Cowboys payroll situation only makes Dallas' upset loss more infuriating

If the Cowboys want to remain competitive in the years to come, they'll have to start by keeping their superstar players together.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys / Richard Rodriguez/GettyImages

As the dust begins to settle on the Dallas Cowboys' humiliating playoff exit, the franchise's focus must now turn to the long offseason ahead. After the 48-32 loss against the Green Bay Packers, doubt and scrutiny will surround every decision that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones makes.

Expectations for Dallas have always been high. For decades, the Cowboys were the model of consistency, earning the moniker "America's Team" as their success helped them amass fans from every geographical region.

Following the advent of the salary cap, however, the franchise failed to find success. Now, 28 seasons have gone by since Dallas last won a Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for Jerry Jones, the offseason ahead won't be an easy one. The 2023 NFL season may have been the Cowboys' best shot to capture their elusive sixth Super Bowl championship.

Despite their postseason meltdown, the Cowboys had talent all across their roster. Nine Dallas players earned first- or second-team All-Pro honors. Now, some of those players are weighing down the Cowboys' finances, while others will be looking to cash in on their successes. Keeping all of that talent together may prove to be a difficult task due to salary cap restrictions.

Cowboys woes likely to continue with salary cap issues ahead

The Cowboys are currently facing $268.687 million in 2024 cap commitments, according to former agent Joel Corry. A little more than $4.9 million of unused 2023 cap space is being carried over to the 2024 league year. The 2024 salary cap is expected to be between $240 million and $245 million. Dallas is projected to have an overage that hovers around $20 million, depending on the 2024 salary cap.

Aside from needing to get below the salary cap figure, the Cowboys have other superstar players who could potentially demand new contracts. Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who earned first-team All-Pro honors, is also entering a contract year, while 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons is also eligible for a contract extension this offseason.

In total, Dallas has 16 players entering free agency. Left tackle Tyron Smith is a future Hall of Famer. who has spent 13 years in Dallas, played well when he was healthy. Running back Tony Pollard, who played on a franchise tag this past season, will need a new deal. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore provided a veteran presence for a secondary that needed stability. Other notable names include Jourdan Lewis, Dorance Armstrong, Jayron Kearse, Dante Folwer Jr. and Tyler Biadasz.

The quickest path to erasing their overage would be to lower Prescott's 2024 cap number through an extension. The Cowboys aren't in a position to handle Prescott's massive cap hit regardless.

The 2024 NFL season is set to be the last year of a four-year, $160 million deal that quarterback Dak Prescott signed in March 2021. At the time, the $40 million per year deal was second-richest in the NFL. Since then, Dallas has restructured the contract on three separate occasions, resulting in a $59.455 million salary cap number for the 2024 season — the second-highest salary cap hit in the league behind Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Prescott had an outstanding regular season. The eighth-year veteran earned second-team All-Pro honors for the first time. He led the league in completion percentage (69.5%) and touchdown passes (36) while posting career highs in passing yards (4,516) and passer rating (105.9). That admirable campaign was erased in one postseason game, during which Prescott failed to register a single passing yard until the second quarter.

Although the Cowboys will surely use Prescott's postseason downfalls against him during negotiations, the language in Prescott's contract leaves the franchise with little leverage.


Prescott's contract contains a provision that prevents Dallas from designating him as a franchise or transition player in 2025, which means he would be free to leave the team in free agency if he plays out the upcoming season on his current contract. The Cowboys must decide on Prescott's future prior to the 2024 season, or they risk losing the quarterback in free agency with no compensation.

Prescott is scheduled to make $34 million in 2024, including a $5 million roster bonus that kicks in on March 17, the fifth day of the new league year. That gives Dallas a five-day window to find a potential trade partner if the Cowboys want to move on. The decision for a trade would have to be mutual, however. Prescott has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he can turn down any trade that he doesn't find ideal.

A portion of the Cowboys fanbase has lost faith in Prescott and has called for the team to release the quarterback. That isn't a viable option for Dallas, however. Cutting ties with Prescott would result in a $61.915 million dead cap charge and the Cowboys wouldn't be able to erase their overage prior to the start of the new league year on March 13.

If the Cowboys want to remain competitive in the years to come, they'll have to start by keeping their current team together.

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