Commentary

Jones sees opportunity before dollars

Despite possibilities, uncapped 2010 leaves Cowboys' owner with budget challenges

Updated: January 27, 2010, 4:25 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- There will be no salary cap for NFL teams in 2010.

Organizations can spend whatever they want without the threat of a cap slowing them down. However, some might be conservative in what they pay potential free agents or extend current players until they see the new collective bargaining agreement.

Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones says his organization will not be part of that group.

"The only time I've ever operated in a budget, and it's one that is still difficult for me [to do], is I do budget the salary cap," Jones said. "That isn't necessarily all good, but I don't start with budget. I start with an opportunity to improve our team and work back from there."

Jones finds himself in an interesting situation before the 2010 season. He owes high salaries to some of his core players but might have to pay big money for others who are restricted free agents.

Cornerback Terence Newman will be paid a base salary of $9 million. Quarterback Tony Romo will receive $8.5 million in base salary. DeMarcus Ware, the outside linebacker who just signed a six-year deal for $78 million, gets $7.8 million in base salary.

It doesn't stop there. Roy Williams, the underachieving wide receiver, will get a guaranteed $9.5 million in bonuses in 2010 whether he's on the roster or not. His base salary, $3.4 million, seems like chump change in comparison.

Marion Barber, the starting running back who has yet to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season, will get a total of $7.8 million next season in base salary and roster bonuses combined.

Of course, in addition to the amount of money Jones will pay his returning players, he must also address 13 restricted free agents. At the forefront is wide receiver Miles Austin.

Austin emerged to earn his first Pro Bowl berth in 2009 after leading the team with 1,320 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. He was third in the NFL in receiving yards and first in the NFC.

The Cowboys can tender or franchise Austin or sign him to a long-term deal.

The highest tender, which Austin is expected to command, is a first- and third-round tender, which would give him a salary of $3.1 million. Austin could also get one of two franchise tags, which would pay him the average salary of the top 10 wide receivers in the league. If franchised, he could get a salary of close to $9 million.

Jones said that he would like to lock Austin up for the long term but that when it happens, it might not be to the receiver's liking. In the past, the Cowboys have extended their contracts to some of their players during the season. Austin might have to accept a franchise tag and hope he plays well in 2010 to force the Cowboys to give him more money.

Williams and Austin could be an expensive wide receiving core in 2010.

"The reality of it is you have to look back at your dollars," Jones said. "I'm not trying to be irresponsible. You have to look at the dollars, but I don't start there."

Safety Gerald Sensabaugh signed a one-year deal last season and wants a longer deal. Defensive linemen Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher, all valued players, are also seeking three- to five-year contracts. The Cowboys might tender those players along with Sensabaugh.

Dallas also has to find a kicker after releasing Nick Folk last season. Shaun Suisham's two misses in the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings didn't exactly put him atop the list of players the team wants back, either.

Jones doesn't want to give the impression that he's being cheap. He never has, but with the uncapped year nearing, he still wants the Cowboys to build on winning their first playoff game since 1996 and defending their NFC East title.

This week at the Senior Bowl practices, Jones gathered with the front office and scouting department, looking at some of the top seniors in trying to forge ahead.

He thinks the Cowboys are in better shape than they were last season. He likes the core group of players and understands that the window to winning a championship is small. Jones said the team will make personnel and scheme changes based on who's on the roster. But that's to be expected.

"We will make some changes because I've got to see us moving," he said. "We will move with an arrow up in every area and we have all the tools to do it. My point is we will be doing some things."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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