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Mailbag: Why Are The Cowboys Over The Cap?

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With all the talk of who the Cowboys may have to move on from given the current issue of being over the salary cap, I find myself confused. When guys like DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant were released and the team began shifting how it signed players, we heard it was to ensure they wouldn't find themselves in those tough spots with the cap anymore. So how have they managed to do exactly what they set out not to do? – JAMES MITCHELL / INDIANAPOLIS, IN

David: There are a lot of places you can go with this. For starters, I'd argue that if you aren't flirting with the salary cap, you probably don't have a very good roster – or you've managed to find some franchise-changing players early on in their careers, like the Bengals did. On top of that, the fact that the cap took a huge hit due to the outbreak of COVID-19 doesn't help anyone. Most importantly (and more directly to your question), the Cowboys don't have to move on from anyone due to their cap situation. They might choose to do that, but it if they do it won't be out of necessity. You can always find a way to make the cap work, and if a team opts to part ways with a player, they're telling you more about how they feel about that guy than how they feel about their cap.

Rob: I think Dave nailed it. If you're competitive, you're probably up against the cap every year, and you're probably competitive because you're hitting on draft picks that eventually need big long-term deals. The system is designed for teams to face these challenges, especially if your roster has a franchise quarterback who earned a huge second contract. The other thing I would add is that this year's cap is roughly $208 million. Thankfully, that's a big jump from the 2021 cap ($182.5 million) but probably around $10 million less than it would've been this year if not for the pandemic impacting league revenue.

Are the high number of one-year deals for free agents for the Cowboys (and the NFL) driven by player agents or driven by the teams? – MARK MUMFORD / GREENVILLE, DE

David: I don't think there's a blanket answer to that question. Players typically want long-term security, so they angle for more years, but if the team has more leverage (i.e., the player in question doesn't have a great resume), then it's common to see a shorter deal to mitigate the risk of the signing. That said, you also have to consider the players who don't want to be locked up for long periods of time. You'll often see players coming back from injury negotiate a shorter deal. That way, if they bounce back successfully from the injury, they can hit free agency more quickly and recoup some money. It all just depends on the player and the situation in question.

Rob: Those one-year deals probably give the Cowboys more flexibility year-to-year at the back end of the roster, knowing that their core already takes up a large piece of the salary cap pie. But it also just depends on the player and their situation. Sometimes it's the players' decision and sometimes it's the best deal available. Last year the Cowboys signed two safeties, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker, with proven experience but coming off major injuries. (Who knows, maybe Michael Gallup will end up deciding to bet on himself and sign a one-year deal here or somewhere else, then look to cash in a year from now with a big season.) I don't know for sure if Jayron Kearse had any multi-year offers last year, but he's probably turned his 2021 season into a nice contract somewhere, so it worked out well for him.

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