Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/12/13
Jerry Jones likes to claim credit for the dynasty of the early '90s.They've gone .500 since Super Bowl XXX, and have only had two playoff wins (one each after the 1996 and 2009 seasons).Now the would-be architect (and admittedly good businessman) has made future improvements difficult in order to compensate for remarkably similar past moves.Signing bonuses are very popular in today's NFL. There are large chunks of guaranteed money that can be spread out over years. Dwayne Bowe's new contract is a perfect example - his base salary this year is $750,000, but he makes far more because of a $15 million signing bonus, giving him a cheap $4 million cap number while Andy Reid and John Dorsey rebuild the Chiefs.These deals become dangerous when a player fails to live up to expectations. Mark Sanchez is the worst-case scenario -- a player that was overvalued and is virtually un-cuttable.Sanchez only makes $8 million this year, which is a pretty cheap price for a starting-caliber quarterback (which former GM Mike Tannenbaum believed Sanchez was, and what Sanchez clearly isn't).However, Sanchez got a $20 million signing bonus and his salary is guaranteed. The bonus means his cap hit is nearly $13 million, huge for a player that turned the ball over 27 times. If the Jets cut Sanchez, that hit jumps to $17 million because the future cap hits of that bonus apply to this year.The Jets are in the ultimate cap hell, and the Cowboys aren't far behind.Jerry Jones managed to get the Cowboys far enough under this year's cap to franchise Anthony Spencer, but he did so by pushing cap hits to future years.Yes, Jones cut Gerald Sensabaugh, which saved $1.4 million in 2013 and took his future cap hits off the books ($4.8 million in 2014 and 2015, plus a $6 million in 2016). He also cut Dan Connor, which saves $3 million this year, but doesn't affect the future because Connor's contract ended after this year.All the other moves were contracts that got "restructured", which basically means this year's salary was converted to a signing bonus, spreading the cap hit out over the life of the contract.This also makes the players difficult to cut, despite large impending cap hits for future years.Look at Doug Free - he counts for $10.02 million against this year's cap, the same as the dead cap money if he were cut. Cutting a bad tackle wouldn't help the team in any way because of how Free's contract is structured. He can be cut after June 1 to split the hit between this year and next, but that's the closest the Cowboys can get to relief.Similar contracts are scattered all over the Cowboys.There's Jay Ratliff, who restructured $3 million this year to drop his cap hit to about $4 million, but would count for $10 million in dead money because he has five years on his deal, despite being 32 years old!Orlando Scandrick dropped his cap hit to $2.8 million, but his dead money if cut is more than double that.  Mackenzy Berandeau, one of last year's free agent signings, now has a cap hit of roughly $2 million that also doubles if he's cut. Brandon Carr and DeMarcus Ware both pushed off cap hits, which isn't as big a problem since they'll be here for a while, but it'll be a problem later.The real killer in all this is that if the cap stays relatively flat as expected, then the Cowboys are already over the 2014 salary cap, and that's without this year's rookie contracts, Romo's extension, or a long term deal for Spencer or his replacement!Cutting Doug Free and taking a $5 million hit this year and next year relieves some of that pressure on the 2014 cap, but more cuts have to be made.The real issue is the bad extensions that have been given out, complete with signing bonuses.  Free's 2014 cap hit is $11 million. Ratliff counts for $8 million and Scandrick for $5.6 million in 2014.  That's almost $25 million used on three players who are backups or situational players, or more than 20 percent of the likely 2014 salary cap.These same players are only scheduled to make $17 million in 2014, but their numbers are inflated because of irresponsible cap management. Jerry Jones is mortgaging the future to make today work, and that's before considering players like Bernadeau who are only somewhat overpaid (as opposed to grossly overpaid).Signing bonuses are a powerful tool, but only if handled responsibly. The Jets are a prime example of what can go wrong if a team doesn't consider long-term cap issues when signing their players- John Idzik's first year as GM is going to be highlighted by massive cuts resulting in $7 million in dead money, and David Garrard might very well be the biggest free agent the team sign all year.At this point, the Cowboys need to win now. Massive amounts of "restructuring" like what Jerry is doing ends in cap hell, which can only be cured by two or three seasons of 3-13 caliber play.He's constructed a house of cards that will hold this year.  It's a house of cards that can't support the needs of this team. Without addressing those needs, the Cowboys are not a championship team, and possibly not a playoff team.It's time to start being responsible with the cap. The fans deserve to see truly good players like Sean Lee and James Hanna stick around instead of leaving for teams that actually know how to manage a salary cap.
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