IRVING, Texas – The two-month wait is finally over, and the 2014 league year begins Tuesday afternoon. With that deadline comes free agency, which means the announcement of next season's schedule and the beginning of the NFL draft aren't too far away.
However exciting that might be, it looks like it's going to be an anti-climactic foray into free agency for the cash-strapped Cowboys. As is known by now, the team squeaked itself under the $133 million salary cap Friday, largely thanks to the release of Phil Costa.
The Cowboys have roughly $2 million in cap room as of Monday morning. Several factors, mainly the uncertain futures of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, could affect that number. There are other names that factor into possible savings, such as veteran linebacker Justin Durant – who has a year remaining on his deal from 2013. By either cutting their pay or cutting those players altogether, the Cowboys could free up a significant chunk of change.
If Austin is designated a June 1 cut, as is widely expected, it would save them roughly $5 million – though they wouldn't have access to that money until the summer. Those savings would probably be used to sign draft picks, but the money saved in a potential negotiation with Ware would be available in this free agency window.
Regardless of what decisions they make, it's unlikely the Cowboys will scrounge up enough money to make them significant players in the coming month.
If anything, they may find the funds to bring back one of their own in defensive tackle Jason Hatcher – but that's largely going to depend on the league's willingness to spend on the veteran. The Cowboys likely hope they could strike a deal for a discount, but Hatcher is undoubtedly after bigger money.
What wins out between the Pro Bowler's 2013 production and his career mileage? We'll likely see that answer soon. [embedded_ad]
One thing seems abundantly clear, though: don't expect any crazy maneuvers in the immediate beginning of the free agency window – not from the Cowboys, at least.
Moreso than a splashy signing, this team needs depth. Depending on the fates of their defensive line veterans – Hatcher, Ware and Anthony Spencer – the Cowboys could be faced with as few as two returning starters along the defensive front. A similar issue applies to linebacker, where injuries showcased the unit's lack of depth last year.
Ideally, the Cowboys would spend some of their cap room this season on several inexpensive options for their defense – perhaps a veteran lineman or safety – to help bolster that unit.
But that doesn't seem likely to happen until the team handles its own affairs. The Cowboys won't know what kind of money they're working with until they settle the Ware situation, and they won't be able to make any moves until they clear up those money questions.