At first glance, the idea of the Dallas Cowboys trading for Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown sounds pretty far-fetched. But if you really start to look at, Dallas is in a better position to add the Steelers disgruntled star receiver than most teams. It makes you wonder if the Cowboys may not try to make a move for Brown this offseason.
You might balk at this idea immediately when you remember that Dallas has to re-sign DE DeMarcus Lawrence and that WR Amari Cooper's cap hit is going to jump by about $13 million in 2019. And if the Cowboys are serious about getting an extension done with QB Dak Prescott, then that further complicates matters.
But 2019 is a new reality for the Dallas Cowboys when it comes to the salary cap. You're not used to this team having financial flexibility, but their recent youth movement and refusal to give big contracts to aging stars has changed the fiscal landscape.
Depending on where you look, the Cowboys are projected to have anywhere from $48 to $54 million in cap space next year. And that includes the salary jumps for Cooper, Byron Jones, and any other players currently under contract.
But before we get into whether or not adding Antonio Brown works financially, let's consider if the Cowboys really need him.
Dallas made a big move at WR last season, sending their 2019 first-round pick to the Raiders for Amari Cooper. With Dallas making the playoffs and Cooper playing in the Pro Bowl this Sunday, there's little you can say against the trade now.
Cooper and second-year stud Michael Gallup will anchor the receiving corps next season. But now Dallas has to figure out what to do with Cole Beasley, who turns 30 this year and has recently been voicing his displeasure with how much he's used in the Cowboys offense.
While Cole did finish the year with the third-most targets on the team, he was hardly utilized in the playoffs. Beasley was only thrown at five times out of 64 total passes in those two games; roughly 8% of the targets in the postseason.
Cole wants and, frankly, deserves more. And his frustration does make you wonder if there would be enough targets to satisfy Antonio Brown if he came to Dallas.
A big factor here is the change in offensive coordinator. Will the new OC, who every day appears closer to being Kellen Moore, open up the passing game?
Dallas was 21st in pass attempts in 2018 with 527 throws. The top team was, coincidentally, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They threw 689 passes last year.
Now, we're not saying that the Cowboys are going to suddenly turn into a pass-heavy offense. They still have Ezekiel Elliott and a lot invested in the run game, plus nobody expects Dak Prescott to suddenly turn into Drew Brees.
But if Dallas were to add Brown, they could add a player who is not only better than Cole Beasley but would rival Amari Cooper as the team's top receiver. Even though he turns 31 this year, Antonio can still dominate a game with the best of the them.
Michael Gallup isn't entitled to a starting role next year. Dallas could start Brown and Cooper and then bring in Gallup in 3WR sets, with the flexibility to move either Antonio or Amari into the slot. They could do a lot to keep defenses guessing with their top two receivers.
Remember, Tavon Austin is also a free agent. If he and Beasley both leave Dallas, the next best options are Allen Hurns, Noah Brown, and.... *gulp*.... Terrance Williams.
So yeah, the Cowboys could sure use Antonio Brown. If you liked what Amari Cooper's presence did to help open up the offense last year, imagine what having two guys of that caliber would do.
But can Dallas afford to do it?
First off, before we even get back into the salary cap, what about trading for Brown? What will the Steelers accept for him?
Well, Dallas was able to get Cooper for a first-round pick. And Amari, who turns just 25 this summer, is about six years younger than Brown.
However, Coooper was also struggling in Oakland. In fact, many felt that a first was far too generous given his recent play. Dallas took a big gamble that a change of scenery would do him good, and it paid off.
Brown may be unhappy in Pittsburgh but it hasn't stopped him from being one of the game's best receivers. In just 15 games last year, Antonio had nearly 1,300 receiving yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. He's still elite.
But at 31, the chance that his skills will start to decline is a major issue. And given the breakdown between Brown and the Steelers hierarchy, Pittsburgh doesn't have much leverage.
However, thanks to their solid finish to the season, Dallas' draft picks aren't as attractive as they were last October. Their original 2019 picks will now be toward the end of each round.
Given that, Pittsburgh may not want even the Cowboys' second-round pick. They also probably wouldn't take the 2020 first-round pick; the Steelers will want some immediate return to help them get back to the playoffs next season.
So no, Dallas and Pittsburgh may not make great trade partners there. And that might settle this issue before anything relevant to the Cowboys' salary cap.
But let's just play with the possibility that the teams could work out a trade. How would Dallas fit Brown's contract into their salary cap?
For this hypothetical, we'll ballpark the Cowboys' 2019 cap space at $50 million.
If Dallas were to trade for Antonio Brown, they would only be responsible for the base salary and unpaid bonuses in his deal. For 2019, that would be a $12.6 million salary and a $2.5 million roster bonus for a total $15.1 million salary cap hit.
Re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence will likely have a first-year cost of close to $20 million. That's also about what it would cost to give him the franchise tag again, so the Cowboys may be able to negotiate that down a bit through a long-term contract. But still, it's going to be a lot.
So let's just knock our cap space down to $30 million after Tank gets paid. The Cowboys won't need a lot to pay their 2019 rookie pool given they don't have a first-round pick. It shouldn't take more than about $4 million.
Now, let's talk Dak Prescott's extension. Dallas may be committed to him as their QB of the future, but it doesn't necessarily mean they have to give him a new deal now. They may want to see how Prescott responds to a new offense and performs in the final year of his rookie deal before making a franchise-altering decision.
Even if Dallas does extend Prescott, they can take steps bring that first year cap hit down tremendously. An immediate restructure could put a lot of money back into the salary cap, which would make sense at this point in the contract.
Still, we see how quickly that cap space dried up. Does that means Dallas would be too cash-strapped to make a play for Antonio Brown?
The Cowboys could also make space for Brown with some cap-saving moves elsewhere on the roster. The easiest one would be releasing Sean Lee, which clears $7 million in cap space in 2019. With Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch now the key players at linebacker, this one doesn't hurt that much.
Another $5.9 million could come from releasing veteran Tyrone Crawford. He's a valuable member of the defensive line, but Dallas has a lot of interesting young players at both DE and tackle. The money could be more valuable than the player at this point.
What about getting some money back at receiver, since that's what you'd be adding? Allen Hurns could be released for $5 million off the cap, and Terrance Williams for another $2.25 million.
Those four moves just put another $20 million into the 2019 salary cap. That would pay for Antonio Brown and give you space to do other work on the roster, or perhaps even give you the option to keep Crawford.
Of course, all of this is speculation and a loose look at the financial ramifications. And as we said, Pittsburgh may have not interest in the draft picks that Dallas can offer.
But not every team has the cap space to take on Antonio Brown, or the willingness to take a risk on a player whose had trouble making friends at his last job. The Cowboys have both, and adding a guy like Brown could be what they need to push the offense and the team to Super Bowl contention.
I'm not saying it's happening or even all that probable.
But clearly, it's possible.
Should Cowboys Address TE Need Via Free Agency?
A season after Jason Witten's retirement, the Dallas Cowboys still have a need at tight end. Replacing a future Hall of Famer is no easy feat so it's only logical that it would take longer than a season to feel good about who's in at tight end.
The Cowboys currently have two tight ends who could be pretty serviceable going forward. Fourth round pick Dalton Schultz did a very solid job as the team's TE2, specially toward the second half of the season. He turned into a pretty good run blocker and despite only racking up 116 yards in 12 catches, he's a guy the Cowboys' offense could use even more in the future.
Also on the team is Blake Jarwin, who functioned as the Cowboys' main tight end for most of 2018. His performance against the New York Giants in week 17 made us wonder whether or not he could be an important target on the Cowboys' offense.
These two could very well have more in them than what we've seen. With a new offensive coordinator in town, tight end is a position the Cowboys could start using way more. As Bobby Belt pointed out on Twitter a few weeks ago, Scott Linehan's offense doesn't benefit tight ends very much. Before we give a verdict on what Schultz and Jarwin can do, I'd like to see them work with Kellen Moore's offense.
One thing you consistently see when Scott Linehan takes over an offense is a drop in the starting tight end's production. Randy McMichael, Byron Chamberlain, and Jason Witten all saw drops in yards per catch, receptions per game, and yards per game once Linehan took over.
Here's the thing. If the Cowboys are not taking a tight end in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, are they really upgrading what they already have? I'm not sure we'll be convinced about that if they draft a player for the position until the third or fourth round. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating for the Cowboys drafting a TE in the second round, because I believe there are more pressing needs on the team. However, signing a veteran free agent might be the better option for upgrading the position.
Should a veteran TE be an option?
This year, there are quite a few interesting names in the tight end market. Veterans such as Jared Cook, Tyler Eifert and even Antonio Gates will be looking for a new team pretty soon. I know, that would be "getting older." But it could also mean getting better. Building a solid TE committee with a veteran leading Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz could be the way to go for this football team.
Eifert is a great tight end... when he's on the field. Durability is his biggest weakness, as he hasn't played more than 10 games since 2016. The Cowboys could take a risk on him and constantly rotate him with Jarwin and Schultz. It may be a huge risk, but it could pay off big time. If the price is right, Eifert should be targeted by the front office.
The 2018 Oakland Raiders had a season to forget, winning only four games. Even still, Jared Cook's season was impressive. He finished the year with 896 yards and multiple 100-yard games. The biggest issue with Cook is his age. He turns 32 in April. But hey, he's literally coming off from a career year.
Jesse James is a younger guy who could also be worth it. He's not an a potent receiver, but he gets it done in the passing game and is one hell of a blocker. James could be a legit, cheaper option for the Cowboys in free agency.
There are a lot of names out there the front office could look at. Charles Clay was just released by the Buffalo Bills and Nick Boyle will be looking for new job after new arrivals pushed him out of the Baltimore Ravens' roster just to mention a few names.
We'll see what the front office's plans are soon enough, but right now, I'd say tight end is a need the Dallas Cowboys should at least try to address in free agency instead of the NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Cornerback
Unlike other positions on their roster, cornerback appears ready to off the Dallas Cowboys stability in 2019. However, that doesn't mean the team can just ignore it this offseason. There are still a few decisions to be made.
Thanks to a shrewd move in April of last year, Dallas will be enjoying Byron Jones' services at a bargain. They picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract and will be paying him just $6.3 million next season.
That's a steal for a Pro Bowl corner, who generally make more than double that amount in a single year. But the Cowboys are still left the decision of whether or not to give Jones a long-term deal now or wait until he hits free agency in 2020.
It's easy to say that they should enjoy the discount and worry about it next year. But then you risk a second Pro Bowl trip and the lure of the open market. Byron's asking price could only go up.
Of course, Dallas could then also have the option of using the franchise tag.
Keep in mind that Jones will turn 27 this September. Dallas could decide that it makes sense to play through the rookie deal this year, franchise him in 2020, and then reassess when he's about to turn 29 years old.
If they give Byron a long-term deal now then they'll have to pay him like one of the top corners in football. It may be wise to wait.
Another decision facing the Cowboys is if they think they can improve at the second starting position. It was an up-and-down year for Chidobe Awuzie, but he was playing his best toward the end of the season. Dallas could hope that a second year with Kris Richard's coaching, and just more general growth for a third-year player, will elevate Awuzie's game.
However, with plenty of cap space to work with, Dallas could pursue a solid veteran option and then allow Awuzie to play the nickel role. It would not only perhaps improve the CB2 position but also bolster depth overall.
Speaking of depth, Anthony Brown returns for the final year of his rookie deal. While never spectacular, Brown has been a gem as a former sixth-round pick with 29 career starts. He brings exceptional value and may even compete with Awuzie for the starting job.
While arguably the team's best young corner in 2017, Jourdan Lewis comes into this season with a lot of uncertainty. He fell out of favor last season, perhaps for not fitting the physical style that Richard likes. But he did manage to snag the game-clinching interception in Dallas' upset win over the New Orleans Saints.
If a scheme mismatch is the issue, the Cowboys could look to trade Lewis this offseason. He still has two years left on his rookie deal and was considered a first-round prospect by some in 2017. A cornerback-needy club might have more use for him than Dallas seems to.
If they did move Jourdan, the Cowboys might turn to Donovan Olumba to fill out the depth chart. He was one of their surprising performers in last year's training camp and spent the year on the practice squad. At 6'2", he has the size that the team seems to be looking for now in its corners.
More than likely, Dallas will ride with this group in 2019 with no big changes. I do think a Lewis trade is possible, especially with the Cowboys short on draft picks this year. But don't expect any major cap space or draft capital to go at one of the team's more solid positions.
With all the other work Dallas needs done this offseason, a little stability at cornerback is a luxury.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Center
Even with Dez Bryant's release and Jason Witten's retirement, the loss of Travis Frederick last season may have been the most damaging to the Dallas Cowboys. The team looks forward to getting their All-Pro center back in 2019 while also having a reliable backup still under contract.
Just within the last few weeks, Frederick has provided encouraging updates on his status for next year. It looks like he'll be able to participate in all offseason activities, but the Cowboys would settle for Week One. There appears to be plenty of cushion for that to happen.
Travis' absence in 2018 was seen in various ways. Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times, second-most in all the league, after just 32 and 25 times the previous two seasons. Part of that is missing Frederick's blocking ability, but also the way he would assist with reading the defense and making pre-snap adjustments.
Dallas would've loved having Frederick out there to help Guard Connor Williams, who worked with Travis throughout the offseason only to lose him in late August. It was not an easy way for the rookie to start his career.
We also saw issues in the run game. Even while Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing, short-yardage situations weren't as easy as they used to be. The Rams were able to neutralize the Cowboys' rushing attack in Dallas' playoff loss, something that Frederick might have helped overcome.
This isn't saying that Joe Looney did a bad job. On the contrary, Looney was more than adequate and helped keep Dallas from suffering far greater damage without Frederick.
After Joe's work in 2018, Dallas won't blink at keeping him on the $1 million salary he's due next year. It's a bargain for a backup of his quality, and especially given his versatility as an option at guard as well.
Not only are Frederick and Looney locked in for 2019, but Dallas also still has backup Adam Redmond under contract through next season. He was added after final cuts last year to be Looney's backup and should return to at least help the team through July and August.
With these guys already in place, there's no reason to think that Dallas will give much attention to the center position during the offseason.
At most, a mid-round draft pick might be used on a player who could potentially replace Looney in 2020 as the backup. Joe's contract ends next season, and he could be competitive for starting jobs with other teams at that point.
With lots of other concerns throughout the roster, Dallas is fortunate to have so much security at center. All signs are positive on Travis Frederick's return, and that is a huge boost to the team as it looks to push forward from last year's playoff run.
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