19, 2006. Because neither one of them is cut out to play Zach Thomas' spot at weak inside linebacker.
Of course, this is not about Lewis or James. Check this out: Since free agency began in 2006, the Cowboys have handed out either signing bonuses or guaranteed money totaling at least $6 million to 19 players. That is 19 out of a possible 53 on a roster, meaning 36 percent. Chances are, because of those prorated bonuses and what accelerations would cost by dumping such players, they aren't going anywhere.
Yeah, I'm talking about the likes of James, Terence Newman, Marion Barber, Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis, Ken Hamlin, Tony Romo, receiver Roy Williams, Andre Gurdoe, Jay Ratliff, Jason Witten, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Anthony Spencer, Kyle Kosier, Bobby Carpenter and Mat McBriar, and while everyone wants to debate the merits of keeping them, Terrell Owens and safety Roy Williams, too.
Long time ago the players on those 1980s Cowboys teams taught me to follow the money when trying to figure out who was staying and who was going; who was playing and who was substituting. That always has been a sound formula. Owners didn't become owners by flushing money down the drain, no matter how badly they want to win.
So when looking at this roster, one Jerry Jones has paid out more than $200 million in signing bonuses alone over the past three years, this would seem to be a pretty static roster. I mean, there are three players signed through 2014 (James, Newman, Barber); five signed through 2013 (Adams, L. Davis, Hamlin, Romo, receiver Williams); six signed through 2012 (Gurode, Jenkins, Felix Jones, Ratliff, Witten, L.P Ladouceur); seven through 2011 (Owens, Spencer, McBriar, Patrick Crayton, Martellus Bennett, Tashard Choice, Orlando Scandrick); and eight through 2010 (Kosier, safety Williams, Carpenter, Nick Folk, Deon Anderson, Isaiah Stanback, Doug Free, Courtney Brown).
That's 29 guys, though not to say every one of them will be around to the end of their contracts. That just doesn't happen, and some, if their play suggests, become more easily expendable because of relatively low signing bonuses and probably no guaranteed money.
Also remember this, because of the potential of 2010 being an uncapped year: There is no cutting a player this year after June 1 with escalation still remaining on the cap, and spreading out the cost to part this year and dumping the rest in the next as has been standard practice. The writers of this constitution were a step ahead of the posse. The entire escalation, including any guarantees or performance incentives, gets dumped into 2009 to prevent uncapped abuse. In other words, there's double jeopardy for cutting guys with multiple years remaining on their deals.
So just think when some folks want to say, hey, the Cowboys have to beef up their offensive line. OK, but remember, every one of the five starters is at least signed through Kosier's 2010 deal. Running backs? I don't think so. Wide receivers? If Owens is retained, how much more money can you spend there? Tight ends? Not when you are paying Witten what he's getting and having just successfully used a second on Bennett, meaning if you do, it's just a third guy. Quarterback? Backups, sure, that's where your resources likely will start being spent.
On defense, secondary? How much more can you spend back there? Linebackers? Probably need another or two, especially if the Cowboys don't get Thomas and/or Kevin Burnett re-signed. Defensive line? Now we're talkin', since it would not seem Tank Johnson will be back and that Chris Canty might end up testing the market. Special teamers/returners? Now I can be talked into that, but again, you're not spending a bundle on those guys.
As you can see, Jerry Jones is pretty much right when he says, "I don't expect much in free agency," and remember don't become deluded by thoughts of opening up cap room if Owens is shown the door. That would cost the Cowboys $680,000 more than his current $9.2 million charge.
So when you see the next guy the Cowboys are supposed to be interested in signing, and there will be a next guy and a next, just stop and think twice about it.