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Spagnola: Romo Restructure More Of A Necessity Than A Sign Of Things To Come

IRVING, Texas – With so many putting two and two together and coming up with eight, I thought maybe we should perform a little Dallas Cowboys salary cap analysis to shed some light on this situation.

You know, since the Cowboys officially on Wednesday turned in the restructure of Tony Romo's contract, unearthing $12.8 million of cap space, the rampant assumption is the Cowboys now have salary cap room to trade for running back Adrian Peterson and his $12.75 million base salary this year, even though the Minnesota Vikings continue to say until they're blue in the face they will not trade Adrian Peterson.

But hey, what else would you say if you wanted to trade the guy. Not like you'd show everyone at the table your royal flush before all bets are made.

And look, I'm not trying to knock down the possibility of the Cowboys making a play at some point for Peterson, which I can't imagine would happen until after April 15, when the NFL is expected to lift him off the commissioner's exempt list and subsequently announce any sort of game suspension, if any, for the 2015 season. And while I wouldn't exactly endorse the move, though you'd have to see the trade and the restructured contract before commenting, I have learned since 1995 that when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys and deals, presumptive or absurd, never say never.

See Deion Sanders.

See trading two first-round picks for Joey Galloway.

See willfully taking on the Terrell Owens headache.

Heck, see the Bill Parcells hire.

These guys are predictably unpredictable.

But here's the deal: The Cowboys needed to restructure Romo's 2015 contract if they were going to even come close to finishing the necessary business of rebuilding this roster for this season without being forced to A) sign Dez Bryant to a long-term contract not of their liking, and B) make Brandon Carr a post-June 1 release, which would open up cap space for this year sure – $8 million, but $4.7 million in dead money this year and $7.43 million next – along with a can of worms at the cornerback position that's not exactly a position of strength *with *Carr on the roster.

So let's be logical, if that's allowed this Easter weekend, and think about this. Prior to the Romo restructure, with the quarterback counting a whopping $27.773 million against the cap, the Cowboys, after their considerable free-agency nibbling, had just less than $2 million of cap space remaining. And since they had agreed to terms with linebacker Rolando McClain, with an impending cap number of $2.812 million, they could not actually sign the middle linebacker until creating room.

So they created, then officially inked McClain to another one of those prove-it contracts, though 14/16ths of the game-by-game 46-man roster bonus, $93,750 per game, immediately is going to count against the cap since he was on the 46-man roster last year 14 times, making the bonus a likely-to-be-earned one equaling $1.812 million. Add that to his $750,000 base salary and a modest $500,000 signing bonus and $250,000 workout bonus, all producing the $2.812 million cap hit.

Now then, if for some reason McClain doesn't make the team, all the Cowboys would be out over the long haul is $750,000 (signing and workout bonus) since he'd never be paid his base salary and would retrieve a 14-game rebate next year on the LTBE $1.812 million 46-man roster bonus.

Next, sure the Cowboys initially had room to fit Greg Hardy's $3.2 million cap charge for 2015 under the salary cap. But they knew eventually they were going to have to find room for his weekly 53-man roster bonus, of $578,437 per game, which could total as much as $9 million. No way they'd be willing to grub around each week to find another $578,437 of space, thus they are creating a huge escrow account.

On top of that, the Cowboys, eventually would have to clear up $4.55 million for their rookie pool, consisting of draft choices and rookie free agents, and as of the end of the month at least $1.7 million just to draft.

Oh, and let's not forget, at this point the cap consists of just the top 51 salaries, so by time the first week of the season rolls around two more contracts must fit under the cap, along with anyone who just might land on injured reserve or PUP to start the season.

So even at a minimum, with the 51st contract costing $510,000, say another two guys each making
$500,000 occupy those final two spots – well, there is another cool $1 million.

And they'll want an eight-man practice squad, right, so there is roughly another $1 million.

Now if we add all that up, where did the $12.8 million go? It's nearly gone. Where does even a conservative $7 million Peterson base salary fit -- and that would require him to take a pay cut for 2015 and for the Cowboys to re-sign him to one of those bogus five-year deals with guaranteed money and the dreaded looming dead money at the end, unless of course you think Peterson is the outlier and will productively tote the pigskin until he's 35.

Me thinks not.

Again, not saying the Cowboys would be totally opposed to going all in on this and worry about the rest later, sort of the credit card mentality that can get the rest of us in trouble for sure, or that Peterson wants out so badly he'll play for relative peanuts compared to the $43 million in base salaries left on his three-year deal in Minnesota.

But be careful putting two and two together and getting a heckuva lot more than four at this point.

Also, and hey, I'm just trying to help here: don't sit there grinding a palm into the other fist going, 'Darn, why didn't the Cowboys do the Romo restructure earlier so they could have afforded to re-sign Murray?'

Come on, they didn't want to use that much cap space money to sign Murray, plain and simple. Didn't think he was worth a $21 million guaranteed commitment, period. If you had been listening to owner Jerry Jones and COO Stephen Jones, they continued to say they would be opposed to pushing more Romo money into the latter years of the contract unless . . . .

The created space was for something special.

Well, consider Hardy, depending on how many games the defensive end facing a potential suspension plays, potentially special. Consider McClain, depending on how many games the physical middle linebacker is healthy enough to play and is committed to playing, potentially special.

As for Romo, and as I've been preaching since his re-signing three Good Friday's ago, he'd better be able to play productively through the 2017 season, and especially now. With this restructure, Romo's pre-June 1 release dead money looks like this: $31.935 million for 2016; $19.618 million for 2017; $8.912 million for 2018; and $3.206 million for 2019, the last year of his current deal.

Meaning a reasonable person would say, 'OK, he just has to continue playing at a productive level at least three more seasons.' Because once you get to 2018, a post-June 1 release would only cost the Cowboys $5.7 million in 2018 and then the $3.2 million in 2019, a manageable deficit. But before that, oh brother.

Oh, and don't sweat too much the restructure ramifications for next year. Because Romo's base salary falls to *just *$8.5 million in 2016, making his cap-hit projection $20.84 million. But at age 37 for 2017, the base increases to $14 million and a potential cap hit of $24.7 million.

Take comfort in this fact, though: the salary cap will continue to increase, helping to absorb those increases and absorb potential dead money way down the line – unless of course Romo can play until he's 39. And if he happens to be capable of that, oh geesh, his base salary for 2019 is $20.5 million.

But then that's so tomorrow, promised to none of us.

So here's hoping you can find all the Easter eggs you can this weekend, just don't put them all in one basket.

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