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Spagnola: On A Need-To-Know Basis Heading Into Camp


IRVING, Texas – With a lull in the action out at The Ranch, let's focus in on a few things we need to know since the start of training camp in Oxnard, Calif., is going to be here before you know it.

         So let's get going.

         The Orton Ordeal:Though nowhere in sight since the exit physicals on Dec. 30, meaning he missed all the offseason workouts, which cost him $75,000 off his base salary, and all the voluntary OTAs, and the three-day mandatory minicamp, which cost him another $69,455, the Cowboys still believe backup quarterback Kyle Orton will report to training camp – at some point – as the game of financial chicken continues.

The reason why they believe so?

Well, it's one thing to say you're going to retire and forfeit what now is a $3.175 million base salary. But it's a whole 'nuther thing to pull out your checkbook to write a check to the Cowboys for the $3.4 million portion of his $5 million signing bonus he's already been paid. That's a whole lot of zeroes without a decimal point, certainly enough to make a man's hand shake.

Come on, who does that? And the Cowboys would have every right to pursue the advance money paid to a player who quits on them. [embedded_ad]

Fine. But here is the part you need to realize: If that does happen, it's not like the Cowboys will instantly add $6.5 million to their salary cap. Doesn't work that way with the money recouped. That money is rebated in one-year increments over the next three years, meaning starting with roughly $1 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Also, for those who are fed up with the little cold war going on, saying the heck with him, just cut Orton: While that saves this year's base salary against the cap, the remaining prorated signing bonus still would count against the cap, the $1 million this year and $2.3 million next year. Same as if he's traded.

So for this year, the best result for the Cowboys is for Orton to report to training camp and play out the final year of his contract, not only from a financial standpoint, but also from an experience standpoint. Let's remember, Brandon Weeden isn't exactly a grizzled veteran quarterback, having started two years at Oklahoma State and immediately most of the past two years at Cleveland. Also, financially, because the final two years of Orton's contract would void, he still will cost the Cowboys $2.3 million against the cap next year, regardless.

Oh, and if Orton wants to continue withholding services, he can miss the first five days of training camp without penalty before he is subject to a $30,000 a day fine starting on the sixth day of camp, when he likely would be placed on the reserve/did not report list, enabling the Cowboys to add another player to the roster.

Stay tuned.

DeMarcus II:Immediately after the Cowboys traded up in the second round to select Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, there was this notion that asking the rookie to become the Day 1, fulltime right defensive end might be a tad much. That they would have him initially concentrate on becoming the designated pass rusher on obvious passing downs and likely play veteran free-agent signee Jeremy Mincey on the run downs.

Well, Mincey missed the majority of OTAs nursing an injury, opening the door for Lawrence to get a whole lot of first-teams reps. The rook's subsequent play just might have given the initial notion some pause. Not just as a pass rusher, but also showing just how strong he is, which enabled him to hold up against the run right off the bat better than expected.

  Now, of course, this was not in pads, so we'll see here in a month. But if the OTA and minicamp practices are a sign of things to come, he'll be starting sooner rather than later.

Tackling Space: Interesting development during the three day minicamp: Starting right tackle Doug Free began sharing first-team snaps with backup Jermey Parnell, something that did not occur much, if any, during the OTA practices. It was Free on the right side, Tyron Smith on the left, with Parnell taking the second-team tackle reps on the right and third-year Darrion Weems on the left.

Me thinks Parnell is not challenging Free for the starting job, but rather he's possibly being challenged for a spot on the roster. Meaning if you're going to be the game-day active swing tackle, then that guy better be able to play both sides, and playing on the left side where Weems has been lining up is the most difficult. Could there be open competition for that spot?

In cases such as this, if play is equal, then you had better be following the money. Parnell is in the final year of a three-year deal, with a base salary of $1.5 million, and a cap hit of $1.833 million. Weems on the other hand is in the final year of his three-year deal at just $570,000, and no prorated signing bonus, becoming a restricted free agent next year when Parnell becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Maybe the Cowboys are thinking, if Weems can perform as well as Parnell we can save $1 million against the cap this year by going with him instead of Parnell. Or if Weems is playing well enough maybe the Cowboys are showcasing Parnell as possible trade bait. Never know when you might need to pick up another middle linebacker.

Space Perspective: It's been widely circulated the Cowboys have $8.3 million in salary cap space available after signing all their draft choices. To them, that's a ton of space compared to all the shaving that took place in the offseason just to get under the magic number.

But don't think that's so much the Cowboys can go crazy, either signing some veterans if needed or extending contracts. Let's not forget the salary cap right now is based on the top 51 contracts, but by the first week of the regular season all 53 salaries on the roster will count against the cap. That means adding two more, which will eat up right at $1 million of space.

Also, let's factor in an eight-man practice squad over 17 weeks of the season. Yes, practice squad players count against the cap. There goes at least another $816,000, and teams do have the ability to pay any of those guys more than the minimum $6,000 a week to prevent them from leaving since they technically are free agents.

And, as we've seen the last two years, you'd better have cap space to survive injury, meaning guys on injured reserve still get paid and then you have to pay the guys taking their place on the 53-man roster. Think about it, by the end of last season the Cowboys were funding a 53-man roster, the practice squad and another eight guys on injured reserve.

Then there are those players released injured, having to pay them injury settlements to do so – the prorated portion of their weekly salary times the number of weeks it will take to recover from injury.

The Cowboys normally like to keep like $4-5 million in reserve,

So as you can see, that doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room for all those expected contract extensions.

On Guard: The competition at left guard continued through minicamp, with Ronald Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau rotating days taking snaps with the first team. Leary appears to be in the lead since he had been taking the first-team reps on the first day of each week's workout. Also to consider, if Bernadeau ends up being the backup center, too, do you want him starting at left guard and then having to make two changes in a game to the starting five if Travis Fredrick should go down?

         Another stay-tuned item.

         Zack Martin was getting second-team snaps at center after finishing his first-team snaps at right guard. Seemed to be doing all right, at least with the snaps, and has a pretty good teacher up there with Frederick.

         And the addition of Uche Nwaneri (OO-chay Nawh-nehr-ee), the seven-year veteran guard from Jacksonville is one of those look-see deals, expected to be the minimum for an eighth-year player. The guy had two years left on his five-year deal with Jacksonville, and while the Jags saved his $3.77 million base salary and didn't have to pay a $1 million roster bonus, he's still counting $2.189 million against their cap in dead money.

         His release was described as performance-based since the Jaguars had tons of cap space available, and consider what the rest of the league must have thought of him since a guy who had 91 starts from 2008-2013, including all 16 from last year, sat in free agency from March 4 until agreeing to terms with Dallas earlier this week. But if he has something left, that would give the Cowboys as many as nine offensive linemen with some experience, if everyone stays healthy and plays up to expectations.

           Dead Presidents: Speaking of dead money, the Cowboys' current salary cap is being eaten up with $23 million in dead money, the unaccounted prorated portions of signing bonuses for players no longer on the team.

         Four players' leftovers consume nearly $20 million: DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Miles Austin and Nate Livings. And to think Austin will count another $5.1 million next year.

         Cowboy Up: Considering the loss of Sean Lee, there is a chance the Cowboys could end up with as many as seven new starters on defense, if we consider J.J. Wilcox at safety a new starter since he finished last year as a backup.

         And the majority of those starting candidates weren't even on the team's active 53-man roster last year: Henry Melton, Lawrence, Mincey, Tyrone Crawford and Terrell McClain, and two others, Kyle Wilber and DeVonte Holloman, were forced to change positions last year out of necessity to where they now are currently competing for starting jobs.

         Of all those guys, the one who just absolutely must come through is Melton. The Cowboys desperately need him to not only return to his Pro Bowl form of 2012 with the Bears before tearing his ACL early last season, they also need him to become that veteran leader up front. Maybe even Capt. Melton, since part of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's free-agency pitch to him in March was having the chance to become this team's defensive leader instead of the upstart follower he had been in Chicago.

         As with most of this, we'll see in due time.          As for now, at ease.

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