By Paul Wanecski
Jerry Jones is currently in control of Tyrod Taylor’s future. I know it is a strange statement to hear but perhaps in a moment, you will understand what exactly I mean. The Buffalo Bills have been the target of criticism following the week 17 benching of starting QB Taylor and rightfully so; Taylor’s performance this season, on paper, appears pretty solid. So what are the Bills really hesitant about and how could Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, have a hand in controlling Taylor’s fate?
Several key elements are at play so let’s just lay everything on the table. March 1st is the deadline for an NFL team to Franchise Tag or Transition Tag any eligible player. March 7th, NFL teams may start to officially negotiate with an unrestricted free agent player. On March 9th the league year opens, meaning trades can be submitted to the NFL at that time and any free agent signings can be made official. Now, trades can be negotiated at any time during the offseason but will not be approved by the league until March 9th. On March 11th the deadline for the Bills to pick up Taylor’s five-year option finally hits. April 27th is the start of the NFL draft. As you can see, lots of things can happen prior to the Bills making any determination on Taylor as he is still under contract until at least March 11th.
With all that being laid out, the Bills are still in a rush to figure out what alternatives are available. Of course, word is leaking out of One Bills Drive that the team is now seen as likely picking up Taylor’s option. What would be the reason for that? It is the Dallas Cowboys.
A recent and brief history of the Cowboys is this; Jerry Jones is horrible at managing a salary cap. As a team, they are constantly and consistently well over the salary cap coming into every season, this year being no exception at $13 million above the estimated cap. How do they manage to stay afloat? Well, they have drafted really well, so that definitely saves them money. When they need to free up salary cap space, what they end up doing is something referred to as a “simple restructure”. Basically, you take a player’s salary and turn a large part of that into a signing bonus, which then gets divided up among the remaining years of the player’s current contract, thus lowering his current year salary cap number, but raising every single one after. In fact, the Cowboys just announced yesterday that they restructured two player’s contracts to do exactly that, saving approximately $17 million dollars in cap space. In the long term, this is precisely what makes longtime Cowboys starter Tony Romo near impossible for the Cowboys to trade.
In current state, if the Cowboys were to trade Tony Romo, it would accelerate over $19 million dollars on to the salary cap because that is the remaining signing bonus money over the remainder of his contract. The counter argument is that by trading him the team is ultimately saving money since his salary cap number is over $24 million this year, but the fact remains it will cost the Cowboys $19 million immediately on this year’s cap. Unless they get overwhelming value, trading Romo is really not fiscally smart given the cap situation in Dallas. The team could designate him as a post-June 1st cut, which would allow them to take the same $19 million dollars in salary cap that they HAVE to absorb, and divide it up across this year and next. Given Jerry Jones’ history of simple restructures, kicking the salary-cap-can down the road, releasing Romo makes the most sense for Dallas, as restructuring Romo’s contract would do absolutely nothing to the $19 million cap penalty he carries, since he was already paid that money and it needs to be accounted for.
So why does this impact Taylor? For Buffalo, trading for Romo actually makes some sense and given the timeline of the NFL, the league can make trades official before Buffalo needs to advise Taylor if his option has been picked up. Since Dallas will be absorbing all Romo’s bonus money to trade him, the Bills would have the ability to release Romo any offseason with no penalty to the cap, meaning that if Romo gets injured again next season, Buffalo could simply let him go. Also, since bonus money isn’t a factor, Romo would actually cost less than Taylor in 2017 at $14 million (full transparency, 2017 is the only year that Romo would cost less than Taylor). The major contention with Taylor’s contract is not only the money, it’s the additional years. Picking up Taylor’s option means that for the next 2-3 seasons he is your starter. Romo doesn’t come with those strings if traded.
But that is where Jerry Jones controls Taylor’s future. Since it is more prudent for Dallas to release Romo, the advantages of him becoming a Buffalo Bills disappear since a free agent contract would be loaded with signing bonus money, guaranteed salary, and the team would not be able to walk away at no penalty if things didn’t work out. At that point, why not just keep Taylor? You see, if the Bills want Romo, they need to acquire him via trade. It is just that simple. Losing the flexibility in his contract would add unreasonable risk which would make it irresponsible for the Bills to try and sign him. On the open market, Romo will be able to pick from several teams, Buffalo likely falling near the bottom of an already-small list. And why would Romo pick Buffalo over other teams? A new rookie head coach, a defense that fell flat last season, no wide receiver depth, and you couldn’t pick a climate more opposite of where he has been playing. As a free agent, Romo is not a fit for the Bills.
So this is where you need to determine what you really want. You can take Romo, who could ultimately be used as a veteran starter, even if only for one year, allowing you to target a QB in either this or next year’s draft. Or, you could pick up Taylor’s option and choosing at a later time that he isn’t your guy will cost you salary cap penalties in future years. Either way, if Romo is really a target for Buffalo, the Bills are racing against the clock trying to stay ahead of Jerry Jones’ timeline for managing his salary cap.