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.
5. Doug Free –
2016 cap hit of $5.5 million
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
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.