FRISCO, Texas – Happy June 2.
Right? Isn't that the magic day when teams can begin relieving themselves of salary-capped burden players, for only a one-year portion of their dead money charged this year and the remaining portion rolled into 2022?
Sort of like a delayed penalty.
You've heard the song, "After Midnight." Well, the NFL might produce "After June 1."
Bottom line, though, is this: Once you either pay a signing bonus or guarantee money, in the form of base salary or option bonuses, teams must account for that money, no matter if the player is traded or outright released or retires. (See Travis Frederick, still counting $6.065 million in dead money this year.).
Kind of like your credit card debt, which needs no explanation, and debunks this overly used notion that the NFL salary cap can be massaged. For one year, sure, but bites you in the (ahem) the following year.
So we're likely to see teams releasing such players today or now more likely to cut a trade to achieve 2021 salary cap relief and then count on the salary cap's increase to $208.2 million next year to help absorb the remaining portion of such dead money.
And in the meantime, the Cowboys are in the midst of their second and final week of OTAs, with our allotted day to witness this week's practice scheduled for Thursday, and all followed up with next week's two-day "mandatory" minicamp.
So let's fire up some shots for this week.
- Powder Dry: Now this is a good thing, meaning nearly all the Cowboys players with burdensome salary cap hits are truly needed and worth the money, thinking about Dak and Tyron and Zack and La'el and D-Law and Amari and Zeke, those guys among the team's top-10 cap hits for 2021. The one name that keeps popping up in speculation to be traded for cap purposes is Jaylon Smith. But you know what? He has a $7.2 million guaranteed base salary along with $3 million of prorated signing bonus and $8 million of a fully guaranteed option bonus to be accounted for. For example, simply cutting Smith on Memorial Day would have cost the Cowboys $16.6 million in dead money. Some say, well, now that it's post-June 1, just trade him. Fine, but will a team at this point in the year be willing to accept his $7.2 million guaranteed base salary? And while trading him now would only put $2.6 million of dead money into the cap for this year, but another $6.8 million would count next year. Guess depends on your definition of relief.
- For Example: The Eagles had designated wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey and defensive lineman Malik Jackson post-June 1 releases. That's costing them $4 million in dead money. Or take Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, the subject of many trade rumors. His cap hit this year is $23 million. If traded, Jones would charge $7.75 million in dead money against the Falcons cap this year and $15.3 million next year. Same with the possibility of the Eagles trading tight end Zach Ertz. We're talking clearing his $8.5 million base salary, but incurring a $4.2 million dead money hit for this year and $3.6 million more next year. And as for quarterbacks Deshaun Watson in Houston or Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, don't even ask.
- Are You Kidding? At least to me, these reports claiming sources saying the Cowboys aren't interested in trading Leighton Vander Esch. No kidding, like be willing to trade the best linebacker they have and only counts $3.76 million against the cap in the final year of his rookie deal? And I get it, he's missed 13 games the past two seasons, a combination of needing cervical disk surgery in 2019 and then breaking his collarbone and suffering a high ankle sprain in 2020. But let's not forget his rookie season, a Pro Bowl year. Meaning, he is just one of 10 Cowboys rookies ever named to the Pro Bowl in the franchise's 61-season history. And three of those have occurred over the past five years (Dak and Zeke). And how 'bout this: If not for rookie kicker Nick Folk in 2007, the Cowboys would only have those three rookie Pro Bowlers over the past 30 seasons, having to go back to Emmitt Smith in 1990. Others on that unique list are Everson Walls, Calvin Hill, Bob Hayes, Mel Renfro and Don Perkins in 1961. Come on, the Cowboys need LVE, and healthy.
- Round 2: Sounds as if a rematch of the joint training camp practice between the Cowboys and Rams in 2015 is brewing, assuming the Cowboys receive the official OK they are seeking to return to Oxnard, Calif., for camp this year. Rams head coach Sean McVay told reporters last Thursday plans were being made to hold joint practices with the Cowboys and Raiders this summer. Boy, that brings back memories of the 2015, two-day session the Cowboys-Rams staged in Oxnard when on the second day anarchy reigned during practice. Yep, the Cowboys defensive team and what ended up nearly the entire Rams roster after all but one defensive player left the other field embattled in hand-to-hand combat to cut short that day's practice session. Leave it to Tony Romo to inject a ray of comedy into the mayhem. The Cowboys offense and the Rams defense were engaged in a goal-line period. And with the two sides at the line of scrimmage when the fight broke out on the other field, the Rams defensive players scrambled over to engage. Romo, with his guys at the line of scrimmage and only Rams veteran linebacker James Laurinaitis remaining in place, ran the play and comically celebrated in the end zone. Different head coaches this time, McVay instead of Jeff Fisher for the Rams and Mike McCarthy instead of Jason Garrett for the Cowboys. Bet they won't allow fans to stand along the sideline fences this time.
- Short-Sightings: So there always is a lot to keep an eye on during these OTA workouts. Here is a couple: The linebacker rotation, the cornerback rotation, the safety rotation, the defensive tackle rotation. Hmmm, the defense in general … Also, keeping an eye on the daily waiver list to see if any backup-type quarterbacks show up, but for now, just the likes of Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci competing for the backup job … This year's NFL Supplemental Draft is scheduled for July 9, a little more than a week before the Cowboys commence training camp … In another example of how time flies, come Sunday, June 6, former Cowboys safety and special teams ace Bill Bates will turn 60. Can't be.
For our last word, let's go to Garrett Gilbert, starting his fourth official NFL season a month away from turning 30 and currently in the midst of that three-way competition for the Cowboys' QB2 spot. Remember, he arrived here last year when Dallas signed him off Cleveland's practice squad on Oct. 13. Three weeks later on Nov. 8, Gilbert was making his first NFL start and nearly pulled off an upset over Pittsburgh, the Steelers prevailing 24-19 with Gilbert throwing for 243 yards and the end zone with :04 left after driving the Cowboys from their own 19-yard line to the Steelers' 23.
Ah but this year, Gilbert actually is enjoying an offseason with the Cowboys.
"So when I come here every day, it's to accomplish two things: To get better every day in some form or fashion and then to be the best quarterback I can be for this team," the former Texas and SMU QB says. "Obviously, yes that is my goal, is to win the No. 2 job here. But again, I think the best way to go about that is by just worrying about the things I can control – worry about having a good practice, worry about getting my feet right, worry about the things that are going to help me get better."