Biggs: Is money tight for Cowboys' Jones?

If only Jerry Jones could find someone to sponsor Jerryworld, his sparkling new football palace, maybe times wouldn’t be quite so tight for the Dallas Cowboys.

Jones, one of the NFL’s revenue-creating visionaries for two decades now, has either cut back spending on his on-field product or he’s taken a new approach to building his roster, because the man typically on top of the league when it comes to spending is now looking up at just about everyone else.

NFL Management Council figures for committed cash — the actual dollars teams spend on their roster, a better indication of where a club is at than the salary cap because it indicates real money spent — show that Jones and the Cowboys rank 31st in the league with $93.5 million committed for the 2009 season. The only team below Dallas in the most recent figures? The Kansas City Chiefs at $89 million.

It’s a stark contrast from where Jones is used to being. From 2004 to 2008, a run of five seasons, he spent $566 million, more than any club in the league. In that period, Jones outspent the Glazers in Tampa Bay by $115 million. It’s a huge difference and proof that while the salary cap does a good job of leveling the playing field, every roster isn’t created equal.

Jones certainly spared no expense in the construction of Dallas Cowboys Stadium, but he’s been finding ways to save money in some areas. For instance, the Cowboys were one of nine franchises that pulled out of an NFL pension plan that covers all team employees. The NFL owners voted to make the 401k and supplemental retirement program no longer mandatory, and Jones promptly jumped out of it. Perhaps when the new stadium turns into the cash machine Jones envisioned, he’ll resume. Who knows?

But right now, the telling statistic is what he’s spent for the product on the field. The Cowboys have been in negotiations with outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware on a contract extension. If and when that gets done, it’s going to bump up that $93.5 million figure, but not to a point where Jones is once again atop the NFL landscape in committed cash.

Maybe he’s decided a youth movement is in order. A year after some wild spending — Jones signed Terrell Owens, Marion Barber, Flozell Adams, Terence Newman and Ken Hamlin to massive deals—he worked fast to rid himself of some of the older, underachieving players. Owens left and is counted as more than $9.5 million in dead money against the cap, again an expenditure in terms of the cap but not actual cash spent. Greg Ellis and Roy Williams were jettisoned in cost-cutting moves also aimed at getting younger players into the mix.

Miles Austin has stepped up at wide receiver at a fraction of the cost. The club is still seeking some pass-rushing help for Ware, one thing Ellis provided. It’s interesting, though, that Dallas Morning News columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor posed the question in a blog over the summer: Is Jerry Jones broke? He spent the bulk of the piece explaining why Jones isn’t broke, pointing out mainly that he’s got cash socked away to spend on Ware.

Even in a rough economy, Jones isn’t broke. But there’s certainly a sense that he’s strapped for cash or has a new model in mind when it comes to building the organization. The numbers say so.

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