The Dallas Cowboys still have work to do if they hope to be players in the free agent market.
But for now, the Cowboys are salary-cap compliant and that was the biggest goal heading into Tuesday’s 3 p.m. deadline for the start of free agency.
The Cowboys, who entered Monday roughly $6.8 million above the 2013 salary cap of $123 million, made a bevy of moves to clear salary room, putting them roughly $175,00 under, per a source.
They released veteran linebacker Dan Connor and restructured the contracts of nose tackle Jay Ratliff, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and guard Mackenzy Bernadeau.
The release of Connor and his $3 million base salary was the biggest chunk.
The team had talked to Connor about taking a pay cut to reduce his salary before deciding to release him.
Ratliff had $3.66 million in base salary converted to signing bonus, helping save the Cowboys $2.93 million against the cap.
Scandrick and Bernadeau also had base salaries converted to signing bonuses to reduce their cap hit for 2013.
The group joins linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten, receiver Miles Austin, center Ryan Cook and cornerback Brandon Carr in restructuring their contracts to help the Cowboys clear cap room.
Connor is the second veteran released for cap purposes, joining safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
Connor signed a two-year contract with the Cowboys in 2012 but he lost the training camp battle with Bruce Carter for a starting spot at inside linebacker. He eventually started eight games last season as an injury replacement for Carter and Sean Lee and made 58 tackles. With Lee and Carter both returning for next season and the team moving to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4, $3 million was too much to pay for a backup linebacker.
The Cowboy’s $175,000 under the cap is not enough to make them major players in free agency.
The Cowboys planned to be bargain shop anyway. As of now, they don’t even have enough money to sign their draft picks.
The Cowboys can re-work a few more deals to create some wiggle room, but to accomplish anything of substance this off-season they need to extend quarterback Tony Romo‘s contract and lessen his $16.8 million salary cap hit for 2013 and/or sign linebacker Anthony Spencer to a long-term contract extension. The team placed the franchise tag on Spencer last week to keep him off the free-agent market, guaranteeing him $10.6 salary for next season.
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760