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Mick Shots: Putting rising dough into perspective


FRISCO, Texas – Rejoice, the 2024 NFL salary cap, an albatross for every team, has substantially increased from last year's $224.8 million to this year's initially projected $242.5 million to finalizing at $255.5 million, the largest yearly bump in NFL history.

Rejoice, the Dallas Cowboys went from right at $16 million over that initial salary cap projection to now a much more palatable estimated $4 million over when it comes to the top-51 figure that kicks in at 3 p.m. come March 13.

Rejoice, when it comes to the Cowboys potentially three largest expenditures needing to deal with, or at least three of the more prominent player contracts in the works: quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and linebacker Micah Parsons. All three are property of the Cowboys this 2024 season, currently Dak and CeeDee entering the final years of their contracts and Parsons the final two, assuming the Cowboys pick up his fifth-year option for 2025 by March 2, a no-brainer, no matter extensions, restructures or standing pat.

As Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said from this week's NFL Scouting Combine, "Obviously, the three guys we talked about that are the priorities, they won't be able to go to the open market this year. They are going to be on this team, and that's a great thing."

Rejoice, and despite any of this, the Cowboys will have enough cap money available to conduct necessary offseason business, like dabble in free agency, work on any potential trades and re-sign their own if they see fit to do so.

But Stephen also points out the downside of the salary cap significantly rising, saying, "The cap bump helps in some ways, but all 32 teams get cap bumps, so we all know what that can mean as well."

Yep, sure do. The teams with a whole lotta cap space now have a whole lotta more cap space to potentially snare some of those Cowboys 16 unrestricted free agents, potentially pricing the Cowboys out of their markets.

Take the Commanders, where former Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn became the head coach, initially having a projected $68 million of cap space. Well, now they have an estimated $79 million. That's a whole lotta money if Quinn has his eyes set on, for example, Cowboys unrestricted defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr. And Washington is just one of five teams licking their free-agent chops with at least $72 million of cap space available. And 2023 playoff teams like the Texans and Lions have at least $57 million at their disposal.

That is so much space that these teams can afford to take "shots" overpaying in the market, no matter if they miss. No big deal.

  • Don't Forget: While so much attention has been given to Stephen mentioning potentially working on deals with the Big Three (Dak, CeeDee and Micah), though explicitly pointing out there is "no timetable," mightily overlooked has been this when asked about Dak's $59.45 million salary cap charge fixing to hit in another 14 days: "We've got ways to adjust his cap numbers this year." And that would be besides signing him to an extension, though Stephen did say when asked if they want to sign Dak to an extension, "Oh, yes, absolutely." But there is a difference between "want to" and "able to." So remember, in their back pocket the Cowboys have two void years added to his four-year deal for 2025 and 2026, where they already have dumped restructure bonus. Meaning, if they decide to just restructure this year's $29 million base salary, reducing it to the bare minimum ($1.12 million) by paying the difference in signing bonus, that money is eligible to be spread over three years, lowing his cap hit to roughly $42 million instead. Not to fret.
  • QBs Cost: So much is made of Dak's contract, which is in the final year of a four-year deal averaging $40 million. You know where that ranks in the NFL's quarterback world? Try in a three-way tie for the 10th highest average heading into 2024, meaning Dak is one of 12 quarterbacks averaging between a Joe Burrow high of $55 million and Dak, Matthew Stafford and Daniel Jones' $40 million. Of those quarterbacks, and since this is always brought up when talking Dak's money, only three of them have won a Super Bowl – Patrick Mahomes (three), Russell Wilson (on a short stick in Denver) and Stafford. That's it.
  • Really Golden: When looking at his career stats, realized this about former Cowboys wideout Golden Richards (1973-78), who passed away at the age of 73 from congested heart failure after fighting the effects of Parkinson's for the past decade. The guy was much more than the one who caught Robert Newhouse's 29-yard fullback option pass to solidify the Cowboys' 27-10 victory over Denver in Super Bowl XII. Twice during his career Richards averaged 21.5 and 21.8 yards per catch. Hall of Famer Bob Hayes owns the single-season franchise record at 26.1, set in 1970.
  • Southern Cal Training: There now will be the Cowboys and three other teams holding training camps in Southern California this summer, with the Cowboys in Oxnard, the Chargers possibly in their new El Segundo digs, the Rams in an undetermined temporary site while building a new facility in Woodland Hills and the Saints in the Rams' previous camp facility at UC-Irvine for this summer with their Metairie, La., facility under renovation. When Stephen was asked if the Cowboys might practice against the Saints during camp, he said, "I have no idea. You'll have to ask New Orleans." Sounds like a fan's budding road trip if nothing else.
  • Small Bites:com determined the Eagles-Cowboys game on Dec. 10, 2023, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as the highest attended single game this season with 93,752, and the next highest being 93,731 for Dallas' game against Detroit on Dec. 30 … And for the 15th consecutive season, the Cowboys led the NFL with an average of 93,594 fans for their eight home games in 2023, the record streak beginning when moving into AT&T Stadium in 2009 … Gosh, has it really been 35 years this past Sunday, Feb. 25, 1989, since Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys from previous owner Bum Bright, becoming just the third owner in franchise history? … See where Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles, still being coy over what the Bears might do with this year's top pick in the NFL Draft, has indicated that if another team wants to trade for that first pick, the asking price will be similar to what Carolina gave the Bears last year for the rights to select quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick, which was (get a pencil out) a 2023 first and second, a 2024 first, a 2025 second and wide receiver D.J. Moore.

Once again, since this time it's Cowboys COO Stephen Jones with the first word, he gets the last word, too, when discussing his thoughts on retaining veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore. His value never was more qualified than when he played in the Green Bay playoff game with a harnessed shoulder in need of surgery, the Cowboys deciding they would rather try that avenue instead of replacing him, moving into a zone defense instead of their more normal man to protect him.

And let's remember, with Gilmore and Jourdan Lewis unrestricted free agents, the only two established corners under contract are Pro Bowler DaRon Bland and Trevon Diggs, the two-time Pro Bowler though returning from his season-ending ACL surgery.

"Obviously, Stephon Gilmore was a great addition for us last year," Jones began. "Not only is he a great football player but he's a first-class act. We were very pleased for what he did for the team, having nothing but respect for him."   

And then this off-the-cuff remark when asked about this notion Jimmy Johnson threw out there in a radio interview with a giggle about Jerry Jones hiring him to join a Cowboys "advisory board," Stephen began with a laugh, too, before saying, "I know Jerry picks up the phone and talks to a lot of people he respects. He's talked to John Madden as well. (Jimmy's) somebody it's always great bouncing something off of."
            And let's leave it at that.

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