This article wasn't as easy to write as I thought it would be. That's a good thing.
The Cowboys front office deserves a lot of credit for cleaning up its act when it comes to player salaries. Over the last few years they've gotten away from rewarding aging veterans for play and overspending in free agency. Granted, it has made the offseason a little less exciting. The end results, though, will make Cowboys fans very happy.
So, here are the five worst contracts on the 2016 Dallas Cowboys. As you'll see, a few of them really aren't that bad.
(All salary cap and contract info taken from OverTheCap.com)
5. Doug Free -
2016 cap hit of $5.5 million
Doug Free has the 11th-highest salary for a right tackle in the NFL. That's not terrible, but it's a little much given his liabilities in pass protection and frequency of penalties.
Run blocking is where Free makes the money tolerable. He is one of the better tackles in the NFL at making running lanes and, even in his early thirties, can still get out in space and be effective.
As said at the outset, a few of these would be reaches. Doug Free's deal isn't egregious and some might even argue it's fair given his durability and experience. Still, at $5.5 million, Free has the 8th-highest cap hit of any player on the 2016 Cowboys. That's clearly out of line with where he ranks among the team's best players.
4. Benson Mayowa -
2016 cap hit of $1.8 million
I wrote far more about Benson Mayowa's contract a few days ago, but to summarize: the Cowboys are paying this free agent addition on faith over substance. That is always dangerous.
Benson Mayowa's new three-year deal averages $2.75 million per year. This is a kid who has two career sacks in the last two years in Oakland. He's also played very little 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, being used as a 3-4 outside linebacker as a Raider.
Despite all this, Dallas is paying him more in 2016 than any of their other defensive ends. It's even more than they paid a proven veteran like Jeremy Mincey ($1.5M/year) to join the team in 2014.
If Mayowa produces, then obviously the contract will be a bargain and a shrewd, praiseworthy move. However, if Mayowa doesn't start while DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are suspended, the scouting job comes under fire.
3. Tony Romo -
2016 cap hit of $20.8 million
There's nothing wrong with Tony Romo's deal, not in a broad scope. His average salary is 17th-highest in the NFL; far lower than his ranking among the game's best quarterbacks.
The problem with Tony's contract is where we are in the timeline and the heavy toll it takes on the cap. Comparatively, Tony Romo's 2016 cap hit is about $1 million more than Aaron Rodgers' and $6 million more than Tom Brady's.
Dallas has created its own monster, so to speak, by restructuring Romo's contract several times in the past. They've limited their own flexibility and leverage by pushing guaranteed money into the later years of the deal. If they've ever had the desire to get out from under Romo's deal, or even discuss a pay cut, the Cowboys front office has little to bring to the negotiating table.
Signing big, long-term deals means one of two things. One, you accept that the later years of the contract are going to be rough on the salary cap. Two, you structure and preserve the deal with the intention of releasing that player when his cap hit exceeds his performance. Dallas has forced themselves into that first option.
2. Tyrone Crawford -
2016 cap hit of $4.35 million
The reverse of Romo's deal; Tyrone Crawford's 2016 hit isn't bad but there are still five years to go on the contract. It's next year when things could get really hairy.
Crawford's cap hit jumps up to $10 million in 2017 and will stay around the $9-$10 mark through 2020. Dallas won't get any cap relief by releasing Crawford until 2018 and even then, it will be meager. 2019 is the first year that they can get out from under the contract without a significant penalty.
Dallas paid Tyrone Crawford last year on the faith that he would be a breakout star in their 4-3 scheme. Unfortunately, a season-long shoulder injury limited his effectiveness. He enters 2016 as the team's second-highest paid defensive player after Brandon Carr (don't worry, we'll get to him in a minute).
As I wrote about in May, Tyrone Crawford has to produce immediately. He has the 7th-highest salary among 4-3 defensive tackles, making slightly less than the Bengals' Geno Atkins. He will likely be the Cowboys' most expensive defender next year. The time for excuses and potential is over.
1. Brandon Carr -
2016 cap hit of $10.2 million
Even after taking a pay cut, Brandon Carr remains the team's worst contract. It's not even close; Carr's is the only deal that you can really say is irrefutably bad.
While better than the $13 million he would've counted before the negotiation, Carr's cap hit is just below Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the 2016 Cowboys. He is the 10th-highest paid cornerback in the NFL.
Consider that; Carr has a top-10 salary at his position and he may not even start in 2016. It's very possible that he will be Dallas' third corner behind Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne this year.
Carr is a remnant of the past mistakes we mentioned at the outset.
Dallas had to overpay in 2012 when Carr was the best of a weak free agent class. The Cowboys made matters worse a year later by switching defensive schemes to one less suited to his talents.
While Brandon Carr has been reliable, both in terms of health and in being a high-character teammate, his actual play has never lived up to his contract. Thankfully, this is the last season that Dallas has to live with the mistake.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Star Blog2 weeks ago
What if Dak Prescott isn’t Dallas’ Franchise QB?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
4 Decisions That Could Shape Cowboys 2018 Season
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Ex-Giants Coach Ben McAdoo Talks Trash About Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Tavon Austin: “Green Means Go” for Cowboys Newest Play Maker
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
6 Cowboys Players Primed To Make Their First Pro Bowl
Star Blog7 days ago
Would Trading La’el Collins for Earl Thomas Make Sense?
Star Blog5 days ago
True or False: Sifting Through the Cowboys Trade Rumors
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Kris Richard Allows Cowboys to be Patient on Earl Thomas