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Cowboys are running out of time to avoid a mess

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Cowboys are running out of time to avoid a mess

The Cowboys have gone from “all-in” to potential five-alarm fire.

They couldn’t enhance the team in free agency because they needed to figure out contract situations with three key players: quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver CeeDee Lamb, and linebacker Micah Parsons. As training camp approaches, they still haven’t solved a single one of those problems.

It’s potentially going to blow up later this month.

In just over three weeks, the Cowboys report for camp. They start practicing in Oxnard on July 25.

Lamb, who skipped the entire offseason program (including mandatory minicamp), reportedly isn’t planning to show up for training camp without a new deal. He’s entering his fifth-year option, at a salary of $17.991 million. That’s roughly half of the current top of the market at his position, i.e., $35 million.

Per the NFLPA, the Cowboys have $13 million in cap space. A new deal with Dak would create more of it by driving down his cap number for 2024 from $55.4 million. That said, a new deal for Lamb also could create current-year cap space via a big signing bonus and a minimal salary. For example, a five-year deal with a $30 million signing bonus and a minimum base salary of $1.17 million would trim more than $10 million from his current-year cap number, sending it to $7.17 million.

This approach would create bigger cap years in the future, of course, and that’s one of the reasons the Cowboys currently are in this pickle. In addition to Prescott’s $55.4 million for 2024, he counts for $54.5 million in 2025 — even if he’s not on the team. Only a new deal knocks down those numbers. Which is one of the reasons why Dak has so much leverage.

Then there’s Parsons. He’s due to make only $2.9 million this year. He should not set foot on a football field until he gets a new deal.

Sure, he has said he’s willing to be patient. He shouldn’t be. He should insist on a new deal right now, and he should hold out until he gets one.

Five years ago, the holdout from running back Ezekiel Elliott was unexpected. If both Parsons and Lamb stay away, and if Dak doesn’t drop his cap numbers for the next two years with a new deal, the Cowboys will have a huge mess on their hands.

Even with those three players in the fold, the team’s mishandling of their contracts already has undermined the prospects for 2024. Last year, the Cowboys stumbled into an unlikely division title (thanks in large part to a full-blown Philly meltdown) before being blown out at home in the playoffs. This year, as the other teams of the NFC East have gotten better, Dallas has dogpaddled to stay the course.

In a sink or swim league, 2024 could be a season of sink and stink for Dallas. The damage arguably has been done. The only question now is whether the situation gets magnified by one or two key players staying away from camp until they get what they want.

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