FRISCO, Texas — Now that it’s June 2, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves flush with salary cap space.
They have more than $21 million, according to NFL Players Association figures. They had $10.9 million before June 1 and added another $10.9 million because of the decision to part ways with Ezekiel Elliott earlier in the offseason.
The Cowboys can go fulfill any desire they want to make their strong roster even stronger, with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, recently cut by the Arizona Cardinals, at the top of the list. If the Cowboys had not traded for Brandin Cooks at the start of the offseason, maybe there would be more urgency to add a receiver like Hopkins.
But hold on. This isn’t like finding that extra $20 in a pair of pants that was buried in the back of the closet.
First, let’s revisit how the Cowboys got the $10.9 million boon.
On March 15, they released Elliott, designating him a post-June 1 cut. Instead of counting $16.72 million against the cap, Elliott will count $5.82 million against the cap this year and roughly $6 million against the cap next year.
Second, most of the cap space is already accounted for or at least loosely accounted for. Although, yes, teams can make nearly anything happen regarding the cap if they choose.
Let’s take a look at where most of the money will or could go:
Practice squad, injury settlements and in-season elevations
There isn’t a hard number that can be put on paper, but teams keep a surplus of cap space just for these purposes. Figure that to be around $8 million to $10 million with the weekly elevations from the practice squad to the active roster accounting for most of the money. A player on the practice squad makes anywhere from $16,100 to $20,600. If a rookie gets called up from the practice squad to the active roster, he would make a little more than $44,000 for the week.
Those small differences add up over a 17-game season.
Tyron Smith is set to make $6 million this season between bonus and base salary. Through play-time incentives, he can earn another $9 million. He can earn an extra $2 million if the Cowboys win the Super Bowl and he plays in at least 75% of the regular-season snaps and 51% of the snaps in each playoff round.
That money has to be accounted for somewhere.
As does the money tied up with other players in terms of per-game roster bonuses that might not count fully against the cap at the moment but would as the season goes along.
Why isn’t Dak Prescott‘s name on this list? Because the quarterback’s cap number would likely go down some based on the structure of a new deal.
That might not be the case for Lamb, Diggs or Steele. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team wants to get back into the habit of signing players entering their contract years.
Extensions for all three would likely raise their 2023 cap numbers ($4.457 million for Lamb, $4.847 million for Diggs, $4.304 million for Steele) based on the structure of the deal.
The Cowboys have Lamb under contract through 2024 with the fifth-year option at $17.99 million but would like to get their two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver signed long term. For that to happen, he is likely looking at a contract that would average around $24 million a year, if not more. There are seven wide receivers making at least $24 million a season.
Diggs has been named to each of the past two Pro Bowls as well. The cornerback is looking at a deal that could be in the range of $20 million a year, if not more.
Steele is coming back from a serious knee injury, but the Cowboys are confident he will be able to find the form that made him one of the better young right tackles. He is playing this season on the second-round tender as a restricted free agent.
Shorter-length deals lead to higher salary cap figures in the early years. However, the Cowboys could look to stagger those deals from a cash-flow perspective, especially when considering an extension for Prescott down the road or even Micah Parsons as soon as next offseason.
The Cowboys have the room to add a player like Hopkins if they want, but so far it doesn’t look like they want to. It’s as if they know $21 million doesn’t go as far as it used to.