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.
Is 2019 Wide Receiver Group Best Dak Prescott Has Worked With?
Dak Prescott will be leading the Dallas Cowboys offense for the fourth consecutive year in what has been a very unlikely career. In three seasons, he's led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles and one playoff win. He's done so with quality offenses, starting by a strong offensive line and an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliott. During his career in Dallas he's had some solid receivers, but he hasn't played with a group as strong as the one he'll have in the upcoming 2019 season.
This year's starters will be headlined by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Although there's many other intriguing players to watch at the position, those three are the presumed starting three.
Despite the big debate among fans and analysts, Prescott has been able to win games for this football team. Perhaps his worst came at the beginning of last season, when the team's plan of not having a WR1 backfired terribly.
In the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, Dak averaged only 202 yards per game. In that span he threw for less than 200 yards in four games. Once the team traded for Cooper, that average rose all the way up to 274 yards per game. He threw for less than 200 yards in only one occasion since then.
Michael Gallup is poised for a breakout season after a rookie season in which he improved every week. The Cowboys' 2018 third-round pick didn't get as much playing time at the beginning of the season as he fought for snaps with Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin among others. In the postseason, Gallup caught six passes for 119 yards. He still has a long way to go, but the talent is clearly there.
As for Randall Cobb, many fans have doubts. He's coming in to replace Cole Beasley, who was such an effective slot wide receiver. Cobb's style will likely be different, and although he might not be as good at shaking defenders off as ol' #11, he'll be more of a downfield threat than Beasley.
Comparing this starting group to the ones from prior years, it really seems like the best Dak Prescott has worked with. During his first couple of years in the league, Dak played with a Dez Bryant that (like it or not) wasn't anywhere close to his peak. 2016-2017 Dez wasn't on last year's Amari Cooper's level. Williams had his moments, but wasn't consistent and was well-known as a body-catcher.
This year's group has its question marks, that's for sure. Randall Cobb hasn't played a full season since 2015 due to injuries and Michael Gallup doesn't have a ton of experience and is yet to breakout. Even still, it seems like Prescott will have a great group of pass-catchers to help him lead the Cowboys to another NFC East title. It'll be an interesting fourth year for the young Cowboys quarterback. It's definitely good to see he'll have help.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be bringing back the same key trip of players at offensive tackle from last year. But with talk that 2019 could be La'el Collins' last season in Dallas, will we see signs that the Cowboys are preparing for future changes in how they handle the position in this year's training camp?
With Tyron Smith as an All-Pro fixture at left tackle, and Cameron Fleming re-signed this offseason to be the swing tackle, the intrigue swirls around Collins and his impending free agency in 2020. If the Cowboys have no intention of paying La'el what he can command on the open market, what might they do now to lay the groundwork for Collins' exit?
Here's a quick look at the projected OT depth chart for 2019 camp:
- Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- Cam Fleming, Jake Campos
- Mitch Hyatt, Derrick Puni, Brandon Knight
As was just said, the returning top three are locked in to those spots. Campos is a carryover from last year's practice squad, so that experience gives him a potential edge over the three undrafted rookies.
Back to the top, though, and this situation with La'el Collins. If Dallas had Collins locked up for years to come, they would likely only keep the two starters and Fleming as a backup. A fourth OT is unlikely to be active on game days, and they have Guard Connor Williams' college experience as a tackle in case of an emergency.
If the Cowboys are truly thinking that La'el won't be back in 2020, perhaps they use a roster spot now to hang on to a player who they value for depth next year.
This is where undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt becomes an intriguing figure in this 2019 camp. He comes from a championship college program at Clemson and was projected as a late-round pick this year. Dallas made him a priority free agent signing after the draft.
Of course, Campos, Knight, or Puni have the potential to make some noise as well. But Hyatt would seem to have the most upside of the group, and Dallas might be willing to consider him as a 2020 swing tackle option if he can hit the ground running in camp this year.
Cam Fleming is also going to need to have a strong camp to help the Cowboys' in their strategy. Letting Collins go would be predicated on their comfort level with Fleming as the right tackle next year. If he struggles now, then doesn't get much playing time in the regular season, that would likely shake their confidence.
The final result of all this talk could be that La'el Collins and Dallas actually do figure out a way to continue their relationship. But when the Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of this last draft it felt like a future-pointed move, with Collins' projected departure the likely impetus for the investment.
What we may wind up seeing is McGovern taking over at left guard and allowing Connor Williams to replace Collins at tackle. But that's a discussion better saved for next offseason.
You can read more about La'el Collins impending free agency in this recent article by our own Kevin Brady. A few weeks back, I also discussed the idea that Dallas should trade Collins now rather than lose him as a free agent next year.
For now, the offensive tackles in 2019 should have continuity and stability. But if we really pay attention in this training camp and preseason, we may see signs of what the Cowboys are planning to do at the position in the coming years.
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Randall Cobb Will Be a Different Slot WR for Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys signing Randall Cobb might just be the most underrated move of their offseason. For less than five million dollars, they got an experienced wide receiver who is only 28 years old. The former Green Bay Packer has had a solid career wearing green and yellow and now gets the chance to play with the Cowboys' colors. But what can we expect from the veteran wideout?
There are some players who are absolute locks to make the 53-man roster and Cobb is one of them. That much is clear. On the depth chart, he probably sits behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who will likely be the number one and number two receivers, respectively.
With Cole Beasley departing to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, Cobb is expected to take his place as the offense's starting slot receiver. Cowboys Nation knows very well just how good Beasley was at playing in the slot. His ability to shake defenders off was really impressive and his hands were reliable. However, we might see something different from Cobb.
Yes, it all points toward him playing the same position, but don't expect him to be a Beasley 2.0. This is of course, not a bad thing. Something fans consistently complained about Scott Linehan's offense were the short routes receivers had to run. In Cobb's short time with the Cowboys, we're seeing deeper routes even out of the slot position.
Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com wrote: "the ball to Cobb even playing out of the slot is further down the field. We hadn’t seen that from Cole Beasley and visually it looks different."
This should be exciting for Cowboys fans, specially considering all the positive reviews on new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. What we see from Randall Cobb in 2019 could be very different from what we had seen from Beasley in prior years.
It's also worth mentioning that word is Cobb has quickly developed an important chemistry with his new quarterback, Dak Prescott. Beasley was very important in Prescott's rookie season, when he averaged 52.1 yards per game and accounted for five touchdowns.
While Beasley was an important receiver for Cowboys, he wasn't really known as a team leader. Cowboys reporter Lindsay Cash Draper wrote about Cobb's leadership skills will carry on to the team whether he's doing it intentionally or not. It's always good to have such presences out there on the training field to spark the team.
Randall Cobb won't be this team's #1 guy or anything like that, but he will surely contribute every week. When we look back to this offseason, I believe this signing will look like a great move by the Cowboys' front office.
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