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Offseason | 2024

Mick Shots: Just not enough dough to break free


FRISCO, Texas – All right. Let's all take a deep breath. Exhale. Relax.

Why, it's the same time next year … and the next year … and the next year. The start of the NFL free agency signing period frenzy officially began at 3 p.m. Wednesday when millions of dollars are being guaranteed to sign average players another team didn't think were worthy of being re-signed. And a lot of times finding out a year or two down the road they got buffaloed by such impulsive decisions. Go ask Denver about that trade for Russell Wilson in 2022.

And of course, look, realize many of you are upset with the Dallas Cowboys, sitting on the sidelines nearly every March, and again so far this week, waiting patiently for the second wave of free agency to begin in a week or so when market values dip to a more reasonable price.

But hey, the Cowboys did agree to terms with long snapper Trent Sieg, a double necessity. First, they needed the one who was perfect this past season. Second, and if you had been paying attention to the fine print, a bunch of these long snappers are being re-signed and understand the Cowboys needed to act quickly with someone they wanted since Sieg was gathering attention from other suitors.

Again, why such outrage? This happens every March. Sort of the Cowboys' personal Ides of March, though nothing to do with Julius Caesar. Handwringing began almost immediately on Monday with running back Tony Pollard agreeing to terms with Tennessee. Look, the Cowboys weren't going to pay Pollard the $8 million a year the Titans are offering. I sure wouldn't have either. How quickly we forget the Cowboys were chastised last year for franchising Pollard at $10.09 million.

Not trying to talk anyone off the ledge, but how 'bout some simple mathematical facts that might keep all this perception from becoming reality.

First, the salary cap rose to $255.4 million, otherwise under the original projections of $242 million the Cowboys would have been more than $20 million to $30 million over the cap.

Next, saving them some space, the Cowboys are rolling over $4.9 million of excess from 2023. But then there is dead money, and that is eating up $14.7 million of this year's cap. And if not for restructuring Zack Martin's contract, the Cowboys would have been penalized for being way over the salary cap at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

As it stands, and these numbers are always fluid, according to, after re-signing Sieg and defensive lineman Carl Davis (veteran minimum), the Cowboys have a grand total of $3.07 million cap space to work with when it comes to the top-51 salaries counting now. That's it, $3.07 million. And if the top-53 were counting, as will be the case come the first week of the regular season, the Cowboys would be $3.4 million in the hole.

Now how would you expect to sign, say, uh, Derek Henry to a two-year, $16 million deal-year worth up to $20 million with $9 million guaranteed that he agreed to with Baltimore, knowing those cap financial limitations?

Just saying, use a shot of common sense here.

  • Top 5: Heading into Monday's start to legal negotiating these were the five teams with the most money available to spend under the salary cap. Tops was Washington with $96 million, and why it was pretty predictable former Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the Commanders head man, would start raiding the Cowboys roster to bring in players he knew at prices the Cowboys could ill afford, like center Tyler Biadasz, defensive end Dorance Armstrong and now rotational defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. Next came Tennessee with $80 million available, so paying Pollard an $8 million average is a drop in the bucket over three years with mounds of money left over to pay wide receiver Calvin Ridley a four-year, $92 million package that must have CeeDee Lamb smacking his lips. Then New England at $72 million made 15 moves on Wednesday followed by Chicago and Houston at $63 million. Currently when counting just top-51 salary cap availability, the Cowboys come in at 27th with their measly $3 million available.
  • Real Head Scratcher: Can the Cowboys possibly keep Tyron Smith for another year or two? While Tyron played in 13 games in 2023, he did finish (counting playoffs) with 942 snaps, 71.5 percent of the offense, his most since the 2018 season. He also was selected AP second team All Pro, and currently ranks Tyron the top available free agent as of 3 p.m. Wednesday. Not just offensive lineman. Player! So what's his worth? Well, Buffalo has agreed with their three-time Pro Bowl tackle Dion Dawkins on a three-year, $60.5 million deal, and there are offensive guards out there just agreeing to deals averaging $17 million. And if that's the market price for top offensive linemen, bet Smith's agent is looking for at least market value in what likely will be Tyron's final NFL contract turning 34 in December. See what I'm talking about?
  • Words To Live By: Do you remember these words from Cowboys COO Stephen Jones when asked about the Cowboys gaining room when the NFL announced the salary cap was officially rising to $255.4 million? Here is a refresher since Stephen was spot on when he said, "The cap bump helps in some ways, but all 32 teams get cap bumps, so we all know what that can mean as well." Now you certainly do when the haves are now splurging leaving those at the bottom of cap space at the curb. But if those deals don't pan out, at some point teams must pay the piper. Again, ask Denver, now preparing to absorb $85 million for releasing Wilson after just two years following a trade giving up five draft choices, including two firsts and two seconds.
  • Exhibit B: Do you remember the hoopla over Seattle trading two first-round picks for safety Jamal Adams in 2020, the Cowboys heavily criticized for not making a play for the former LSU star having grown up down the road here in Carrollton? Well, here are the Seahawks releasing the injury-plagued safety they re-signed in 2021 for four years, $70.58 million and now absorbing $20.8 million in dead money for 2024. These mistakes eventually haunt teams. And one reason the Cowboys are absorbing another $6 million in Ezekiel Elliott dead money this year after his 2023 release also cost them $5.8 million last year.
  • Exhibit C: And now let's consider Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup, most preferring to point out releasing him before his $4 million roster guarantee kicks in on March 18 will save the Cowboys cap space this year. What few, if any want to point out, releasing or trading Gallup will hit the Cowboys for $13.05 million in dead money for nobody. And even if made a June 1 release, and you don't recoup the $8.2 million base salary until June 2, Gallup would count $4 million in dead money this year and another $8.7 million next year.
  • Free Chips: Speaking of Cowboys cap space, their projected 2024 rookie pool is $8.1 million, which they don't have at this point, and why signing CeeDee Lamb to an extension to reduce his $17.99 million fifth-year option hit and adjusting Dak's $29 million base salary are essential to going forward … While the Cowboys restructure of Zack Martin's $16.25 base salary opened up $13 million in cap space, just know the going on 34-year-old All Pro guard has three automatically voided years that at some point will cost the Cowboys $17 million in dead money if he's no longer playing after 2025 … Hey Dalton Schultz, I can remember sitting courtside at Dallas Mavericks games trying to bang out a story on deadline with, what, 16,000 people screaming at Reunion Arena, and you complain about being bothered by folks on The Star tours walking down the hallways knocking on windows while you're trying to lift weights? Seriously.

And this week's last word goes to me, commemorating the journalism career of Chris Mortensen, known as just "Mort" to those of us who knew him well. He passed away March 3 at the age of 72, having been battling throat cancer. Most knew Mort for his work on ESPN since 1991.

Was my pleasure getting to know him back in the early 1980s when he was working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Met him through a college roommate also working there. Mort would never big-time anyone, always graciously helping out when he could, and turned into a great contact after being hired at the Dallas Times Herald, especially when taking on the Cowboys beat in 1989 when Jerry Jones bought the team.

Here was the deal, and he became the forerunner to those NFL reporters at ESPN and NFL Network, because when it came to breaking news, you could always trust Mort to be accurate. He would not sacrifice accuracy in order to be first. And that is why he had so many sources in the NFL ranks. They trusted him.

And one of the people who explicitly trusted Mort became Jones, because if Mort had news on the Cowboys you could count on it to be darn right.

"Chris will forever be part of the NFL family," Jerry said in a statement. "Loved by so many, he was a brilliant voice for the game and as passionate and talented as there has ever been. He will be deeply missed and we're grateful for the special memories and legacy Chris leaves us."

Just don't make 'em like Mort anymore.

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