The Dallas Cowboys head into the 2018 offseason with some questions to answer about their team, and some difficult decisions to make. While the offense was good, at times, throughout the 2017 season, especially when Tyron Smith was in the game, there was a glaring need for this team. A wide receiver who could stretch the field and open up the underneath throws for players like Jason Witten and Cole Beasley.
There are definitely some intriguing names in this year's draft class, but Will McClay & Co. usually looks to address team needs in free agency so they can go into the draft without having to select players based on needs.
Before we look at the potential wide receivers on the free agent market, let's talk briefly about some of the guys on the team first. We can assume Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Ryan Switzer will be on the roster in 2018.
- I don't think they are as down on Dez Bryant as much of Cowboys Nation.
- Terrance Williams' contract, according to Spotrac.com, is such that Dallas can't move on until next offseason. The Dallas Cowboys would take on $7-million-and-change in dead money if they were to release Williams this offseason.
- Switzer made some strides in the return game, and deserves a shot at a more substantial role in 2018.
- 2018 is the last year of Cole Beasley's deal and would get you $3.25 million dollars in savings against the 2018 cap, with only $1 million in dead money. With Switzer waiting in the wings, Bease could be the odd man out. That's another discussion for another time though.
As we look through wide receivers in free agency, it's important to note the Cowboys don't want to spend a lot of money in free agency. They also prefer to go after younger veterans with upside than veterans who are in the late part or past their prime.
Therefore, we can cross names like Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry off the list because of the money they'll command in free agency. Names like Mike Wallace can be crossed off the list as well because of age.
There are three guys who I think could fit what Dallas likes to do in free agency.
WR Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks
Paul Richardson will turn 26 this offseason, and he posted the best season of his career becoming a tremendous downfield threat for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
Richardson, who ran a 4.40 at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014, posted career highs in targets (80), receptions (44), yards (703), yards per reception (16), and touchdowns (6).
According to Spotrac.com, he could command an average annual salary of $6.5-million, which could be a little rich for Dallas. But for someone who has the downfield ability and the hands to match, it could also be a bargain for the potentially missing piece to the Cowboys offense.
WR Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
After a couple of sub-par seasons and difficulty staying on the field, Donte Moncrief is the polar opposite of Richardson.
While Richardson posted career highs across the board, Moncrief suffered the worst season of his career when it comes to receptions and touchdowns. He did have a career best 15 yards per reception this year, however.
Some of his struggles could be related to playing with Jacoby Brissett in 2017, and not having a healthy Andrew Luck in 2016. His best season was 2015, when he posted 64 receptions on 105 targets for 733 yards and six touchdowns.
Like Richardson, Moncrief flashed 4.40 speed at the combine at age 20, and will be only 25 in August. After a couple of sub-par seasons, his price tag shouldn't keep this front office from taking a look at him.
WR Albert Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs
Another intriguing name is Albert Wilson of the Kansas City Chiefs, who put up career bests in every receiving category except yards per reception. He averaged 13.2 in 2017, and averaged 16.3 his rookie season in 2014.
After only playing in 13 games for the Chiefs, he had three touchdowns and 554 receiving yards for the season, which were good for third on the team behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
Wilson ran a 4.43 at the NFL Combine and, like Moncrief, shouldn't command a ton of money on the free agent market.
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The Dallas Cowboys won't make a big splash in the wide receiver pool of free agency, and I tend to think they won't draft a wide receiver early in the draft either. They need to add some speed to the roster to put more pressure on opposing defenses.
One of these three guys could be the missing piece to an elite running game and efficient passing game.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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