The Dallas Cowboys need to decide if they want to keep veteran Offensive Tackle Cameron Fleming in 2020 despite a significant jump in his salary cap hit. Could the presence of Brandon Knight, a rising gem from their 2019 undrafted free agents, allow Dallas to save some cap dollars by making him the new swing tackle?
Cam Fleming counted just around $2.2 million against the cap last year. If he’s still on the roster in 2020, that number more than doubles to roughly $5.2 million. Dallas would only have $750k in dead money if they decide not to retain Fleming.
That decision isn’t just about money, though. Fleming has been a reliable backup for two years and has proven he can play the all-important position at left tackle, which is a critical factor in this discussion. It’s an area where Brandon Knight hasn’t yet shown what he can do.
Knight got some playing time last year due when both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins were out with injuries. He played right tackle, the same spot he played during his entire college career at Indiana, while Fleming manned the left side.
While Brandon played well during his brief appearances in 2019, was it enough to earn the Cowboys’ trust for more responsibility next season?
The left tackle question is the real issue. But even if Dallas doesn’t believe that Knight is suited for that role, they could go with a two-man team of backups between him and fellow prospect Mitch Hyatt.
Hyatt, also undrafted last year, was a two-time champion at left tackle for the Clemson Tigers. He just spent the last season on the Cowboys’ practice squad, hopefully getting the physical development needed to compete in the NFL.
You might be thinking, “just bring Fleming to camp and then cut him if the young guys can play.” And in fairness, that may be exactly what the Cowboys decide to do.
But the problem with that strategy is that you don’t get to use those cap savings now, and Dallas doesn’t have many easy ways to create addition cap space in 2020. Other than cutting Tyrone Crawford, losing Fleming is one of their next-best moves with $4.4 million in relief.
That’s money that can help fund the re-signings of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, and other more valuable assets.
That list is why this is even a topic really. There have been seasons where paying a swing tackle $5.2 million wouldn’t be a problem but 2020 may not be one of them given all of the other needs.
One factor in the Cowboys’ decision-making process that we’re not privy to is how these young players have performed in practice. Did Brandon Knight get looks at left tackle last year? How did they go?
What about Mitch Hyatt? Did he develop enough that he could compete for the job?
All we can confirm is that Cameron Fleming is capable of playing the left tackle spot, having done it for both the Cowboys and Patriots in 26 regular-season starts and some playoff games for New England.
With starter Tyron Smith missing three games in each of the last four years this is not a backup position that can be taken lightly. We remember what happened in the infamous “Chaz Green Game,” which is what led to Cam Fleming being brought in to begin with.
I know I keep saying this lately, but this is just another roster-building dilemma the Cowboys are faced with in 2020. Can they afford to lean on veteran security or will finances force them to trust in their younger prospects?
If there’s any belief that Brandon Knight can handle playing left tackle, he just might be your swing tackle next year over Cam Fleming.