It finally happened after weeks of speculation.
Tony Romo got the truly necessary extension we all expected, and now he's got the second biggest deal in NFL history in terms of guaranteed money rather than being an free agent (with a quirk in his contract automatically voiding the two remaining years, but not until after the 2014 franchise tag window closes). Jerry and Stephen Jones now have an extra $5 million in cap space to play with, and won't risk losing the QB they can't franchise tag.
With the Cowboys fighting to contend this year, that money has to already be earmarked for potential starters. Justin Durant and Will Allen were signed recently, but that money has already been accounted for by the moves just prior to their official signings (Kyle Orton restructuring some salary to a signing bonus and cutting Anthony Armstrong).
They also don't need to worry about rookie money just yet unless they plan on keeping Doug Free at his current price, since they can save $7 million against this year's cap by marking him a June 1 cut.
It's probably going to hurt future years even more, but if the Cowboys really believe they have the talent...
They have needs on the interior of both lines. Any move for a defensive tackle could also result in more saved salary cap money by making Jay Ratliff expendable, forcing him to renegotiate to a cheaper deal or be cut at some point in the next two years.
One perfect candidate would be Tommy Kelly, who was a Raiders cap casualty after being scheduled to make $6.5 million. He'd probably be willing to take less pay than he was scheduled to make, and as an older player he's not likely to get many long term deals, making him a respectable rotational lineman for this year, and one the COwboys could land.
They also have needs at both guard spots, and while they should be able to get at least one instant starter in the draft, it's risky to count on finding another in later rounds. The Cowboys need to at least find some competition for the remaining guard spot to maximize their chances.
Brandon Moore, a free agent from the cap strapped Jets, is the best guard still on the market and has been linked to the Cowboys despite the salary cap issues in Dallas. He'd be a perfect fit to challenge or replace Mackenzie Bernadeau and Derrick Dockery, especially if a player like Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper comes to Dallas.
If the Cowboys are lucky or the younger Jones is still hiding more cap room from his dad under the blocking sled, they might be able to pick up another short term safety to help. They're comfortable with who they have, but let's be honest- Barry Church and Matt Johnson aren't top notch safeties.
The Cowboys have brought LSU safety Eric Reid to Valley Ranch for a visit, and will likely draft him in the second round, but Reid still needs some work to be a long term starter. Darren Woodson was also a second round pick, but that doesn't mean that Eric Reid is a surefire Pro Bowler.
Picking up a solid veteran like Kerry Rhodes (another regime change cap casualty who was cut by the Cardinals) can only help Dallas' chances this year, even if Allen starts. Rhodes would also be a good mentor for all the young defensive backs in Dallas, much like Cliff Lee helping the young pitchers of the Rangers during his short stint in Texas.
The Romo extension does have one major side effect: it pushes them over next year's salary cap, and that's without any money committed to Anthony Spencer. No matter what the Cowboys do with this suddenly acquired $5 million, it has to be short term, a quick fix for this year with no future money. Cap money can be shuffled, but it doesn't disappear. At some point, that money has to be accounted for.
Just ask the incredibly rich and incredibly broke Jets, or just watch as all their free agents leave town and their veterans get dumped. That's where the Cowboys are headed if they are't smart with this extra money.