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For starters, take a deep breath.

July is rarely the time to panic about contract negotiations, and Wednesday’s news that Zack Martin might not report to training camp doesn’t warrant an exception. The Cowboys don’t arrive in Oxnard, Calif., until next week. And even if Martin were to actually miss practices, the perennial All-Pro is hardly the type of player who needs a long ramp-up for the regular season, which is still 53 days away.

So, without panicking, let’s look at what’s led to the point that Martin might not show when camp starts next week, and where things could go from here.

The crux of the issue is that 2018 was a long, long time ago — an eternity in the NFL. That’s when Martin signed a six-year, $84 million contract extension that locked him in for the long term as the best guard in football.

The problem is that Martin is still playing at that league-best level and the deal no longer reflects it. With two seasons remaining on that contract, he’s slated to make $13.5 million this season, and his long-term guarantees have run out. Seven other guards, led by Atlanta’s Chris Lindstrom at $20.5 million, currently make larger salaries and have more guaranteed money to fall back on. It’s understandable if a guy with Martin’s credentials is put off by that. Originally drafted No. 16 overall back in 2014, he’s compiled one of the best resumes in the NFL. He’s been named either a first- or second-team All-Pro in eight of his nine seasons, the lone exception coming in 2020 when he missed six games due to injury.

He hasn’t shown signs of slowing down as he approaches his 33rd birthday. Last year, Martin appeared in every game, didn’t give up a sack and allowed just 12 pressures, according to PFF. He’s also famously disciplined, getting hit for just one penalty flag in 2022.

Interestingly, it was also revealed Wednesday that Martin had been awarded the esteemed 99 rating in this year’s Madden video game, the highest rating a player can have. No guard has reached that plateau since another legendary Cowboy, Larry Allen, did so in 2003. Judging from his social media presence, the fact wasn’t lost on him.

So, where does it go from here? This one doesn’t feel too difficult.

Martin clearly has the credentials, and if he wants to keep playing for a few more years it’s hard to see the downside of an extension.

Adding more years to his deal would actually help the Cowboys financially. Throughout the last five years, the front office has taken advantage of the length of Martin’s deal by restructuring his salaries to clear salary-cap space. Just this spring, they converted most of Martin’s salary to a signing bonus — an accounting move that helped them free up space to navigate free agency. With the last year of Martin’s current deal coming in 2024, that wiggle room is gone. His projected cap hit for next year is $24 million, and there’s no more wiggle room for restructures.

A new deal would obviously raise Martin’s cost, but it would again provide that all-important maneuverability to restructure his numbers and help with his salary cap hit. It’s the exact same logic used for extending Dak Prescott, who is currently set to hit the cap for an absurd $59 million on the last year of his deal — also coming in 2024.

Are Dak Prescott and the Cowboys facing the most pressure for a Super Bowl run this year?

Are Dak Prescott and the Cowboys facing the most pressure for a Super Bowl run this year?

 

It might feel easier said than done for the Cowboys. They do have to figure out how to pay young stars like Trevon Diggs and CeeDee Lamb in the very near future. But even with an escalated salary, Martin could help them from a cap standpoint.

Of course, they could always draw a hard line. Martin is under contract for the next two seasons, and the front office could try to call his bluff. With almost two months until the games begin, they don’t have to rush a decision just because one of their veterans has expressed frustration.

This will be interesting to follow. Martin has been a team captain and near-constant in the Cowboys’ lineup for what feels like ages. It’s hard to imagine him missing time, and it’s borderline impossible to think he’d miss games. But, as Ezekiel Elliott showed us in 2019, players would be wise to take advantage of what little leverage they can find.

With plenty of time to spare, Martin is exerting his. We’ll see how the Cowboys respond.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

 


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