Offseason | 2022

What Does The Cap Crunch Look Like In 2022?


MOBILE, Ala. – The great irony of the Senior Bowl is that it's the first glimpse of what 2022 might look like – but it's far too early in the process to be a glimpse with any clarity.

All 32 NFL clubs have at least some presence in Mobile, with an eye on evaluating this year's draft class and preparing for a new league year. But the fact of the matter is that there's still one game to play in this 2021 season, and there are far too many unknowns about what's to come.

"It's a little early, a work in progress for us to say 'These are our needs, this is what we want to be looking at right now,'" said Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones on Tuesday. "We're not prepared to do that just yet and a lot of it is going to affect how many of our players we can keep in general."

As is always the case, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them heading into the 2022 offseason. Of their 21 impending unrestricted free agents, 10 of them were regular starters and another handful were significant role players. Several of them, such as Dalton Schultz, Randy Gregory and Jayron Kearse, could be headed for significant pay days on the open market.

Factor in the significant detail that the Cowboys are currently projected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million over the 2022 salary cap, and it gives them a lot to think about over the next several weeks.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions," Jones said. "Not going to be able to keep everybody we'd like to keep and that's part of it."

Of course, a lot can be accomplished with a few clicks of a button. The Cowboys have often restructured their larger contracts to create cap space, and they'll likely do that again. Dak Prescott's massive deal can be restructured to create room, as can any of the larger contracts along the Cowboys' offensive line. The Cowboys have restructured Ezekiel Elliott's contract in the past, as well.

There's also the interesting case of Amari Cooper, whose $20 million salary becomes guaranteed five days after the start of the league year in March. Because of the way his contract is structured, the Cowboys could save $16 million by cutting Cooper before then – a fact that's been speculated about often enough that Cooper has been asked about it.

Following the playoff loss to San Francisco, Cooper was asked if he thought he'd remain with the Cowboys in 2022.

"I don't make those decisions," Cooper said at the time. "I honestly don't know, but hopefully."

Clearly, there's a lot here for the front office to consider. Creating cap space can help them navigate 2022 and potentially hold on to some of their key free agents – but it can also come with the cost of creating future headaches.

Given the amount of big-money contracts the Cowboys have negotiated in recent years, Jones noted the challenge of that balancing act.

"As much as we respect these men, they all know we've got to run a business and there's only so much to go around," he said.

That'll again be the case this year – perhaps for free agents and returning players alike. So while the Cowboys' draft preparation has begun in earnest, it feels fair to say the pictures awfully fuzzy on what they'll need moving forward.

"Certainly, we'll have to manage through it and make some tough decisions," Jones said.

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