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Offseason | 2024

Spagnola: Getting CeeDee Signed Is Complicated


FRISCO, Texas – And now the offseason begins.

The real off, offseason, if you know what I mean.

What do off mean?

That other than those still rehabbing from surgeries, injuries or just can't sit still, off means nothing mandatory out here at The Star for six whole weeks. Strength and conditioning, OTAs and minicamp in the books. Next up, the July 23 California departure.

By then, the Cowboys certainly hope CeeDee Lamb, just the NFL's leading receiver in 2023 with a franchise single-season record 135 catches is totally "engaged." If you've been paying attention, head coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed the absent CeeDee from that "mandatory" minicamp has been "engaged." Guess from afar. Maybe some Zooming. Maybe Facetime. Maybe with Dak in the backyard.

Just not here. Not in OTAs. Not in the minicamp.

Thou do protest. CeeDee is in the final year of his contract. No financial security beyond the guaranteed fifth year option for 2024 the Cowboys picked up last year for a mere $17.99 million. So, trying to gain negotiating leverage on a long-term contract, four to five years presumably, which would include a signing bonus and enough guaranteed money to buy a small country. Maybe medium sized.

Nothing the Cowboys didn't anticipate. Nothing this absence has them shaking in their boots. Now it's one thing to chance the Cowboys enforcing a CBA legislated fine of $100,000 for missing minicamp, that usually gets excused in the end. It's another thing for incurring fines for being a player under contract missing training camp days, sometimes often forgiven.

But over history, very few want to miss that weekly game check that becomes auto-deposited for being here by time of the Sept. 8 season opener. And for simplified math since players are paid 1/18th of their base salary per game, that would mean CeeDee would chance forfeiting like right at $1 million a week. A million now, and that would get your attention.

Now the Cowboys incentive to get CeeDee signed to a long-term deal is two-fold. Look, no dispute, he is one of the most, if not the most talented receivers in the NFL. Everyone wants one of those guys, and for sure they are not easily replaced. And at this point the Cowboys couldn't even come close to doing so as currently constructed.

Second, signing CeeDee to a long-term deal, meaning able to prorate that huge signing bonus over the course of the four to five years, gives them the opportunity to significantly lower his 2024 salary cap charge, thus creating more cap space. But think about this. The Cowboys with 86 players on the 90-man allotted roster, with four open spots (keep an eye on UFL players), are under the NFL salary cap max for the top 51 salaried players of $255.4 million, with an adjusted cap of $260.4 million with $10-$12 million to spare.

Not ideal enough space to fund an entire season, but still doable considering they already are absorbing Dak Prescott's $55.4 million cap hit, DeMarcus Lawrence's $20.4 million, CeeDee's $17.9 million and Zack Martin's $15.5 million, along with $21.37 million in dead money according to spotrac.

So technically, but not ideal, the Cowboys could stand pat with CeeDee charging the $17.99 million this year, and the option to retain his rights with a franchise tag next year being projected at $24.7 million. Again, not ideal but . . . .

Now the assumption out there is since Minnesota just re-signed their Pro Bowl wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was in the same fifth-year option boat as CeeDee, to a four-year, $140 million deal, the $35 million average tops for a non-quarterback in the NFL, along with $110 million guaranteed and a $36.9 million signing bonus already in his pocket, that CeeDee's market price is set.

Next in the wide receiver line is the $32 million extension average Philly signed A.J. Brown to, along with the $30 million average of Detroit's Amon-Ra St. Brown and Miami's Tyreek Hill. So practically speaking, whatever the structure of CeeDee's deal becomes, we're looking at a $35 million average for starters.

But that's an average. Using Jefferson for clarity's sake, his first-year cap hit is just $8.5 million. But his non-guaranteed 2028 cap hit would be $47.38, which the Vikings could get out of for just $7.3 million in dead money.

So here we go.

And don't jump into that crowd saying, "OK, Jerry sign the guy."

First, only CeeDee and agent Tory Dandy know what they are asking for. Or put it this way, expecting. The last thing they want to do is under ask, right. Might be saying, well if Jefferson got $35 million average, we want $40 million. Ask for and settling is two different things.

So maybe they are waiting for the Cowboys to make the first move. But the Cowboys certainly aren't going to do that. Not yet.

Can remember back in in the early '90s when the Cowboys were negotiating contracts and asked then director of player personnel and negotiator of contracts the late Bob Ackles if he had called a player's agent of late.

He said no.

I said why not.

And his answer was: "Every time I pick up the phone I'm spending money."

Meaning, if he is making an offer, now the other side likely is saying, OK, we got at least that and now we want this.

Catch my drift. Because chances are in this art of negotiating, if the Cowboys offer a deal averaging $35 million the other side likely is not saying, great, let's shake on that. No way. They're going, well, how nice, but we want $38 million.

Made that mistake myself as a young home buyer, knowing what the list price of the house was and said while making a lower, what about this. And they said, you got a deal. Dummy, should have offered even less until they said no.

Now you see the position the Cowboys are in. It's not that simple as saying, well, just sign the guy, and even though this is not CeeDee's and Dandy's problem, the Cowboys also must budget potential new deals for Dak and Micah Parsons. They'd be in trouble even in 2025 with a projected cap of $273 million if now you are paying for the highest paid wide receiver, highest paid defensive player and highest paid quarterback. That could add up to be half your salary cap, with 50 more players to squeeze under, not to mention a 16-man practice squad and enough operating capital to withstand replacing those ending up on injured reserve.

Well, it's just June 7, a day short of my late daddy 80 years ago landing on the shores Omaha Beach on D-Day II at the ripe age of 25, surviving that landing, an ensuing Battle of The Bulge, a bullet wound and four months in a prison camp to return home the end of April, 1945.

There is still time to work out CeeDee's deal. Six whole weeks until the start of training camp. Thirteen weeks until the start of the season. Just remember, not as simple as just saying, "Come on, sign the guy."

Yep, so in the still cadence-starting words of Dak at the line of scrimmage, "Here we go" the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones living in the world of ambiguity.

It's complicated.

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