Jason Garrett was on NFL Network this morning talking about free agency. When he was asked about how the Cowboys have been spectators this offseason, here was his response:
“Well sometimes it can be challenging. You kind of want to get in the game, but salary caps and finances are realities of this league, so we had to get our salary cap structure in place. I think our organization has done a great job reworking some contracts, and hopefully we can rework a couple more here to allow us to get into a position to get in the game a little bit to address some needs we have on our team.”
Jason Garrett would have liked to have improved his team. The Cowboys, however, can’t get in the game this offseason, despite a significant number of glaring holes on their roster. That is especially unfortunate this year, since 2013 free agency has universally been considered a buyer’s market. And there’s a good chance they’ll be spectators during free agency for the foreseeable future. Let’s look at what they did:
• Restructured the contract of OLB DeMarcus Ware.
• Restructured the contract of TE Jason Witten.
• Restructured the contract of WR Miles Austin.
• Restructured the contract of CB Brandon Carr.
• Restructured the contract of C Ryan Cook.
• Restructured the contract of DT Jay Ratliff.
• Restructured the contract of CB Orlando Scandrick.
• Restructured the contract of OG Mackenzy Bernadeau.
• Restructured the contract of OG Nate Livings.
• Cut Gerald Sensabaugh. That move saved around $1.4 million. Sensabaugh was an unspectacular safety, but an argument could be made that he was one of the 2 best safeties in the division in 2012. The Cowboys are now headed into 2013 with Barry Church and Matt Johnson as the projected starters, with of course the draft still to occur.
• Cut Dan Connor. That move saved $3 million. No-brainer. Connor was a disappointment in 2012.
• Cut Marcus Spears, 3 years too late.
• Signed Phil Costa to a 2-year deal. Costa was a restricted free agent who was set to make $1.323 million. The 2-year deal saved the Cowboys a mere $350,000 in 2013. When you’re re-upping RFAs to save $350K, that’s when you know your books are a mess.
• Franchise tagged Anthony Spencer. Spencer’s cap number will be $10,627,200 in 2013, or 8.64% of their cap. Spencer had a breakout season of sorts in 2012, although a lot of people thought he had a breakout “2nd half of the season” in 2009, before a couple of lackluster seasons in 2010 and 2011. Add in a positional switch that will make Spencer significantly undersized, and you begin to wonder if he can maintain his level of play from 2012.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Spencer thrives in the 4-3, here’s the rub… He’ll be a free agent again in 2014. Wanna tag him for a third time? You can, but it’ll cost you the QB tag rate, which in 2013 was just shy of $15 million. That’s not happening. So the Cowboys will want to get a long term deal done with Spencer, presumably.
If I’m Anthony Spencer, I’m looking at the deal Paul Kruger got from Cleveland, which was for 5 years, $40.5 million, and $20 guaranteed. Anything short of that, and I’d just be inclined to take my $10.6 guaranteed this year and test the market in 2014.
Is Anthony Spencer worth 8.64% of the cap? Emphatically, no. Is he worth the 5 year, $40.5 deal Kruger received from the Browns? Emphatically, no. (Kruger isn’t either, for the record). I can understand wanting to keep Spencer aboard, but when your books are as disastrous as the Cowboys’, this is one of those difficult decisions the Cowboys probably should have exercised.
• Re-signed Ernie Sims. Depth. Or at least that’s all he should be. Signed for the veteran minimum, so it’s a nice deal for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys did virtually nothing so far this offseason to improve their team, because… well, they can’t. Instead, all they did was push guaranteed money into future years, which will inhibit their ability to get better during free agency in 2014 and 2015. They also guaranteed that they’ll be stuck with a number of players who are already in decline, and others whose play could begin to fall off.
The Cowboys’ strategy of keeping this core intact at the expense of the future is emblematic of team that has recently either won a title, or has come very close, for one last run. Their view of how good the current roster really is borders on delusion. It’s all explained in better detail here.
Jerry Jones is a successful businessman, but he’s an unbridled disaster of a GM.