Dallas Cowboys salary cap outlook: Expiration of cap penalties won’t resolve cap issues in 2014

Brian McIntyre

The "Shutdown Countdown" is going full steam ahead. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Dallas Cowboys.

2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $119.495 million (second-lowest adjusted cap number in the NFL)

2013 Cap Room Remaining: $8.919 million (14th-most cap space in the NFL)

Best Bargain: The Cowboys would like to extend the contract of middle linebacker Sean Lee, but have yet to begin those discussions. If no extension is reached, and Lee is forced to play out the final year of his rookie contract, he will be one of the better bargains in the league as he's scheduled to earn $630,000 in base salary with a $930,000 cap hit in 2013. Lee is coming off an injury, but his range, instincts and tackling ability make him an ideal fit for the "Mike" in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense.

[Related: Tony Romo is the key to Cowboys' playoff chances]

Potential Camp Cap Casualty: If the Cowboys had any depth at defensive tackle, Jason Hatcher would be an ideal candidate to be released. Hatcher, 31, is due $2 million in base salary in the final season of his contract. Another candidate, and perhaps a more likely casualty, is center Ryan Cook. The Cowboys drafted Travis Frederick in the first-round to play center and have center/guard and (Hulk Hogan's future son-in-law) Phil Costa, David Arkin and Ronald Leary to provide depth along the interior of the offensive line. Releasing Cook would save $1.1 million in cash and cap space.

Looming Contract Issue: Tony Romo got his contract extension this offseason. Most of the other key members of the Cowboys are playing on long-term deals that included some guaranteed money and large base salaries. A Cowboys player whose contract will become an issue in 2014 is Dez Bryant, who is scheduled to earn $2.03 million in the final year of his rookie contract.

Bryant came alive in the second of the 2012 season, catching 50 passes for 889 yards with 10 touchdowns in the final eight regular season games. If Bryant can play like that over the course of the 2013 season, and show signs of maturity off the field, the Cowboys may have no choice but to lock him up for the long-term.

[Related: Bill Parcells has words of praise for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones]

Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The Cowboys' low adjusted cap figure in 2013 is due to $5 million of the $10 million in salary cap penalties that the team was assessed by the NFL coming off this year's cap. Those penalties end in 2014, but in order to remain competitive, the Cowboys have had to kick the can down the road by renegotiating existing contracts. Most of those extensions involved converting large portions of base salary into signing bonuses that were prorated over four-to-five seasons. As a result, the Cowboys will be forced to make cuts, or continue to kick the can further down the road, in 2014.

The Cowboys have 70 players signed for 2014. Among the "Top 51" contracts, which apply against the cap during the offseason, the Cowboys have over $141 million in salary cap commitments and will have to carry $1.4 million against the cap after designating Marcus Spears as a "post-June 1" release this offseason. There are also $3 million in available base salary escalators, mostly of the playing-time variety, to players who are expected to play large roles this season (Mackenzy Bernadeau, Barry Church). Having around $8 million to rollover into 2014 helps, but the deep down, Jerry Jones is crossing his fingers and saying "C'mon, new TV money", which could increase the league-wide cap figure in 2014.

Previous salary cap outlooks

32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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