There's been a lot of talk about how linebacker Anthony Spencer may or may not fit in the new 4-3 scheme that Monte Kiffin will be installing as the team's new defensive coordinator.
Since Spencer's a free agent, most of that discussion has centered on whether or not the Cowboys will try to re-sign him. Less has been focused on whether they can afford him, but that's just as, if not more, important a question to answer.
Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com does a great job of setting up the cap situation for the Cowboys and the numbers are pretty dire. The team is already at around $140 million in cap charges for 2013, including the remainder of the penalty levied on the team for their spending in the uncapped 2010 season, and that's way above this year's cap figure of $120.6 million.
That number isn't going to rise significantly, which means the Cowboys have some work to do to get themselves in a position to add talent in the offseason. Doug Free, Lawrence Vickers and Dan Connor are all candidates for the axe to save some money, but that won't be enough to get the job done.
Archer outlines two other avenues for the Cowboys to pare down their payroll, but they come with some serious implications. One is to restructure contracts for vets like DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten, moves that don't change any actual costs or benefits while pushing cap charges down the road.
Doing that eases pain now while ensuring that there will be pain later. It's something that the team has been doing for a long time and something that will eventually lead to a reckoning because some of these expensive vets are going to reach a point where that's no longer an option.
The other is to give Tony Romo and extension that shaves his 2013 cap charge while locking him into a longer commitment to the team. That's something the Cowboys have talked about doing plenty this season, but it would be a somewhat strange choice to make heading into what's looking like a win or get fired season for Jason Garrett.
What if the next coach doesn't want Romo and wants to build the team from the ground up? Either of the cost-saving directions would leave the team without much ability to do that without waiting through several unhappy years of clearing out detritus.
Salary cap problems are often overblown because it's easy for teams to create space on a year-to-year basis. It's still bad fiscal policy, though, because you eventually run out of ways to shift money around and eventually have to pay the bill for all the spending.