Yesterday, in Part Three of our Camp Preview Series, we talked about which position on the 2016 Cowboys roster was going to be the strongest. Naturally, it's now time to ask...
What Will be the Weakest Position on the Team?
Jess Haynie ( @CowboysAddicts ) - Even without the suspensions, defensive end would probably still be my pick. I feel good about DeMarcus Lawrence in his third year, given that he had seven sacks in the last eight games of 2015. Still, he's going to miss four weeks and everyone behind him is unproven. The Randy Gregory news only adds to the drama and the concern. Thankfully (and sadly), Rod Marinelli is used to not getting much out of his defensive ends.
Kevin Brady ( @KevinBrady88 ) - Right defensive end. This one’s a no-brainer for me, especially since our weakest point on the entire defensive line will have to face off with (usually) the other team’s strongest point, their left tackle, each and every week. Randy Gregory was the projected week one starter here prior to his suspension, but now the position remains in purgatory as the Cowboys surf through rookies and unknowns looking for an answer. Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, and Ryan Russell seem to be the ones competing for the spot, and while I like all three of the players, I don’t know how ready to play they’ll be Week One of this season.
RJ Ochoa ( @RJOchoa ) - I've been vocal about the fact that the Cowboys have displayed a sense of arrogance when it comes to certain elements of 2016's roster construction. They've completely dismissed the porous play from Kellen Moore that we saw in 2015 and are choosing to close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and say "lalalala." Dak Prescott is fine and dandy, but the backup quarterback crew is a dud.
Sean Martin ( @ShoreSportsNJ ) - While I am not as down as most about the overall situation the Cowboys find themselves in at defensive end, it still has to be considered their weakest position. Get as excited as you would like about Benson Mayowa, Ryan Russell, Jack Crawford, David Irving, and whoever else Rod Marinelli decides to throw on the edge, but the reality is that outside of DeMarcus Lawrence this team does not have a single pass rusher that has proven they can generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. In a league where games are so heavily determined by the passing game, that's simply not good for a Cowboys team that wants to make a serious playoff run this season.
Brian Martin ( @bmart0204 ) - I think the defensive end position is probably the weakest, at least to start the season. The suspensions handed down to Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory really put the Cowboys defense in a tough situation. No one knows who will start at defensive end the first month of the 2016 season, and that’s why I believe it’s the weakest position right now. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli seems to get the best out of his players and he will have to work his magic once again with his defensive ends.
Bryson Treece ( @BrysonTreece ) - Linebackers. Even before Rolando McClain's suspension the linebackers were a toss-up. Signing Justin Durant helps some, but he's not going to be the difference alone. The top LBs are all risky. RoMac is suspended; Durant and Sean Lee are both injury prone. Anthony Hitchens didn't improve much in 2015, and Damien Wilson got snubbed after New Orleans in 2015. Several young guys with a chance to step up, but stepping up hasn't been a common sight on this defense the last several years. The lack of strength, and inability to stay healthy, are sores this team must face with or without the suspended players, and the situation on the line won't be helped any by a lack of solid LB play. But I realize that I'm in the minority here.
Ian Koplowitz ( @BleedingTheStar ) - By bringing on Justin Durant, I think you can safely take the linebacker room out of consideration here. So having said that, you have to say that defensive end is the most questionable position heading into camp. Even with Demarcus Lawrence tallying 8 sacks last season, everyone after him is a question mark. In a league ruled by passing, arguably the most important aspect of playing defense is getting to the quarterback. If these defensive ends can't find a way to do that, it could be a long year.
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Here are the categories still to come this week…
All of this, and much more, as Inside The Star helps get you ready for another season of Dallas Cowboys football!
Zack Martin Got Paid, Is DeMarcus Lawrence Next?
Zack Martin's new contract became official last week as the four-time All-Pro received the long-term deal he's been looking for. Per Todd Archer, his rookie fifth year option now turns into a seven-year deal for $93.41-million dollars with $40-million guaranteed (42.8%), including a $20-million dollar signing bonus.
The total deal for All-Pro right guard Zack Martin is seven years for $93.41 million and includes a $20 million signing bonus, according to a source. As Adam Schefter reported, the guaranteed money is $40 million. The Cowboys created around $3 million... https://t.co/q8ovYSiQRg
The Dallas Cowboys and Martin's representatives worked all off-season to come up with a deal that would make Zack the highest paid guard in the NFL going into his fifth season. And as much as anyone on the team, he deserves it.
He's started every game in his four-year career. He's 28 years old and this contract locks him up through his prime.
With Martin's deal done, the Dallas Cowboys front office can now turn its attention to the next wave of players that will be ready for big-time contracts.
Let's look at who that is and what they could demand.
KD Drummond from the Cowboys Wire on USA Today had a great piece outlining what this deal means for the 2018 and 2019 salary caps moving forward. Per his math, for 2018, this deal gives the Dallas Cowboys an extra $3 million this year, leaving their cap space at a little more than $14 million.
For 2019, the Dallas Cowboys will have a projected $50-million dollars in cap space. Cap Projections courtesy of OverTheCap.com. $50 million in 2019 is far from the cap hell that everyone wants to tell you about.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
Let's start this discussion by saying that the Dallas Cowboys don't have to do a single thing with DeMarcus Lawrence's contract to help them on the salary cap. His cap figure is locked in at $17 million for 2018 and as noted above, the Cowboys have a little more than $14 million in space.
Zack Martin was arguably the biggest offseason priority in 2018. The other player who could make that argument was Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who the team placed their franchise tag on this off-season.
With the franchise tag in place, Lawrence wasn't allowed to hit free agency, which would have definitely led to a bidding war for the All-Pro pass rusher's services.
The deadline to convert the franchise tag to a long-term deal is about a month away, which gives the Dallas Cowboys front office plenty of time to get a deal done with Lawrence.
If the Dallas Cowboys were to get an extension done, with some creative structuring of the contract they could cut his salary cap figure. If the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him again during the 2019 offseason, which is a real possibility, his guaranteed contract would be $20.4 million.
Let's look at Olivier Vernon's deal as a template for what DeMarcus Lawrence could get through a contract extension:
- In 2016, Vernon signed with the New York Giants in free agency a five-year, $85-million contract with $40-million guaranteed (47.1%) and a $20-million signing bonus.
- His year one cap figure was $13 million. A $1.75-million base salary, $7 million as a roster bonus, and $4 million as part of his prorated signing bonus that was spread out over the life of the contract.
Vernon had only one season with more than 10 sacks when he had 11.5 in his second year as a pro, but was consistently healthy. DeMarcus Lawrence had an elite season in 2017, but has had injury struggles throughout his career. 2017 was the first time he'd started all 16 games.
If you go to OverTheCap.com and look at the guaranteed portions of contracts for the top earning 4-3 defensive ends, you'll see that Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell and the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett are the only players that come close. Their guaranteed money is at or just over $30-million dollars.
Vernon's deal was an above market value contract at the time, but could be the range that Lawrence and his representatives are looking at to get Tank paid.
Through the franchise tag alone, we're talking about a minimum of $37.4-million guaranteed that could go to Lawrence over the next two years. That would be just under Vernon's guaranteed numbers, and though Vernon's contract was above market value, that is probably where Lawrence's deal will have to start.
You can thank the New York Giants for paying Vernon above market value, which is probably leading to some of the contract negotiation difficulties between the Dallas Cowboys and Lawrence's representatives.
With all of that said, here's what I'd estimate Lawrence's deal to look like if it were to get signed before July 16th, when franchise tags become official for the 2018 season.
5 years for $90 million, $18 million per year, with $44-million guaranteed, and a $24-million signing bonus.
That would make him the highest paid 4-3 defensive end in NFL history, and if 2017 is any sign of future production, he's well worth it.
That may seem like a rich contract, but considering that Zack Martin just got $40-million guaranteed to play a position that is not nearly as valued as EDGE, it makes sense that Lawrence would get more.
The Dallas Cowboys may let him play this season on the franchise tag, but that would mean they will probably have to use it again next year to try to get a long-term deal negotiated with him in the 2019 off-season.
The sooner they get a deal done with Tank, the better as his play will only drive his contract up.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Dak Prescott is headed for a big payday. Remember, before the final eight games of the 2017 season, Prescott had led the Cowboys to an 18-6 record over his first 24 games. His 22-10 record, which includes the offense's late season meltdown, is still pretty impressive during a quarterback's first two years in the NFL.
Only one quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger had more wins in their first two seasons than Dak Prescott's 22: Russell Wilson. And we know the kind of defense the Seattle Seahawks were working with at the time.
Dak Prescott had a terrible second half of 2017, as did the rest of the offense, but don't let that cloud your judgment of what kind of player he is. Remember, in his rookie season he had the third highest passer rating behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan at 104.9.
Over the first eight games of 2017, his passer rating was 97.9 and he had a 16:4 touchdown to interception ratio. That includes the 68.8 passer rating in Denver when the entire team fell flat in the week two destruction at the hands of the Broncos.
He's a good quarterback and in 2018 he'll assuage all your concerns. Here's what I had to say about Dak Prescott's 2018 season.
Looking to the 2019 season, the time when 2016 rookies can begin negotiating contract extensions, it's likely Dak Prescott will get some big money to make him the Cowboys quarterback for the next 10 years.
There's no telling how rich the deal will be at this point, but we can guess that it will be somewhere between Derek Carr's $125 million (32% guaranteed) and Matt Ryan's $150 million total value (63% guaranteed).
Year three for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys will be huge to determine just where that contract should fit. Best case scenario for the Cowboys is that Prescott plays lights out en route to a deep playoff run and they reward him with a very rich contract.
If 2018 creates more questions, then a 2020 franchise tag could be in Prescott's future.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
With approximately $14 million in space this year and $50 million available to them in the 2019 salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys have the financial flexibility to hand out some long-term deals to some of their homegrown players.
As we know, this is the Dallas Cowboys' standard operating procedure: Draft well and then pay those draftees who earn a second contract. DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott have earned that second contract. The only question is, when will they get signed?
Dak Prescott’s Next Contract Looms Over Cowboys’ Financial Future
Even though his rookie contract goes through 2019, Quarterback Dak Prescott's next deal is already one of the key issues facing the Dallas Cowboys. Preparing for that second contract, which could highly expensive, is critical as the team deals with the rest of the roster and prepares for the future.
As a fourth-round pick Prescott's rookie deal is delightfully cheap. He counts just $726k and $816k against the salary cap over the next two seasons. You could hardly ask for better from a guy whose already been to a Pro Bowl.
But this financial grace period has a rapidly approaching end date. Dallas will soon have to pay Dak the standard for NFL quarterbacks, and the difference is staggering.
Consider what Jimmy Garoppolo just got from the 49ers; $137.5 million over five years. That's an average of $27.5 million per season.
And think about this; while Garoppolo may look like the second coming right now, he still hasn't accomplished what Dak Prescott already has.
Prescott has taken his team to the playoffs. He's gone to the Pro Bowl. His career passer rating puts him in the Top 10, between Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, on the NFL's all-time list.
Yes, last year was a step backward. But if Dak gets back to rookie form, and there's plenty of reason to think he will, then he will be able to use Garoppolo's deal as the floor in negotiations.
The scary reality here is that the Cowboys will no sooner get out from under Tony Romo's big contract then they probably have to get into a new one with Prescott. The last Romo's dead money, $8.9 million, finally drops off after 2018.
We know how Romo's cap hits, both while still playing and even after his release, have limited the Cowboys in free agency. That is an unnerving prospect for the future once Dak Prescott gets his next deal.
That's why you see the Cowboys eating all of Dez Bryant's dead money now. That's why they're potentially relying on so many recent draft picks like Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Connor Williams and Michael Gallup to take on big roles for the next 3-4 years at their inexpensive rookie salaries.
That's why Cole Beasley (2019 free agent) probably won't be back next season, or why Sean Lee ($7 million cap relief) could easily be a cap casualty next year.
Clearly, Prescott's next contract hangs over everything.
Of course, nothing is certain. Prescott's sophomore slump may devolve into something more, and the conversation could quickly change.
But Dak doesn't have to be better than ever to earn the big money. He only has to get back to his rookie form; just do what he's already done.
With the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott hopefully back to their 2016 form and availability, Prescott should have the cushion to be the kind of QB that he was in that 13-3 season. And if he can get the Cowboys one step closer in the playoffs, such as an NFC Championship Game appearance, then Dallas will have no choice but to commit long-term.
While what the Niners gave Jimmy Garoppolo could be considered asinine for the lack of actual accomplishment so far, that doesn't matter in terms of market value. The bar has been raised, and Dak won't have to do much to clear it.
You know that Jerry and Stephen Jones see this as well as anybody, and every move the Cowboys make now is done with Dak's future deal in mind. That's the reality for any NFL team; dealing with the imbalance in QB compensation compared to the rest of the league.
Even if it's still two years away, they have to prepare for it as if it's guaranteed. Given what other QBs like Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Stafford are making right now, Dak doesn't have to accomplish much more to make it happen.
Jimmy Johnson Could Be Next Cowboys Ring of Honor Inductee
According to reports, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jimmy Johnson may finally be joining the team's Ring of Honor.
Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram reported this morning, per a source, that Johnson could be among the next group of inductees to the franchise's version of the Hall of Fame.
The other potential candidates mentioned were former scouting guru Gil Brandt from the Tom Landry era and Tight End Jay Novacek, who won three Super Bowls in Dallas in the 1990s.
Novacek would join Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Charles Haley, and Darren Woodson as Ring of Honor members acquired during Jimmy Johnson's brief but historic run as Cowboys coach.
It is that heavy presence of Johnson's players in the Ring, not to mention the three championships that crew won from 1992-1995, that has long merited Jimmy's inclusion in the Cowboys' most exclusive club.
Jimmy was only personally on had for two of three titles, but even that ties him with Tom Landry for Super Bowl wins in Cowboys history. And as many would argue, that 1995 championship team was still running on what Johnson put together.
Jimmy's place among the Cowboys' greatest contributors is irrefutable. But whether he'd ever get into the Ring of Honor has always been questioned due to his contentious breakup with team Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones.
Johnson left the Cowboys after the 1993 championship season as he and Jones could no longer have a working relationship. Jerry's bitterness over the credit that Jimmy got for building the 90s dynasty, and Jimmy's refusal to pass any of that along to his Jones, led to Johnson's resignation as egos drove a wedge between friends.
Time appears to have healed the wounds, for the most part. As pictured above, Jimmy was in attendance for Jerry's 2017 Hall of Fame induction and public comments between them have become far more cordial in recent years.
At ages 75 and 74, respectively, Jerry and Jimmy should close this book while they still can. There is no better way to do than by Johnson taking his rightful place in the Ring of Honor.
Not only will that move bring a resolution to their story, but it will also help Jimmy in his pursuit of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to be recognized on the team level.
Jimmy Johnson belongs with Troy, Emmitt, Playmaker, and the rest who he brought together. He was responsible for the most successful era of Dallas Cowboys football in the team's history. He also provided the catchphrase that has endured for almost 30 years now, "how 'bout 'dem Cowboys?"
You can't tell the story of the Dallas Cowboys without Jimmy Johnson. It's time to give his chapter a happy ending.
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