The Cowboys seem to be in a tough spot with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, and Amari Cooper wanting new contracts and Jaylon Smith and Byron Jones next up. Zeke is even currently holding out, even though he has 2 years left on his current contract. So are the Cowboys over a barrel? Can they afford to pay their stars? What is the Cowboys Salary Cap situation?


Rather than just guessing I did the math and found out how much a “market” contract would set the Boys back. And how much they could save with a slightly discounted one. I assumed that the cap goes up only $10 million a year (less than 5%) and used current market contracts as a guide for total money, average per year, and total guaranteed. I made a mistake when calculating the cap for 2020-2023, instead of adding $10MM to the actual 2019 cap ~$190MM, I added $10MM to the 2019 cap + the 2018 carryover ~ $200MM, which makes the cap space available each year inflated by about $10MM. With the new CBA and NFL revenue streams this is still probably more accurate than not, but it is no longer a conservative estimate.

Market value deals include $33 a year for Dak ($110 guaranteed, 4 years), $19 a year ($50 guaranteed, 5 years) for Amari, $15 a year ($45 guaranteed, 4 years) for Zeke, $15 a year ($45 guaranteed, 5 years) for Byron, $15 a year ($40 guaranteed, 5 years) for Jaylon.

Savings deals include $31 a year for Dak ($110 guaranteed, 5 years), $18 a year ($45 guaranteed, 5 years) for Amari, $13 a year ($40 guaranteed, 4 years) for Zeke, $14 a year ($40 guaranteed, 5 years) for Byron, $14 a year ($38 guaranteed, 5 years) for Jaylon.

I also front loaded most of the guaranteed money and back loaded the cap hits. This gave low cap hits for the players in their peak and guaranteed years, but higher ones when the contracts are cuttable. Whether the roster bonus or the base salary was guaranteed was arbitrary and doesn’t affect the results. However, I did ignore some rules that might have an impact like the 30% rule. Nonetheless, that shouldn’t affect the results dramatically.


I found that the Cowboys can afford to pay everyone at the market rate, have a painful out of every contract by 2022 a nearly painless out by 2023, and still have room to pay 2 or 3 good role players every year. Possible role players include Anthony Brown, Maliek Collins, La’el Collins, Robert Quinn, Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis, Chido Awuzie, Randy Gregory, Micheal Gallup, and Connor Williams.

Furthermore, under both contract scenarios until 2023, the percentage of the cap allocated to the top players hovers around 60%, the ideal number according to SB Nation. However, in 2023 the market contracts will be a strangling nearly 72% of the cap while the savings contracts would only be about 64% of the cap.


Furthermore, if the cap increases more than $10 million a year (same mistake as above, but it could theoretically increase much more than people think similar to what the NBA did a few years ago) the Cowboys can even splurge on an impact signing. After these 5 players below the Cowboys don’t have another obvious bank breaker until LVE and his contract doesn’t expire until 2023. Signing these players to complement the 4 other big names signed (Demarcus Lawerence, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin, and Tyron Smith) will guarantee a core through 2023, give a probable Super Bowl window until 2021 (possibly until 2022 if things fall their way), until the eventual tear down and rebuild in 2023. Even the 2023 rebuild won’t be catastrophic because Dak and Amari will still be young and have hopefully progressed, LVE will have emerged to replace Jaylon, and the players on rookie contracts will have come of age.

So, lets get to it, what will could these contracts look like, how will they be structured, how much of the cap will they take up, and when can the Boys get out of them. Excel file available on request.

Visualizations for the Cowboys Salary Cap

These graphs show that Dak’s cap hit will be around $24-26 million a year, Amari’s around $14 million, and Zeke’s, Jaylon’s, and Byron’s around $11 million until they all balloon rapidly in the final year. The savings contracts save about a million a year a piece. The percentage of the cap for each player stays around the same until the final year and together they make up about 60% of the cap. The dead money is manageable around 2022 if it comes to that.

Cowboys Salary Cap and Contract Calculations

The actual deals are broken down by year, base salary, bonuses, dead money, and cap hit below.


The Cowboys can save up to $6 million in 2020, 2021, and 2022 by driving a hard bargain. Furthermore, they can reduce the impact of the 2023 rebuild year by saving $18 million on the 2023 cap. However, at market rates the Cowboys will have plenty of room to sign impact players even under a conservative cap. In other words, the Cowboys salary cap is fine.

While it would be nice to have a smooth competitive transition in 2023 and a little extra wiggle room the years before, signing these players guarantees at least 3 year window. The Cowboys have other major expenses on the horizon and if the cap explodes like it is expected they can even overpay a few role players. The Cowboys have worked hard and drafted well for this opportunity; trying to save a few bucks for potential free agents at the expense of signing our own stars is foolhardy. These deals should be done ASAP, even if it means a slightly rougher transition period.

Super Bowl here we come.

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