IRVING, Texas – Two years ago at this time, the Cowboys' salary cap figures forced them into an unenviable position.
With several hefty contracts pushing them well past the 2014 salary cap, they were forced to make several tough roster moves – highlighted by their decision to part ways with perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware.
Having just watched his franchise's sack leader win a Super Bowl with another team, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones sounded relieve that his salary cap situation has improved drastically since then.
"This isn't DeMarcus Ware time," Jones said, referring to the health of the cap. "Congratulations to him, by the way. He won. I'm proud for him. He won. Good for him."
Jones spoke at length with reporters on Saturday at the NFL Combine, as his front office begins to gear up for the 2016 league year and the upcoming NFL draft. One of the inevitable topics of conversation was the looming start of free agency on March 9, and how the Cowboys will approach it.
Unlike in years past, it doesn't look like they'll be hindered when it comes time to make additions.
"Within a plan that we have of how to maintain some cap flexibility year in and year out, we can go do what we want to do," Jones said.
With the 2016 salary cap projected at roughly $155.3 million for the coming year, Dallas is looking at an estimated $14 million in cap space. Believe it or not, that still puts the Cowboys in the bottom third of the league in total space – teams like the Jaguars, Raiders and Bears have north of $60 million in cap room.
Despite that, Jones acknowledged that this is as healthy as the Cowboys' salary cap has looked in recent memory, as they spent much of the past few years trying to get out from under the weight of several limiting contracts.
"I don't know that we'll ever be any better under the cap than we are right now and I don't expect to be," he said. "So this will be about how we work going forward over the years relative to what everybody else got."
What's more is that Jones said the Cowboys may not be done freeing up spending money this year. Should they decide to, they could free up a significant amount of salary cap space by re-structuring several of their larger contracts.
Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Jones didn't discount that possibility when asked.
"I wouldn't rule it out, but I wouldn't say that it's a major part of a have-to plan," he said. "But we would, if the prudent thing to do is create some space this year. Basically that reworking space is just pushing it forward. It's using some credit card."
That's a key difference between this year and previous ones. As they stand right now, the Cowboys don't have to do anything to improve their cap standing. And when free agency opens in short order, they shouldn't be too limited in what they can accomplish.
"I feel that if we do have an opportunity we will take advantage of it," Jones said. "We will take advantage of it. This isn't the time when we maybe need to clean up."