Commentary

Jones sticks to budget in uncapped year

Cowboys owner considers payroll consequences with an uncertain future ahead

Updated: March 11, 2010, 1:28 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Jerry Jones said he's on a budget.

It's a budget during an uncapped year that makes things dangerous for men like Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner, who wants to win at all costs.

As the NFL enters the second week of free agency, the Cowboys haven't signed or invited any players to Valley Ranch. Perhaps Jones is showing restraint because he has one of the highest payrolls in the NFL.

Before the start of free agency last week, the Cowboys had the highest payroll in the NFL for the 2010 season (at $124.3 million).

The Cowboys owe big money to some of their top players for 2010: Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is scheduled to make $7.8 million, quarterback Tony Romo will get a paycheck of $8.5 million, and cornerback Terence Newman will cash checks totaling $9 million.

Guard Leonard Davis is expected to get $5 million in base salary.

The costs of the Cowboys' payroll could go higher once the team signs restricted free agents to tender contracts and draft picks from the 2010 class. Of the restricted free agents, Miles Austin, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season, could command a salary averaging $6 million a season.

It's these salaries that probably give Jones pause.

"The real world is the Dallas Cowboys have a budget," Jones said. "I'm not known for following budgets, but we do have a budget because I have to look at all kinds of consequences over the next several years. I have to look at that. And one of the things that I hope that we have over the next several years -- and I'm going to do everything I can to have it -- is another collective bargaining agreement."

Jones said that Tuesday morning meetings solidified plans for the Cowboys to do something in free agency.

Signing free agents means bonuses and base salaries for an NFL future that is unknown. The current collective bargaining agreement is gone, meaning no salary cap for this season, and there is the possibility of a lockout.

How the current financial landscape will be determined -- mainly through the salary-cap structure -- raises questions for agents, players, owners and general managers.

What also complicates matters is that the Cowboys are one of the final eight teams from last year's playoffs, meaning they can sign only one unrestricted free agent to a first-year salary of $5.81 million and an unlimited group at less than $3.86 million. When a player is released from another team, the final eight rules don't apply.

Money is a concern for every NFL team, and Jones sees that he's kicking out a combined $16 million in bonuses to wide receiver Roy Williams, left tackle Flozell Adams and running back Marion Barber.

Questions have been raised about the future of all three players, and it appears Williams and Barber will return in 2010. Adams, the starting left tackle, has a $2.5 million bonus due in June, and the team has already eyed Doug Free as Adams' replacement.

Jones obviously wants what's best for the Cowboys, and he's made risky free-agency deals that have paid off in the past. Now, with a high payroll and an uncertain financial future of the CBA, Jones is faced with major issues.

"We have to do what makes sense short- and long-term," Jones said. "We don't have a cap, but things are relevant to what we're doing to one player as to another."

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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