Tony Romo, Cowboys face now-or-later cap decision

As the Dallas Cowboys deliberate what to do with Tony Romo over the next few weeks or perhaps a little longer  they might be thinking about J. Wellington Wimpy.

No, he’s not one of those pass-rushers Jerry Jones so craves. He’s not some ultra-slick draft prospect nobody knows about.

He’s Popeye’s buddy. Yeah, that Popeye.

He’s most famous for saying, “I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

In Romo parlance, the Cowboys are wondering if it is better to take $5.1 million today or $14 million tomorrow.

Last week, ESPN’s Ed Werder was told by a source that Romo is expecting to be released, not traded, and he believes he can start another two to three years.

A trade is not impossible, but Romo’s contract complicates matters. Romo is set to make $14 million in 2017. He is scheduled to make $19.5 million in 2018 and $20.5 million in 2019. Would a team want to take on that kind of salary in 2017 knowing he has played in parts of five games the past two seasons?

Therein lies the rub on a trade and why a release is easier and potentially cleaner for the Cowboys.

Romo is carrying a $24.7 million salary-cap figure in 2017.

If the Cowboys trade Romo or release him, he will count $19.6 million against their cap in 2017. If they designate him a post-June 1 release, Romo will count $10.7 million against the cap in 2017 and $8.9 million against the 2018 cap. But the Cowboys would not gain the $14 million cap credit until June 2.

So is it better to have the $5.1 million in March or the $14 million in June?

At present, the Cowboys will need to restructure a few contracts to get under the cap by March 9 when the league year begins. We laid out all sorts of options here, but the Cowboys can get under the proposed cap simply by reworking the deals of Turon Smith and Travis Frederick, saving them roughly $17 million in cap space.

That will give the Cowboys some spending money going into free agency when the best players on the open market are available. Add in the $5.1 million from Romo’s deal and the Cowboys will be in better shape.

Given the cap room available to most teams, those proposed moves would not put the Cowboys in position to be the highest bidders on a war daddy or any other player at a position of need in free agency.

On a positive note, however, the Cowboys will also be free and clear from Romo’s contract in 2018.

So what is the benefit of the June 1 designation?

By the time the Cowboys get the cap credit, most or all of the desirable free agents will be off the market. The bulk of the high-priced free-agent signings are gone after a week in March.

The Cowboys could use the $14 million to pay for their draft picks, their practice squad players, the injury settlements that crop up every summer and the free agents they will sign during the course of the year. Then they could simply carry over the leftover money to the 2018 cap.

What about the Zack Martin deal? If Martin signs a contract extension this summer the way Smith and Frederick did in 2014 and 2016, there won’t be much of a cap effect. Martin has a cap figure of $2.85 million in 2017. With how the Cowboys structure their contracts, Martin’s cap figure should remain about the same, so the $14 million credit from Romo won’t play a factor.

So which way will the Cowboys go?

If we believe their stated philosophy of the last few years, then it makes more sense to designate Romo as a post-June 1 cut when the league year begins. (They can’t use the designation until March 9.)

Stephen Jones has said countless times that free agency does not solve all of the problems and the production does not equal the money paid out. Also, it could keep the Cowboys from restructuring more contracts in March, say Dez Bryant’s and/or  Tyrone Crawford’s, that would raise their cap figures in future years.

But if the Cowboys — well, really, Jerry Jones — want to go all-in, cap be damned, as he chases a Super Bowl with a young quarterback in Dak Prescott and running back in Ezekiel Elliott, they can create all the cap room necessary they want.

It wouldn’t be the most disciplined way to handle the cap, but do we know if Wimpy ever really paid for those burgers?