Dallas Cowboys

Without restraint, Cowboys' salary cap future could mirror Seahawks' fire sale

Look back at the Dallas Cowboys' 2017 season in 90 seconds

Cowboys fans' expectations were high after last year's 13-3 regular-season effort. But Dak Prescott's rising star seemed to fade and Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension limited his playing time, keeping the Cowboys from getting to the postseason
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Cowboys fans' expectations were high after last year's 13-3 regular-season effort. But Dak Prescott's rising star seemed to fade and Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension limited his playing time, keeping the Cowboys from getting to the postseason

Some Dallas Cowboys fans might be rejoicing at what looks like the closing of the Seattle Seahawks' championship window.

They should enjoy that feeling while it lasts because Seattle's salary cap problems are almost certainly going to find their way to Dallas in the very-near future.

On Wednesday, Seahawks' general manager John Schneider began culling his roster by trading veteran defensive end Michael Bennett. The Texas A&M product's 3-year, 22-million-dollar deal was so onerous that Schneider felt comfortable shipping out his club's best pass rusher for virtually nothing. And to the defending NFC and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, no less.

On Friday, as expected, the Seahawks cut former All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. There's been a tangible decline in his play, as well as increasing injury concerns for the outspoken defensive back. But the real reason Sherman will be departing the Pacific Northwest is his 2018 cap hit of $13 million.

Some reports say the team is going to try and extend former All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Several contradictory reports have stated that the organization might be open to trading away another player from the vaunted 'Legion of Boom.' (After the Seahawks defeated the Cowboys in Arlington back in December, the former Longhorns' great and Orange, Texas, native sought out Jason Garrett, leading to a a good amount of speculation.)

The root of Seattle's slash and burn approach to roster reconstruction really started when they won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013. By selecting quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the franchise had to pay less than $4 million total over the course of four years for a championship signal caller.

Wilson's cheap contract allowed Schneider to hand out massive deals to other players, and add re-enforcements to the NFL's best defense. Seattle didn't win another title, but they probably should have captured one more.

After his rookie deal ended, Wilson finally got paid like a top-10 NFL quarterback. Here are Wilson's cap hits for the past three seasons starting in 2015, according to Spotrack.com: $ 7 million, $18.5 million, $14.5 million.

Cowboys fans' expectations were high after last year's 13-3 regular-season effort. But Dak Prescott's rising star seemed to fade and Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension limited his playing time, keeping the Cowboys from getting to the postseason

This season, that figure jumped up to $23.8 million. For the 2019 season, that number will only climb to $25 million. If the cap reaches a projected total of almost $200 million by 2020, Schneider could have to pay Wilson in the neighborhood of $35-40 million per season for his next contract. That means one player would take up roughly 17 percent of his team's entire cap allocation for that season.

In turn, the organization will likely suffer more cap casualties such as 2017 All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner ($14 million in 2019), former All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor ($14.5 million in 2020) and 2018 Pro Bowl alternate wide receiver Doug Baldwin ($13.3 million in 2020).

Unless there is an unlikely market correction or the NFL creates a special cap exemption for the quarterback position, the Cowboys could soon find themselves in the same or similar unenviable position.

Here are Prescott's cap hits for the final two years of his rookie-deal, according to Spotrac.com: $725,848 (2018) and $815,849 (2019).

By signing quarterback Jimmy Garapolo to the richest contract in league history, the 49er's will shoulder his average cap hit of $27.5 million over the next five years. Two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers is aiming to top Garapolo's deal this summer. And Wilson could easily top both those contracts and others in 2020, the same offseason that Prescott is set to become a free-agent.

Aside from the Washington Redskins, no team has run the risk of letting a franchise quarterback hit the open market. Even if Prescott doesn't totally recover from a shaky sophomore campaign, the Cowboys still could sign him to a contract that would carry an average annual cap-hit somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million per season. The team can begin talking a new deal with Prescott after the 2018 season.

A lot can and will happen to the Cowboys' cap situation over the course of the next few years. Among the big-money players signed through the 2020 season are offensive tackle Tyron Smith (13.5 million), center Travis Frederick ($10.2 million) and defensive end Tyrone Crawford ($9.1 million).

It's also likely the organization could sign running back Ezekiel Elliott, as well as defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and guard Zach Martin (both of whom were second-team All-Pro selections this past season) to long-term contracts that carry a cap hit of $10 million or more. Lawrence is playing on a $17 million franchise tag in 2018.

Still, the front office is going to have to be very careful how it spends its money in the short term or the next fire sale could be in Texas.

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