Leading up to the March 9th start of NFL free agency, we will be looking at all Dallas Cowboys players under contract for 2017 and how much of the salary cap each position is taking up.
Cowboys Capology: Offensive Tackles
After 10 years of service in Dallas, Doug Free's time is close to ending. That end could come as soon as the next few weeks; Free is on the last year of his deal and Dallas can save $5 million in cap space if he's released. He's arguably the most attractive potential cap casualty on the roster.
If Free is released, how will Dallas address the right tackle position? They have some in-house options but also could look to the draft and free agency. We also can't dismiss the possibility that Free will return for one more year.
Before we dive into the specifics, let's look at the NFL's 2017 salary cap. The league announced that the cap would be set at $167 million for the upcoming season. Even though this is still a $10 million increase from last year, it's a few million short of what many were projecting.
Dallas Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap = $169.4 million
Now, using that number as our foundation, let's look at how much the Cowboys' offensive tackles are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.
As we discussed recently with Travis Frederick, Smith's contract is designed for annual restructuring to help the Cowboys' cap situation. Dallas has no intention of letting Tyron, one of the elite left tackles in football, leave the team anytime before his contract expires in 2023. They will keep moving money around freely because of that confidence.
Shortly after the Cowboys' playoff exit I wrote about how it was time to move on from Doug Free. Time hasn't softened my position one bit.
Releasing Free would create an instant cap saving of $5 million. Even if you have to spend all of that on his replacement, my belief is that player would give you more value for the money than Free is capable of at this point.
What's more, Dallas has two young prospects who've looked good in limited playing time. As we look at them next, consider the benefit of adding that $5 million to our spending pool. If you want the Cowboys to make those needed upgrades on defense, the money has to come from somewhere.
The 2015 third-round pick has flashed ability but been plagued by injury problems. He lost all of his rookie year to a hip problem. Last year he played early, starting in place of Tyron Smith in Weeks 3 and 4, but then going out with a foot problem and eventually going on IR for his back.
Taking a guy in the third round is no small thing. Other recent third-round picks for the Cowboys have been DeMarco Murray, Tyrone Crawford, Terrance Williams, J.J. Wilcox, and Maliek Collins. All of those players have been starters at some point, some as early as their rookie seasons.
Will Dallas put their faith in Chaz Green to replace Doug Free? If so, is Emmett Cleary enough of an insurance policy? Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts in figuring out this right tackle situation.
OT Emmett Cleary
After playing well in spot duty for Tyron Smith and starting Dallas' Week 17 finale, Cleary is an intriguing figure this offseason. We expect him to be in competition with Chaz Green, but the question is if they'll be vying for a backup role or the starting job at right tackle.
If Dallas does make Doug Free a cap casualty, will they trust either Cleary and Green enough to potentially take over? Have they shown enough to earn a shot at the job? We discuss this in more detail below.
Undrafted in 2016 and signed by the Arizona Cardinals, DeBord spent training camp and preseason with them until being released at first cuts. He then spent a few weeks on the New England Patriots' practice squad before finally ending up with the Cowboys, staying on their squad from late September through the end of the season.
DeBord's scouting report describes him as an athletic player with strength and technique issues. He was signed to a two-year futures contract in January, so Dallas must be interested in seeing where his development goes.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Offensive Tackle Cap Hit = $18.19 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 10.74%
Even after Tyron Smith's restructure the OT position takes up a good chunk of salary cap space. The only way that changes is if Dallas makes Doug Free a cap casualty.
As already mentioned, the ideal solution is to let Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary compete for the job. The winner would be your new right tackle and the loser would remain the primary backup and swing tackle. You'd clear the $5 million in space by cutting Free and not have to spend a dime of it on his replacement.
The draft is another option. Some have suggested that Dallas could use their first-round pick, given the solid value of taking offensive linemen in the later picks compared to other positions. Last year's 28th-overall pick counted $1.69 million against the cap as a rookie, so going that route would eliminate around 35% of what you saved by cutting Free.
If you're not confident in either Chaz Green or Emmett Cleary and want to commit draft resources to other positions, free agency is the other alternative. Dallas might be able to find a capable starter for about $2-$3 million; an older veteran who could provide a short-term answer.
The nice thing for Dallas is that the foundation trio of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin allow for them to take some chances at the other two spots. While you never want a weak link or liability, you don't have to invest heavily in all five positions to still have a dominant line. The superstar ability of your big three can help the other two to excel.
Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around
The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.
We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."
Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard
As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.
Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.
Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak
455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.
It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career: take care of the ball.
Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around
Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.
It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.
For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.
Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up
The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.
In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
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