With the NFL choosing to wait until the 11th hour to unveil the 2012 salary cap limit, writers and fans alike all have been working under assumptions. This is no different in Cowboys land, where Executive Vice President Stephen Jones has worked masterfully in adapting to the new CBA and helping Dallas avoid salary cap hell in recent seasons.
Make no mistake about it; before the Purge O'August '11, Dallas was in danger of repeating the cap purgatory it suffered at the end of the '90's but without the rings to show for it. What the numerous releases did was free up Dallas in 2011, but put plenty of hurt on the 2012 salary cap total.
The first thing that needs to be established is the actual cap. Article 12 of the new CBA is a convoluted mess that I won't even try to dissect. It has been rumored that there is a clause somewhere in there that will not allow the salary cap to lower, but I can't find any verbiage of such. Recently, Pro Football Talk suggested that the delay in the league announcing the cap number is that it could, in fact, be less than last season's $120.375m.
Wait, the league going to the deadline to try and figure out a way to maximize profits? Who would've thunk it?
Assuming last year's total holds, Dallas enters the new league year approximately $5.9 million over the cap. Before you blow a gasket, there are many things put in place that actually give the team wiggle room.
Under a provision of the new CBA, teams can carry over unused cap space from 2011. Dallas is carrying over $17.1m of space from 2011, meaning they now have $11.2m to spend. It basically offsets most of the dad money from the releases of Davis, Gurode, Columbo, Barber and Williams.
They are also allowed to borrow $1.5m of future cap space if they want (down from $3m last year), as are all 32 teams, bringing them to over $12.7m – which is the number being reported in most realms.
Now how do they get more space? Dallas will need to release CB Terence Newman and escape his $8m hit. If they designate him a June 1st cut, they can spread his accelerated signing bonus hit over two seasons, and free up $6m of this year's cap. They can also release kickoff specialist David Buehler and save another $1.25m.
In addition to the releases, thanks to Stephen Jones' contract magic, recently extended players Doug Free and Orlando Scandrick can have their contracts redone as well. There are clauses built in that will allow the Cowboys to free up an additional $8.6m in space if they need it; and it will result in the players getting more upfront money for the upcoming season.
Now, there is a question as to whether Jon Kitna's retirement has been calculated in the cap space Dallas has. He had two years remaining on his contract, $3.1m in 2012 salary and $1.2m in remaining pro-rated signing bonus (signing bonus' are prorated over the length of the contract for salary cap calculations). This could result in even more space.
Dallas will need to earmark between $4.5m and $5m to sign their draft picks, resulting in the following amount of space once March 13th rolls around:
$12.7m + $6m + $1.25m + $8.6m -$4.75m = $23 million in free agent cap space, pending Kitna retirement clarification.