of re-signing key pieces such as wide receiver Dez Bryant, linebacker Sean Lee and running back DeMarco Murray when their contracts expire.

That makes this a bittersweet week for Dallas Cowboys fans. Yes, the Cowboys have seemingly improved their position for the upcoming season.

However, the Cowboys still have a fair share of question marks, including an iffy offensive front and a completely new defensive scheme—and Jerry Jones just mortgaged the team's future for the present's sake.

Again, he'd better hope it pays off, because sooner or later the bill's going to come due—and the interest keeps piling up.