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Spagnola: Just Answering All These Mounting Questions By The Numbers

IRVING, Texas – This thought occurred today, making me chuckle, remembering back to like 1st grade when Mrs. Walker would tell us over and over at Saukview Elementary, "You better learn your numbers," meaning you had better learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and this way before anyone came up with a phone app.

          Who knew like a half-century later there would be no way to cover the National Football League without knowing your numbers, like most of the answers you'd ever need can be found by following the money, giving new meaning to paint by numbers.

         Let's start *painting *a few pictures.

         Start with the signing of Greg Hardy. How much do the Cowboys trust him? Let the numbers tell the story. He only has a one-year contract, nearly all of the money based on making and remaining on the 53-man roster. His contract includes no guaranteed money. No signing bonus. He can earn $1.311 million if he meets the criteria of his prescribed off-season workouts.

After that, he can earn another $1.156 million if he makes the initial 53-man roster. Then, he can earn a non-guaranteed $750,000 base salary, paid out weekly over 17 weeks of the season as long as the Cowboys retain his rights, so a $44,117 weekly paycheck, putting his immediate salary cap number at $3.2 million. He also can add $578,437 to that every week he's on the team's 53-man roster, protecting the team from any suspension that could be handed down.

So trust? Not much. This is all on him, and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said as much this week at the NFL owners meetings, recounting the discussion he had with his new defensive end:

"The conditions of the contract were important: No guaranteed money, earn it every step of the way. At any point if we don't like what you're doing as a player or as a person, we can move on from you without any salary cap consequences. All those things are very important to us."

In other words, any financial success you have is on you, big guy.

In other, other words, not taken into account by all the media backlash and sanctimonious outcries was this: All the Cowboys are doing is giving him a chance. That's it, a chance, and I'm guessing Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, when asked why the Panthers didn't try to re-sign Hardy and saying, "We do the right thing," must have forgotten he allowed Hardy to play in the season opener even after he appealed his "misdemeanor conviction" for domestic assault and threatening accusations and didn't like immediately cut him after the league allowed them to place their leading sacker on the "commissioner's exempt list" for the rest of the season – meaning he got paid his weekly portion of that guaranteed $13 million franchise tag all season.

         By the numbers, how righteous was all that?

         There also seems a whole lot of questions out there wanting answers simple numbers can provide.

         Why haven't the Cowboys signed the franchised Dez Bryant, guaranteed to make $12.823 million this year, to a long-term contract?

         That's easy. The two sides haven't agreed on length of term and guarantees, exactly what's been holding up this deal from like, oh way, back last year when the Cowboys signed Tyron Smith to his extension and Cowboys COO Stephen Jones maintained the Cowboys could have signed Dez to an extension then, too, meaning if the two sides could come to terms on a contract. Money, money, money.

         Why have the Cowboys yet to re-sign linebacker Rolando McClain?

         Garrett says he's talked with McClain. Jones says the club hasn't overruled re-signing him. So what's the deal? Money and term, of course, and evidently whatever reservations the Cowboys might have over bringing back last year's second-leading tackler and most impactful defensive player are being exhibited in an offer lower than what McClain at this point is willing to accept. Pretty simple. And look, signing middle backer Jasper Brinkley to a two-year, $6.5 million deal, with $2 million guaranteed and a $1.75 million cap figure for 2015 is more of an insurance policy than signifying starter status.

         Is Darren McFadden the new workhorse running back?

         Maybe, but absolutely not for sure. His contract says so, two-years, only $200,000 guaranteed, a mere $900,000 base in 2015, creating a $1.15 million cap hit. Heck, the restricted free-agent tender to Lance Dunbar is $1.542 million, and he's not starting, so further evidence the Cowboys still likely could draft a running back as high as the first three rounds and even start the guy is he's better than McFadden. Heck, the Cowboys could cut McFadden tomorrow and only cost themselves $100,000 against the cap this year and next. That's what the money says.

         There seems to be persistent talk of the Cowboys at some point dealing for Adrian Peterson, and since the Vikings at least say they aren't willing to trade for him, why would you even try to do so until the commissioner reinstates him off his suspended list? Could be giving away this year's draft choices for nothing, unless you have some insider-trading info.

         Then there is the money: The Cowboys don't believe in paying their running back anymore since they were guaranteeing DeMarco Murray $9 million less than the $21 million the Eagles signed up for.

         My contention: If for some reason this occurs, and certainly the Cowboys would rework Peterson's existing three years, $43.25 million with the Vikings to a more reasonable sum, say averaging like $7-$8 million instead of nearly $15 million, then they are telling us they evaluate Peterson a much better running back than they did Murray, even with A.D. just turning 30 last week and Murray the reigning NFL rushing champ. (See offensive line, too.)

         By now you are getting the gist of these things I would think.

         There is more.

         Why haven't the Cowboys made Brandon Carr take a pay cut?

         Made? Can't make a player do that. Has to be negotiated. Well, just cut him, I hear. Hmmm. Do that, and his $12.717 million cap hit then becomes $12.151 million of dead money for nothing, or a net gain of only $566,000, barely more than $510,000 counting as the 51st player's cap hit at this point. A lot for nothing, er one, what, second-year minimum-salaried player.

         Now the Cowboys could designate an uncooperative Carr a post-June 1 release, and you'll hear the Cowboys would add $8 million to this year's cap. That is correct, but what they don't tell you is Carr would be counting $4.717 million this year for nobody and another $8 million in 2016 for nobody.

         How 'bout them dead-money numbers?

         Do either of those, and you're likely drafting a cornerback with the first-round pick since all that you'd have left at corner of note going into the off-season workouts would be Orlando Scandrick, the recently-acquired Corey White, Tyler Patmon and the recovering Morris Claiborne.

Oh, and a note on Claiborne, and now I understand what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones meant at the Senior Bowl when he said something about Claiborne's recent knee surgery. Everyone assumed it was the repaired ruptured patellar tendon from back in early October. But no, Claiborne also had what was thought to be his good knee, the right one, scoped in December to strengthen the weakening patellar tendon, of all things, on that knee, a procedure the club discovered before the season even began and had planned the somewhat preventive procedure for after the season.

So his availability certainly is highly questionable for the start of training camp, and who knows, might have to start the season on PUP. Oh, and don't even think of monkeying around with his contract. The $5.1 million cap hit is fully guaranteed.

Whew, hopefully these numbers bring some clarity to the off-season issues the Cowboys have been and will continue dealing with until they get their draft choices signed.

And finally, yes, numbers are important, and was reminded of that this morning in the health club locker room when an elderly gentleman was going locker to locker inserting his key in one lock after another after another, trying to figure out which one was his. He couldn't remember exactly which one was his or even the row he was in, and of all things, the key he had didn't have a corresponding* number *tag attached, sort of like forgetting your hotel room number but no front desk to save you.

These numbers, man, you'd better know 'em.

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