Cowboys $12M over project 2022 NFL salary cap of $208.2M, here's how they get under

On Sunday, NFL reporters announced the league intends to max out the 2022 salary cap, which is a good thing for the players. With the 2020 season excluding fans from the majority of stadium seats, revenue was down bad and to offset it the league implemented a plan to spread the quote-unquote losses across multiple seasons. They set a floor for how low the 2021 cap would fall and a maximum for how high the 2022 cap could go.

After losses were calculated and projected increases from the Tv deal and gambling figured in, 2021’s cap number of $182.5 million was $7.5 million above the $175 million floor, so it was anticipated the 2022 cap could reach the maximum, and it was announced that it did. So what does that mean for the Cowboys? Well, right now they are projected to be $12 million over the cap, but it’s not too big of a concern. Here’s why.

Dallas will certainly have decisions to make on some of their veterans and they certainly have a strong group of free agents to try and lock in, but there are mechanisms in place to restructure contracts. Some of them are contingents, many of them are planned. Here’s a review of exactly what lies in front of Stephen Jones, Will McClay and the Dallas Cowboys front office.

Current Salary Cap Situation

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are currently projected to carry over $4.3 million worth of unused 2021 salary cap space into 2022. That is subject to change, of course.

Any roster moves the club makes, elevating players (permanently) from the practice squad, signing external free agents and the like, will lower that number. In addition, not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) bonuses don’t count against the salary cap until they are achieved and then are added at the end of the season.

On the flip side, likely-to-be-earned (LTBE) bonuses which go unearned are credited back to the cap once those placeholders are removed.

According to cap site Over The Cap, Dallas has $224.9 million of liabilities combined from their roster and dead money. Taking away the $4.3 million carry over and Dallas is currently $12.3 million above the projected cap.

Dead Money

(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

In 2021, Dallas carried a ton of dead money into the year, and then added another substantial stack. Entering Week 1 of the season, Dallas had around $13 million in dead money, and it was mostly from Travis Frederick ($6 million) and Gerald McCoy ($2 million).

That amount ballooned once the club released linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith had offseason wrist surgery, keeping the club from releasing him as his 2021 salary was guaranteed. After four games though, Dallas walked away. His $9.8 million cap hit lands in the dead money category.

For 2022, Dallas has more Smith money in the dead cap category. His unallocated signing bonus from the remaining years on his contract prior to release all land there, as does some money from Bradlee Anae who is currently on the practice squad after being released from his rookie deal.

Dallas has just over $7 million of dead money on next year’s cap, and that number will go up with any releases of players with unamortized bonus money remaining.

QB Dak Prescott – Guaranteed Restructure

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Prescott’s four-year deal that averages $40 million per season was written with two void years. That allowed his signing bonus to be allocated over five years of the cap and also allows the planned second-year restructure.

Currently his base salary is $20 million with a cap hit of $34,450,000. A restructure could bring his base all the way down to $1 million, with the other $19 million spread from 2022 through 2026 even though he’s only under contract through 2024.

Savings: $15.2 million

Voila, the Cowboys are already under the 2022 cap.

RG Zack Martin – Potential Restructure

(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

It’s crazy that Martin only has three more years remaining on his contract. Still one of the best offensive linemen in football, Martin currently has the highest cap hit among guards at just under $20.2 million in 2022. That can come down via a restructure that converts some of his base into bonus.

His base salary is $11,841,000,

Savings: Up to $7.2 million

RB Ezekiel Elliott – Potential Restructure

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Elliott’s deal still contains $12.4 million in guaranteed money and one should rightfully believe he’ll be in Dallas for at least one more season. He’s currently powering through a knee injury that derailed his bounce-back season.

Elliott has the most years remaining on his deal of any Cowboy, through 2026, so a restructure can be spread out over a full five seasons. His base salary in 2022 is $12.4 million.

Savings: Up to $9.1 million

Left Tackle Tyron Smith – Potential Restructure

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys probably need to find a left tackle of the future, but it’s unlikely that means they’ll be moving on from the future Hall of Famer. Smith has just two years remaining, but does have a current void year on his deal, so a restructure would span three cap years.

His current base salary is set for $13.5 million in 2022, a relative bargain for his importance and level of play, even if the ceiling is 13 games a season.

Savings: Up to $8.2 million

WR Amari Cooper – Potential Restructure, Potential Trade

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Cooper is the first of the players who could be off the roster, but it’s highly advised against. He may always suffer lower leg ailments but he fights through those. The club certainly wasn’t happy with him missing two games due to catching COVID while being unvaccinated, so that could play a factor as well.

Truth is, the offense needs him, especially if they aren’t resigning Gallup but even if they do. They won’t release him, but the savings are the same so just noting here and with other candidates. He is signed through 2024 with a base salary of $20 million and a current cap hit of $22 million each season.

Trade/Release Savings: $16 million
Restructure Savings: Up to $12.67 million

RT La'el Collins – Potential Restructure or Release

Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

IF Collins is still on the club, and that only makes sense if they intend to return him to the permanent starting perch, then he’s a candidate for restructure with a caveat. Restructures are generally long-term commitments so Dallas would basically be wiping his slate clean.

Look, another deal set to expire in 2024. One can almost see the championship window painted in the picture on Jones’ office wall.

Collins’ base salary is $10M and his cap hit is currently $15,250,000.

Restructure Savings: Up to $6 million
Trade/ June-1 Release Savings: $10 million, 2023 dead money $8.7 million
Trade/Release Savings: $1.3 million

DE DeMarcus Lawrence – Potential Release

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

It’s hard to imagine Dallas restructuring Lawrence after not doing so last year and him missing nine games with a broken foot. Lawrence has been incredible in his two games this year, Week 1 and Week 13, but with Micah Parsons looking like a sky-high trajectory and Randy Gregory in need of a new contract, it has to be at least considered the Cowboys could release Lawrence.

He has two years remaining on his contract for $19 million and $21 million resepectively. His bonus prorations add $8 million each year, plus there’s an additional $3 million on a void 2024 year.

Trade/ June-1 Release Savings: $19 million, 2023 dead money $11 million
Trade/Release Savings: $8 million

CB Anthony Brown Potential Release

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Brown has had a resurgent year, but has had two of the worst corner performances in Weeks 1 and 12. If the club feels that 2021 rookie Kelvin Joseph is ready for primetime, which there hasn’t been any evidence of yet, then Brown could be a place the team looks to find savings.

He has one year remaining on his deal, so his entire base salary would be savings if released.

Savings: $5 million

TE Blake Jarwin – Potential Release

(AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

After missing almost all of 2020 due to injury, Jarwin is missing time again as TE2 after being surpassed by Dalton Schultz. With Sean McKeon showing something, it’s hard to believe Jarwin will see the final two seasons of his contract.

His base salary for 2022 is $4.5 million and he has $750,000 in game bonuses.

Savings: $4.25 million

Kicker Greg Zuerlein – Potential Release

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Zuerlein has had a rough year, could Dallas move on from him in the final season of his deal?

Savings: $2.5 million

CB Jourdan Lewis – Potential Release

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Very unlikely, but there are savings here after Lewis signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal last offseason.

Savings: $2.3 million

DE Tarell Basham – Potential Release

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The club is likely getting about what they expected out of Basham’s deal, but he could be replaced for a little bit of savings in the final year of a two-year agreement.

Savings: $1.75 million

List of 2022 Unrestricted Free Agents (22)

Here’s a look at all of the players currently on Dallas’ roster who are free agents at the end of the season.

  • DE Randy Gregory

  • WR Michael Gallup

  • LG Connor Williams

  • TE Dalton Schultz

  • DE Dorance Armstrong

  • Safety Jayron Kearse

  • LB Leighton Vander Esch

  • LB Keanu Neal

  • WR Cedrick Wilson, Jr.

  • Safety Damontae Kazee

  • DT Carlos Watkins

  • Safety Malik Hooker

  • WR Noah Brown

  • OT Ty Nsekhe

  • DT Brent Urban

  • Punter Bryan Anger

  • LS Jake McQuaide

  • TE Jeremy Sprinkle

  • RB Corey Clement

  • DT Justin Hamilton

  • CB Maurice Canady

  • WR Malik Turner

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