After an offseason in which many teams used the management-friendly rules of the uncapped year to restrict spending, the Dallas Cowboys quietly have taken full advantage of the absence of a spending limit in 2010 to give lots of money to the team’s players.
As reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, receiver Miles Austin’s 2010 base salary has been increased to $17 million as part of his new contract.
The only problem with this approach is that it gives the Cowboys no protection against Austin deciding to hold out or retire in the future. A signing bonus in that amount would represent advance compensation for future services, and if he doesn’t provide those services much of the money would be recoverable. In Austin’s case, when he’s making only $1.5 million for the entire season in 2012, he’ll have no incentive (other than training-camp fines) to continue playing. With a base salary in 2011 of $8.5 million, Austin could simply decide, if he so chooses, to retire after the next two seasons with $25 million in his pockets — and no obligation to pay any of the money back if he calls it quits.
But the Cowboys are willing to take that risk, primarily since it gives the team a way to splurge on multiple players during what may be the only year without a salary cap. The Cowboys didn’t spend heavily on new free agents early in the offseason because past contracts pushed significant salary obligations into 2010. As we pointed out in March, the Cowboys had more than $153 million committed to the current year.
The move also implies that the team believes there’s a good chance a cap will return in the future. Otherwise, the Cowboys would have spread that money out in order to give Austin a greater incentive to keep playing.