Cowboys can get around cap issues, but at what cost?

IRVING, Texas – Once the Dallas Cowboys are done with the coaching staff, they will have to move around some money in order to get under the 2013 salary cap of $120.9 million.

The Cowboys, who failed to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, are in need of upgrades, but will they have the wherewithal to keep Anthony Spencer and/or add other high-price pieces? Executive Vice President Stephen Jones has acknowledged there will be cap issues in 2013 -- and he's usually the most optimistic about having enough money to improve in free agency.

According to the current top-51 cap figures for 2013, the Cowboys are at $137.833 million -- from Tony Romo at $16.818 million to Donavon Kemp at $480,000. That, however, does not include the remaining $5 million cap penalty the NFL levied last year. But here’s a small bit of good news: the Cowboys will carry over roughly $2 million in space from 2012 to eat up part of that penalty.

That puts the Cowboys at about $139.833 million for 2013. That does not include draft picks or exclusive or restricted free agent tenders, which will be in the Cowboys' budget.

The Cowboys have moved money around in recent years to create room to sign free agents, not only just to get under the cap. That makes this year’s challenge a little different.

The Cowboys have a built-in trigger in Brandon Carr’s contract that will lower his $16.3 million cap number and save about $10.5 million based on how they structured his contract when he signed last year. They can re-work the deals of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Miles Austin to roughly save another $11 million.

The restructuring does not add money to a player’s pocket, nor does it take any out of it. It’s simply an accounting tool to help teams with the cap.

The downside of these moves is that it adds to the cap charges in future years. And from all accounts, there will not be a significant bump even when the new television deals kick in next year, so the Cowboys will have to figure out if they're worth doing.

There are a number of players that could be on the chopping block -- Doug Free, Jay Ratliff, Dan Connor, Lawrence Vickers and Marcus Spears -- and could create approximately $13 million in space.

By designating Free as a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys will free up $7 million of space in 2013. But since that wouldn't come off the books until June, they could use that money to sign their draft picks -- much the same way they did with the post-June 1 release of Terence Newman in 2012.

The Cowboys also can create more room by signing Romo to a contract extension. With a new deal, Romo’s 2013 cap number could be cut almost in half.

All of those moves would appear to give the Cowboys ample room to do what they would want in free agency, but they have to factor in what the team hopes to accomplish beyond 2013. After all, the restructuring of deals in recent years has only led to one playoff win.