You can't just release Austin, even if his availability is 12 games per season. You won't find a replacement that would have a cap hit less than him who can produce the same amount.
His number is "friendly" because Dallas took that 17M hit in the uncapped year and they are now taking that 5M hit for this year and next. Even though it is decent now, it would be very good if they hadn't been forced to move his base salary in 2011. If they hadn't restructured last year, his cap number would be incredibly friendly for 2012, 2014 and 2015 and Dallas would be getting very good returns on the cap space allocated to him during that time.
Without the restructure that year, his cap number for this year would have been effectively 6.1M (penalty included) and his cap number for next season would effectively be 11.7M (penalty included)
When you look at 2014 and 2015 though, Dallas has increased his cap number to the area where if he misses time, the team is not getting the great value that they could have.
- Previous cap number in 2014: 5.5M, which is an exception number for a guy of his production and a phenomenal number for a guy of his potential. Consider that Laurent received a contract of 5 years, 32.5M and Miles Austin would have been an absolute steal. Without the restructure, Miles' cap hit would have been almost 2M less than Robinson's
- Previous cap number in 2015: 6.8M, which is currently very good for a guy of Austin's ability but 3 seasons from now with contracts always going up, it's possible this could have been a great deal, on par with 2015.
- Current cap number in 2014: 7.0M, which is good but it's likely not going to be viewed as some awesome number unless he explodes. If he plays on par with what he has been I think it's an okay number.
- Current cap number in 2015: 8.4M, again same deal. Likely won't be considered a "steal" unless he produces big time but in the are of what you would expect it would cost to get that type of production through free agency.
As it is, Dallas has a little over 4.7M on the books they'd have to account for. Not significantly different than his base this year so cutting him isn't going to get you a guy that can produce like he can, even if they spread the cap hit out.
There's talk of restructuring him again and I would rather not even though it will likely be a necessity. They might be able to take about 5M off the books for 2013 but it gets spread across the rest of the deal and makes the following years higher.
Assuming 5M is restructured, his cap hits could fall around.......
Cap hit in 2014: 8.3M, which is still in the area of what you could expect a cap number to be on average for a free agent of his quality. Not great like it would have been but you aren't seeing it as money down the drain.
Cap hit in 2015: 9.7M, which is probably at the point at which you start looking at what he actually gives you and how much longer you can expect him to give you that, or even be on the roster for that matter. He'd be 31 and while this number could be in line with what a free agent would average in cap allocation, a free agent gives you a player locked up for more time.
Cap hit in 2016: 12.6M, which is probably too much for a guy that would be on his last year (assuming no extension) and probably higher than what a free agent of his quality would cost, assuming his play doesn't deteriorate at all. Also, the free agent gives the benefit of working the number way down for that very first year, if you choose.
This is why I don't like the way Dallas is working the cap. They restructure out of need instead of a desire to operate above normal capacity in terms of free agency. If you don't have to restructure just to get by and you leave that card in your back pocket, you can bust it out during a time when you think a couple of keys players can really help you get further.
If they restructure again this year and then cut him before 2015, that's 4M of dead money on the books which is little different than what it is now. Something about that just doesn't seem stellar to me. Almost as though the team is increasing the likelihood of carrying dead money by raising the cap hit to the point where they have to contemplate his utility and by guaranteeing some of that money in future years. Essentially, any sort of benefit to be gained by backloading a contract so the first year is very cap friendly is reduced because you're carrying dead money from the guy that your new FA is replacing. Rather than save a good amount by cutting a high priced veteran, you've simply kept your cap hit for that position the same and swapped out your old piece for a new one.
Perhaps it's just my perception but it just seems like that is how it would play out by restructuring every single year.
Another thing, planning on restructuring is playing with fire, IMO. Writing contracts that are meant to be restructured later (Carr, for example) is really banking on that player being the guy you think he is for as long you think he will be. It really only takes 1 bad acquisition to really screw you over and put you in a position to either carry an enormous amount of dead weight or suffer through the guy's tenure until a time at which you don't take such a large cap charge for clearing him out.
Carr's 14M.3 base salary will be restructured. If we assume that they clear 12M (might be able to go to 13M if they want), that adds 2.2M in guaranteed money each year for the remainder of the contract. Heaven forbid he completely turns into Doug Free of the secondary but if he should, Dallas is sitting in the offseason looking at a horrid season for a CB who would have 14.8M of guaranteed money left on his contract. Given that not every player works out, it's really only a matter of time before a Doug Free pops up and thankfully Dallas didn't bet the farm on him or else they'd really be in a pickle right now.
I don't claim to be a cap guru so my numbers could be off. I've estimated many of them for simplicity's sake and I apologize now for any faults
As for the thread, if Dallas is looking at guys to get rid of, slowly should not be their plan. They should clear as many as possible as quickly as possible. If a guy isn't in your longterm plans, restructuring him and delaying the cap burden that he will present when he is cut is only compounding the problem. It's like slowly peeling off a bandaid. Prolonging the pain when you could just tear that sucker off, feel a little sharper sting but be done with it in a few seconds.
The team should really look at every player and decide if they are getting good value. If they aren't they need to assess whether they can get good value from that guy or at least expected value. If they can, restructure. If they can't, it's time to go.
Doug Free is a prime example. 9M for his cap hit compared to what we just saw is downright awful. I think a rookie could probably play on the level we just saw and was Parnell better or worse? If worse, can he at least get to Doug's level of performance (I can't see any way he couldn't). Cut Free, eat the hit this year and draft a guy to compete with Parnell. Even a 1st round OT and a full proration of the money from Free this year would save money cap space. The year when the dead money comes off the books, now you're saving serious money.
Restructuring Free only pushes money to the future. You may add as much as like 6M and only 2M would be taken off by having him on the roster. Now next season you have a guy with a cap hit even higher than the ridiculous number it is already at and cutting him results in more dead money carrying over.