The Dallas Cowboys missed a huge opportunity this year. The 2014 or 2016 Cowboys were almost certainly better than anything the NFC has thrown up this time around. They picked a bad time to return to mediocrity.
The blueprint for this offseason is to build a more Dak Prescott-friendly offense, continue the revitalisation and rejuvenation of the defense, and build bottom-of-the-roster depth which the Cowboys lacked this year. The Cowboys don’t have any glaring needs going into this offseason, but it’s also hard to find a position which isn’t potentially improvable.
In annual form, I award myself the position of Head Coach, General Manager, Director of Player Personnel, and Head Scout of the Dallas Cowboys.
The salary cap is expected to jump to around $178 million this year. With $9.2 million in carryover space from last year (courtesy of spotrac.com, rest of the cap figures taken from overthecap.com), the Cowboys will have around $187 million in total ‘cap’.
Dallas currently have $162 million slated in total liabilities. Adding an estimated $2 million for incentives, including the ‘Proven Performance Escalator’, we come to a figure of $164 million.
Therefore, they will go into the offseason about $25 million under the cap. Considering they were about $9 million over going into last offseason, this is a nice change for the Cowboys to have some cap relief, and should allow them freedom to keep who they want, and add a few others.
For once, the Cowboys will not have to restructure any contracts this offseason to get under the cap.
Zack Martin: 5 Year Extension @ $65 million. Cap Savings: $5 million.
Martin is the best player on the Cowboys roster, hasn’t missed a game since being drafted, and been elected as an All-Pro every year of his career. He will become the highest paid interior offensive linemen in NFL history, as this contract would do. Both sides will be eager to get this deal done.
Tyrone Crawford (6/1): Saves $6 million.
I feel bad doing this, as Crawford is the unanimous leader of the defensive line group on the Cowboys and a solid player, but do the Cowboys really want to keep paying $10 million per year for a player who struggles to surpass four sacks per season? It’s a question which certainly needs to be asked, and one that I personally wouldn’t be able to justify as a GM.
Orlando Scandrick: Saves $1.4 million.
Scandrick has been a wonderful servant to the Cowboys, but it appears due to end. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis both performed admirably as rookies, Anthony Brown wasn’t as good in his second year but is still a solid nickel, and Marquez White will look to step up after a year on the practice squad. Not to mention Xavier Woods showing up in the slot. It’s nothing against 32. It’s just business.
Benson Mayowa: Saves $3.9 million.
This is purely a financial decision. Saving almost $4 million on a bit-part player should be an easy decision. Mayowa came with high hopes and flashed last year, but followed it up with a single-sack season. Maybe the Cowboys can re-negotiate a smaller deal, but he’ll likely be gone if not.
Cap Room: $41.3 million.
DeMarcus Lawrence: 6 Years @ $98 million. 2017 Cap Hit: $6.6 million.
I cannot claim this figure on my own part. KD Drummond of Cowboys Wire worked out that a contract of $98 million with $18 million signing bonus would be right in the sweet spot in terms of a potential contract, considering Lawrence’s age, production, and potential. This may come after a franchise tag. However it works itself out, keeping the best pass rusher Dallas has seen since DeMarcus Ware is critical for a successful offseason.
Jonathan Cooper: 2 Years @ $7 million. 2017 Cap Hit: $3 million.
Cooper ended up starting 12 games last year at left guard for the Cowboys. He isn’t Ron Leary, but the former top-10 pick played at a solid level. The Cowboys would be wise to re-sign him as an insurance policy, just in case they can’t find an upgrade in free agency or through the Draft.
Alfred Morris: 2 Years @ $4 million. 2017 Cap Hit: $1.5 million.
Morris was impressive filling in for Zeke Elliott on his six-game suspension, finishing the year with over 500 rushing yards, at close to 5 yards per carry. Rod Smith will likely overtake Morris next year in the pecking order, but having a reliable veteran (especially on such a cheap contract) will act as a valuable insurance policy to Zeke.
David Irving: 1st Round Tender – RFA. 2017 Cap Hit: $4.2 million.
This should be an easy decision for the Cowboys. The only question is whether they use a first or second round tender on him. Irving is a vital part of a pass rush which is steadily improving.
Cheap Contracts: Keith Smith, Joe Looney, LP Ladouceur, Kyle Wilber. 4x $1 million.
Free Agency: Anthony Hitchens, Byron Bell, Brice Butler, Bene Benwikere.
Hitchens is the big loss of this group. Maybe the Cowboys find a way to keep hold of him, but he’ll be looking for starter-level money when the Cowboys will be hoping Jaylon Smith can take his spot at MIKE linebacker. Brice Butler is another who has flashed, but there are so many receivers who can do what he does.
2017 Cap Room: $22 million.
Bennie Logan: 2 Year @ $16 million. 2017 Cap Hit: $6 million.
Logan bet on himself last offseason, accepting a one-year contract to play as a nose tackle in Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme. The plan didn’t work quite as planned, as Logan didn’t look like the same player who had anchored the Eagles scheme for four years previous. The Cowboys would give him another opportunity to play in his favoured 4-3 scheme at 1-technique, moving Maliek Collins back to 3-technique.
Alex Okafor: 2 years @ £9 million. 2017 Cap Hit: $4 million.
Okafor had a mild breakout year for the Saints this year with five sacks in only ten games, before a torn achilles ended his season. That injury combined with past off-field concerns should keep his asking price low, allowing the Cowboys to add quality depth at weakside defensive end.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 1 Year @ $2.5 million.
Adding a veteran presence to the quarterback room could do wonders for Dak, who probably missed Mark Sanchez this past year. Fitzpatrick is still a capable backup quarterback, and Cooper Rush can continue to develop as a future number two.
Garry Gilliam: 2 Years @ $4 million. 2018 Cap Hit: $2 million.
Gilliam turned down a multi-year contract from the 49ers before the season. A year and only one start later, that looks like a wrong decision for the ex-Seahawk but he is still a solid backup swing tackle.
So where do we stand now?
Total liabilities are now up to $179.5 million. Add 10 draft picks (roughly $8 million), and that figure goes up to $187.5 million. Only the top 51 contracts count however, so subtract the bottom 15 contracts, and you’re down to $170.5 million. Therefore, we are $8.5 million under the cap. That’s quite significant compared to recent years, and allows the Cowboys some freedom to carry over to help future years, or look into a trade (Earl Thomas anyone?).
1st Round: Derwin James, S (Florida State):
No player is a top-10 lock, especially four months ahead of the Draft. It’s likely that one of the big-names of this class will fall to Dallas with so many bad teams at the top of the Draft with specific positional needs. Dallas are in the fortunate position of not having any glaring needs, so they’ll be free to pick whoever that falling star is. In this scenario, I have made it James due to potential medical questions. The versatile former Seminole would likely slot in at safety, but can also play some corner and linebacker. The Cowboys have a plethora of Day 3 picks if they want to move up for him.
2nd Round: Anthony Miller, WR (Memphis):
Miller doesn’t necessarily have to be better than the current wide receivers on the Cowboys roster. He just needs to be the one most favoured by Dak Prescott, and I suspect he would quickly become that if drafted. There’s a bit of Emmanuel Sanders to the ex-Tiger’s game, with a similar frame and his quickness and reliability. He will turn 24 during his rookie year which may turn some off him but he already looks ready to make an impact at the next level.
3rd Round: Isaiah Wynn, OG (Georgia):
Wynn moved from left guard to left tackle for the 2017 season and excelled for the Bulldogs. He won’t stay there at the next level as he’s too short at 6’2, but his nastiness and core strength should allow him to be a long-time starter in the NFL, with ideal traits for left guard. He would immediately battle Jonathan Cooper for starting reps.
4th Round: Mark Walton, RB (Miami):
It’s more hope than expectation that a prospect like Walton could still be available in the fourth, but with the plethora of backs in this Draft as well as the injury which ended his season, it’s possible. The ex-Hurricane would be perfect as a change-of-pace back in Dallas, with the quickness to cut on a dime, and the speed to turn an open running lane into a touchdown.
4th Round (Compensatory): Breeland Speaks, DL (Ole Miss):
Expecting a fourth round compensatory pick to replace Tyrone Crawford would be absurd, but they do have some similarities. Speaks measures in at 6’3, 285lbs and moved from defensive tackle to end this year, finishing with 61 tackles and 7 sacks.
4th Round (Compensatory): Tegray Scales, LB (Indiana):
Hitchens leaving opens the door for another day three linebacker. Scales could be a riser through Draft season when the film is turned on. An intelligent and athletic linebacker who should be a quality special teamer at worst.
5th Round (Compensatory): Marcus Baugh, TE (Ohio State):
The Cowboys will probably invest a more valuable asset than a compensatory fifth for a new tight end this offseason. Baugh is an intriguing day three option – a competent, high-effort blocker who is a real threat in the red zone.
5th Round (Compensatory): Isaac Yiadom, CB (Boston College):
One of my favourite sleepers from this class. The Cowboys could add some depth at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick’s expected departure. Yiadom will get involved in the run game, and has intriguing size at over 6’0.
6th Round: Joshua Frazier, DT (Alabama):
There’s no shame in being lost in the wash of the Alabama defensive line. Frazier never started for the Crimson Tide, but he has ideal size for 1-technique. The effort is evident on his limited snaps also, and he’s strong enough to hold up at the point of attack.
7th Round: Myles Pierce, LB (The Citadel)
The Cowboys need some more depth at linebacker. Pierce is an FCS product who earned himself a Senior Bowl invite.
Predicted 53 Man Roster
Players not currently on the roster are in italics. Starters in bold.
QB (2): Dak Prescott, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RB (5): Zeke Elliott, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Mark Walton, Keith Smith (FB)
WR (5): Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Anthony Miller, Ryan Switzer
TE (4): Jason Witten, James Hanna, Rico Gathers, Marcus Baugh
OT (3): Tyron Smith (LT), La’el Collins (RT), Garry Gilliam
OG (3): Zack Martin (RG), Jonathan Cooper (LG), Isaiah Wynn
C (2): Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
DT (5): Bennie Logan (1-Tech), David Irving (3-Tech), Maliek Collins, Joshua Frazier, Datone Jones
DE (5): Taco Charlton, DeMarcus Lawrence, Alex Okafor, Charles Tapper, Breeland Speaks
LB (6): Sean Lee (WILL), Jaylon Smith (MIKE), Damien Wilson (SAM), Tegray Scales, Kyle Wilber, Justin March-Lillard
CB (6): Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, Marquez White, Isaac Yiadom
S (4): Xavier Woods (FS), Derwin James (SS), Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier
ST (3): Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), LP Ladouceur (LS)
With huge (relative to what we have seen in previous years) cap room, and a plethora of Draft picks, I didn’t expect this year’s edition to be this difficult. The team has the core settled with a number of blue-chip players, but there are also plenty of cobwebs encrusting the roster.
The first blueprint was building a more Dak-friendly offense, and I feel we did that through the Draft, with Miller and Walton as a couple of new weapons, and a genuine battled for left guard with Wynn against Cooper. Continuing the revitalisation of the defense was certainly achieved, through the retention of Lawrence and Irving, and the acquisition of studs at 1-technique and safety. Adding depth was perhaps the most challenging as there are so many positions which needed freshening, but the likes of Okafor, Speaks, and Fitzpatrick should help.
The Cowboys are incredibly volatile at the moment. This offseason could well be the catalyst for a spiral into fortune or famine.