Salary cap numbers with Bradie James

The Cowboys will be faced with a financial dilemma when the lockout ends: cutting payroll.

If the salary cap is $120 million, the Cowboys have already devoted $138.9 million to the roster, and that doesn't include draft picks and potential free agents.

The Cowboys most likely will restructure the contracts of several of their franchise players such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware, and maybe even Terence Newman and Leonard Davis, to get under the cap.

Releasing several players to get under the cap is also a strong possibility, though not guaranteed because in some instances, such as Roy Williams' case, the team takes a hit on the salary cap. The Cowboys take a $12.9 million hit if they cut the receiver. In other cases, the savings are minimal, like releasing Marc Colombo, which could be about $700,000.

One name worth noting regarding savings is inside linebacker Bradie James.

If James is released, the team saves $4 million.

Compare him to Keith Brooking, the other inside linebacker. Cutting Brooking would save the team roughly $1.5 million.

You need to have a good reason for cutting any player. I can't find one in James' case.

He's the heart and soul of the defense, a team leader who has started 96 consecutive games, the second-longest streak among active linebackers in the NFL. London Fletcher leads with 167 consecutive starts.

No current Cowboys player has started or played more games for the team than James. Overall, he's played in 126 consecutive games for the Cowboys, three more than tight end Jason Witten.

You might think James isn't an elite player, especially when you look at some of the players at his position in the 3-4 defense, such as Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis and Fletcher. But understand just how good James is by looking at what he does.

James finished tied for 17th in total tackles with 118 last season and had a 20-game streak without a penalty end when he was flagged in Week 16 of last season.

James is in the last year of his contract, and waiting in the wings are two young players in Sean Lee, who is about to start his second season with the team, and Bruce Carter, a 2011 second-round draft pick coming off knee surgery. Lee can play in Brooking's and James' spots.

Carter might need a little more time due to his injury, though he's been cleared for football activity.

While the savings are pretty nice by cutting James, the short-term effect could be painful. You won't have an experienced player who still plays well on the field.

We know about the money aspect of it, but James is one player the Cowboys need to keep for 2011.