Free agent bargain shopping is stretching the Cowboys salary cap

by Brett Harper

Although it is an accounting tool that can be manipulated greatly by teams, the NFL salary cap is still a constraint all franchises have to live under. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception and currently have a huge chunk tied up with the $20.6 million for DeMarcus Lawrence’s franchise tag. This week, though, saw them getting busy in free agency. It came with the usual unease among fans about sitting out the first wave of big-money signings. Yet it has turned into a real benefit, as the Cowboys have added some important roster pieces without tying up a lot of money.

That is the highest figure floating around and maybe privy to some inside information. Over the Cap has the number at $19 million, with some new deals not reflected, and Spotrac comes in even lower, at about $18 million. But whatever the actual amount, one thing is clear. The new talent, collectively, comes to the Star at a dirt-cheap price.


These are the major signings or players likely to make the 53-man roster—numbers from OTC were available. Otherwise taken from social media reports. Some information on guarantees did not show up. Any errors are on me. One example of how some of these numbers may differ from what you have heard: Jason Witten’s contract has his per-game bonuses counted as “likely to be earned.” They account for $2.25 million. His total cap hit is, therefore, higher than many reported. What is most important is that total figure for cap hits this season. To add that much potential to the roster, addressing some crucial needs, for under $19 million in cap costs is just outstanding. Dallas has long sought to let the big money deals get done elsewhere and wait for prices to fall. That can only work if there is more supply than demand out there. This year that seems to be the case. It has required them to take some injury risks with some players, but this methodology looks like it could pay off.

And that risk is really mitigated by the lack of big guarantees. Although we don’t know how much Randall Cobb’s and L.P. Ladouceur’s contracts are guaranteed, the remainder has almost none. That means the Cowboys are not faced with the risk of a lot of dead money if some of these players don’t work out as they hope – with a couple, including Witten, apparently having zero involved.

Additionally, the team has not tied itself down with long deals, with only Jamize Olawale (three) and Cameron Fleming (two) on anything other than one-year contracts. That creates real flexibility for Dallas.

That is rather remarkable, given some of the figures being handed out by other teams. There have certainly been years when Dallas’ approach to free agency has largely failed. And, of course, we won’t really know how it goes this year until the final roster is formed and the team takes the field.

However, this looks like a significant coup by Jerry and Stephen Jones and their staff. They have made the cap money expended so far stretch much further than anyone could have predicted. That leaves money for trade and extension for Robert Quinn or adding a safety like Eric Berry.

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