Regardless of whether Dak Prescott inks a long-term deal worth $40-plus million per year or plays 2021 on the fully-guaranteed $37.7 million franchise tag, the Dallas Cowboys must get creative with their accounting to afford the free-agent quarterback.
Wielding only $19.356 million in salary-cap space, Dallas is expected to create additional room for Prescott by paring its highest-priced assets, NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported Tuesday.
“I want to clear something up: Yesterday I was talking about Dak Prescott’s contract and I think it got misconstrued that I said he wants Patrick Mahomes money. That’s not the case here,” Slater said. “He wants to get paid behind Patrick Mahomes because that’s what his market value is. Last year I reported that the Cowboys, in good faith, tried to give him a five-year deal. The five-year deal was important to them because they need some flexibility in how they structure these contracts so that they can get other guys paid.
“In the next couple of weeks, they’re going to likely restructure guys like [defensive end] DeMarcus Lawrence and maybe [left tackle] Tyron Smith. It’s my understanding that [linebacker] Jaylon Smith will be back; maybe they’ll go to him.”
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Reworking D-Law’s Deal
The former second-round draft pick signed a five-year, $105 million extension with the Cowboys in April 2019. Lawrence is due to count a whopping $25 million against the cap next season, his age-29 campaign — up from a manageable $9.9 million last season. He’s slated to collect $17 million in base salary with an $8 million prorated bonus.
A simple restructure of his contract, per OverTheCap.com, would yield $11,943,750 in immediate relief, perhaps the difference between tagging Prescott and hammering out a long-term pact. And Lawrence should be amenable after contributing just 11.5 sacks across his last 30 games (one shy of his 2018 total) since putting pen to paper.
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Reworking T. Smith’s Deal
The stalwart blindside protector landed an eight-year, $97.6 million extension back in 2014. Smith has agreed to renegotiate on several instances, typically converting his scheduled base salary into a signing bonus. He most recently did so in 2020, as the Cowboys freed $7.12 million, while marginally increasing his 2021-23 cap numbers, and added a 2024 void year to reduce his 2020 charges.
A restructure of his deal would unlock an additional $7,068,750, likely going straight into Prescott’s pocketbook. Smith, who missed much of last season due to a neck injury, will earn $10.5 million in base salary and count $14.025 million against the 2021 cap, assuming no further checks and balances.
J. Smith Safe from Chopping Block?
Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last month that Dallas is not mulling releasing the overpaid and underperforming Smith this offseason despite increasing speculation about his future.
“The Cowboys are considering ways to clear cap room through contract restructures and releases. But one option that is not on the table is the cutting of maligned linebacker Jaylon Smith, according to a source,” Hill wrote.
A key culprit on a historically bad Cowboys defense that surrendered the most points in franchise history, Smith recorded a team-leading 154 tackles in 2020 — year two of his five-year, $63.75 million contract. The NFL’s third-richest LB added 1.5 sacks, one interception, and zero forced fumbles as impact plays were few and far in-between.
Designating Smith, 25, a post-June 1 cut would generate $7.2 million in cap room. Restructuring would produce $4,968,000 in new funds. Left unchanged, he’ll take home $7.2 million (base) and count $9.8 million against the cap.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL