Cowboys' offseason story will unfold based on to-do list already on roster

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, left, sports a cap figure of $16.5 million, a number that hasn't matched his production in recent seasons. Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

FRISCO, Texas -- In the past, the Dallas Cowboys have been forced to cut players or restructure contracts to get under the salary cap before the start of a league year.

This is not one of those years. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys will have an adjusted cap of roughly $185 million in 2018 and about $18.815 million in salary-cap room as free agency approaches.

While that looks like a good thing, it won't be enough for the Cowboys to do any meaningful shopping in free agency.

The Cowboys will have to make moves, either cutting players or restructuring contracts, to be able to add free agents. If the Cowboys are not able to reach a long-term deal with DeMarcus Lawrence, they will place the franchise tag on the defensive end, which would eat up about $17 million. They will also need roughly $3 million in cap space for the second-round tender they are expected to give restricted free agent David Irving.

Here's a look at the Dallas players with the top six salary-cap figures in 2018 and what the Cowboys might do before the 2018 league year begins in March:


Cap figure: $17.545 million

What to do: To be clear, the Cowboys have no thoughts of parting ways with Smith. He remains among the handful of top tackles in the NFL, and that is true even coming off a season that was not his best, in part because of injuries. The Cowboys can create more cap room by restructuring Smith's contract for the fourth consecutive year, but that is a risky move, considering the injuries Smith has battled the past few years and the ballooning of his cap figure.

Prediction: The Cowboys will not restructure Smith's contract unless they have a chance to add a player of major consequence. Smith turns 28 in December. The Cowboys' top priority for him is to find a way he can remain healthy.


Cap figure: $16.5 million

What to do: This is the toughest decision the Cowboys have to make. They don't have a replacement on the roster if they part ways with the wide receiver, which could open up either $8.5 million or $12.5 million in cap space depending on the classification of a potential roster move. Bryant's production has not matched the contract he received after the 2014 season. The Cowboys could ask Bryant to take a pay cut -- something the 29-year-old said late in the 2017 season he would not do -- which could create cap room.

Prediction: The Cowboys will part ways with Bryant but not designate him a post-June 1 cut, which means they will take on the full prorated portion of his signing bonus against the 2018 salary cap. If they do this, finding a receiver in free agency or in the draft becomes Dallas' top need.


Cap figure: $13.235 million

What to do: Frederick's contract was structured in a way for it to be re-worked when he signed in 2016. The Cowboys can earn a little more than $7 million in cap space by restructuring Frederick's deal. The center turns 27 in March and he has not missed a game in his career. There are always risks in restructuring contracts, but Frederick is close to as safe a bet as they have.

Prediction: Maybe soon but definitely before the start of free agency, the Cowboys will re-work Frederick's contract to gain salary-cap space.


Cap figure: $11.025 million

What to do: Injuries and age do not favor the decision to restructure Lee's contract. The linebacker turns 32 in July and he missed five games last season because of hamstring injuries. If the Cowboys restructure his contract, they can gain about $3 million in space. His value to the defense is as high as it has ever been, so he is in no danger of being a cap casualty.

Prediction: The Cowboys might have to hold their nose when they do it, but they will restructure Lee's contract to gain the salary-cap space and cross their fingers it will not come back to bite them when the season starts.


Cap figure: $9.341 million

What to do: The Cowboys wanted to sign Martin to a long-term deal last summer but never really came close. The $9.341 million cap figure is the fifth-year option of the guard's rookie deal. It remains a priority to sign Martin, 27, to a long-term deal, and there could be more urgency on both sides to get it done quickly. For the Cowboys, agreeing before free agency begins would give them more cap room. For Martin, he would have financial security and remain with the team he doesn't want to leave.

Prediction: The Cowboys will reach a long-term deal with Martin that will lower the $9.341 million cap figure by a good amount. Martin will become the highest-paid guard in football and will be a Cowboy through at least through 2024.


Cap figure: $9.1 million

What to do: Many fans might want the Cowboys to move on from Crawford, but he has lots of fans in the building, from the coaches to the front office, who value what he means to the defensive line. His $6 million base salary falls in line with his production when looking at other deals across the league for defensive ends.

Prediction: Crawford is signed through 2020. The Cowboys will not restructure his deal, nor will the 28-year-old be asked to take a cut in pay. As with Smith, if there is a chance to add a player in free agency or in a trade later in the offseason or during the season, the Cowboys could look to do something with Crawford's contract.