The Dallas Cowboys are the poster child for cap issues this offseason. After reworking a few big deals that may come back to haunt them in the future, the Cowboys are now less than $1 million over the salary cap for the upcoming season, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. The NFL salary cap is set at $133 million. The Cowboys' adjusted salary cap mark is $134.55 million, after rolling over $1.5 million from 2013. The team has to meet that mark by March 11.
Jerry Jones' team freed up $16.8 million in cap space with three major restructures. First, the Cowboys re-worked the deals for cornerback Orlando Scandrick and linebacker Sean Lee on Tuesday. After those players were restructured, the Cowboys turned $12.5 million of quarterback Tony Romo's $13.5 million salary for this season into a signing bonus. The move saved the Cowboys $10 million in cap space. Romo signed a six-year deal last year worth $108 million with $55 million in guaranteed money.
The issue with converting or reworking deals is that the money moves to future years and counts against future caps. This can leave teams scrambling each year to get their cap situation under control. Due to the restructure of his deal this offseason, Romo's cap number will go up to $27.77 million in 2015, according to National Football Post's Jason Cole. The figure will be the biggest number in the league next year, according to NFP's Joel Corry.
The Cowboys still have veterans like outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Miles Austin to deal with in order to get under the cap. Ware's cap number is just above $16 million this season, and cutting him would free up $7.4 million in space. Austin takes up $8.24 million in cap space, but Dallas would save $5.5 million by releasing him. Both players are aging, have dealt with injuries and are not as good as they were a few years ago.
The Steelers and Saints are also in rough positions when it comes to salary cap space. Pittsburgh is $15 million over the mark; New Orleans has just $1.56 million in wiggle room, according to Over the Cap. Their situations will likely lead to more moves to create room under the cap.
For Pittsburgh, the Steelers need to focus on releasing older players. The Steelers would save $7 million in cap space by just releasing cornerback Ike Taylor, according to Over the Cap. Pittsburgh can reacquire $6 million in space with the expected release of offensive tackle Levi Brown. They could save another $2.4 million by releasing veterans like linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback William Gay.
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The Saints have a few veterans that could free up space with an exodus from the roster. Running back Pierre Thomas is set to make $2.5 million with a $300,000 bonus due this offseason, releasing him would free up $2.9 million in cash. Cutting wide receiver Lance Moore would save New Orleans over $2.5 million. Also, while it is unlikely, running back Darren Sproles would save $3.5 million in cap room if he was dropped from the roster.
The Steelers, Saints and Cowboys will likely have to remain conservative in free agency this offseason. The trio of cap-strapped teams will have some very important decisions to make over the next few days.