The Dallas Cowboys have undergone a significant youth movement these last few years. Will that trend continue in 2019, perhaps causing some of our veteran players to lose their roster spots to younger prospects?
We already saw Wide Receiver Allen Hurns get the boot a few days ago, with $5 million in salary cap savings the major reason for the decision. Cap relief could be a major factor for some other players on the team right now as well.
Let's start with one who may come as a bit of a surprise.
Jeff Heath, S
Even if Heath were to lose his starting spot to free agent addition George Iloka, it's generally assumed that he'd still be on the team as a versatile, experienced backup and special teams ace. But this is situation where money could force the Cowboys' hand.
Jeff counts $2.95 million against the 2019 cap. If released, Dallas gets back $2.5 million in relief.
With contract extensions being talked about for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones, every bit of cap space helps. Could the Cowboys decide that Heath is too expensive for a backup role?
Dallas has some young options at safety in Kavon Frazier, Darian Thompson, and Donovan Wilson. Thompson actually started all 16 games for the Giants in 2017, so the Cowboys could be comfortable with him as their primary backup.
Of course, Heath may not losing his starting job at all. Iloka still has to come in and take it from him, but we expect an open competition that he has a very good shot at winning.
Ideally, Dallas would hang on to Jeff Heath this year even as a reserve. But with several younger, cheaper players behind him, it may be hard to justify come decision time.
Tavon Austin, WR
Money won't be the issue if Austin gets cuts. He only counts $1.3 million against the 2019 cap as is, and cutting him saves just $820k of that.
Tavon's concern are the roster limits, 46 active players on game days and 53 players overall. Can he offer enough value to justify being part of the team?
Rookie RB Tony Pollard will be a major factor in Austin's survival. He was a standout kick returner in college and has the receiving skills to steal Tavon's offensive looks.
Dallas could easily keep both of them on the 53, as security against each other, but could both be active for games? Pollard certainly will be as the backup RB, but Austin may not have much work at WR anymore.
The Cowboys would likely love to have both of them for security, and especially if Austin is the better punt returner. But roster math may not allow for it, and Tavon's only hope at that point will be that Pollard is too much of a rookie to be trusted.
Tyrone Crawford, DL
I've written more about Tyrone Crawford's bad contract and the need to shed it the last few years than probably most other Cowboys topics. I was surprised he made it through the offseason, but I still think Dallas could dump him before the regular season.
Crawford counts a whopping $10.1 million against the 2019 cap. Dallas can get back $7 million of that this year if he's released, which is more than they saved by cutting Allen Hurns. It's a big chunk of change to go towards the aforementioned contract extensions for star players.
Also hurting Crawford's job security is his lack of a clearly defined role this year. Dallas has loaded up on talent at both DE and DT, mitigating the need for Tyrone's versatility.
I think Dallas has held on to Tyrone so far to protect themselves against injuries to those four players. But if we get to final cuts and everyone is on track to play Week One, Crawford just seems too expensive for the limited role he'd now have.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, G
While he was a solid performer in his eight starts last year, Su'a-Filo now faces the numbers crunch with Travis Frederick's return and the drafting of Connor McGovern. It may not allow the Cowboys to keep him in 2019.
With Connor Williams the clear starter at left guard now and Joe Looney dropping back into a reserve role, Su'a-Filo is hoping that Dallas won't trust the rookie McGovern to play this year. But that seems unlikely given the 3rd-round pick the Cowboys spent to acquire him.
Xavier's best shot at making the team might be if a team tries to pick up Joe Looney in a trade. Looney could be a starting center somewhere in the NFL, and that would open up a roster spot.
But even that scenario doesn't guarantee anything for Su'a-Filo. He would need for McGovern to prove himself as a backup center, otherwise Dallas might have to keep Adam Redmond for that role and still push Xavier off the roster.
Maybe Dallas could move Su'a-Filo to a team who needs some depth at guard. But it's looking difficult for him to stick around here in 2019 given the current numbers.
Chris Jones, P
Jones has been here since 2011 and been one of the top strategic punters in the game, limiting returns with his directional accuracy. But he just turned 30 this month, and had a down year in 2018 with his overall efficiency.
Dallas has Kasey Redfern here right now as a backup. He likely won't be more than a camp leg, but we thought the same thing about Brett Maher last year. It was shocking when Dan Bailey wound up being part of final cuts, but his poor season in Minnesota proved the Cowboys knew what they were doing.
Dallas could save $1.8 million by cutting Jones but about $500k of that would go to Redfern as the replacement. Still, that's $1.3 million to go towards other financial goals.
I doubt anything happens here. Jones is still a capable punter and is the holder on field goals, which he's handled very well for some time now. Keeping that chemistry intact between Jones and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur is important for Brett Maher's success at kicker this year.
Still, surprising things can happen. It certainly did last year with Dan Bailey, so we can't be certain about Chris Jones at punter in 2019.