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Cowboys 2018 Free Agency: What’s Left Before Market Opens?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - 5 Cowboys Players That Could Be Traded
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Free Agency market opens on Thursday, March 14th, at 4:00 p.m. With just six days left, the Dallas Cowboys have several moves they need to make to clear cap space and secure some of their own free agents before the new league year begins.

After franchising defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence on Tuesday, Dallas' cap space was almost entirely gone. They cleared up some on Wednesday by releasing DE Benson Mayowa, and now have roughly $4 million in available cap dollars.

Obviously, that's not much. That may not even fund your rookie class, so the Cowboys clearly have some cap-clearing work to do if they're going to have a productive offseason.

Thankfully, there are several moves at Dallas' disposal for adding some spending power. However, there also a few more expenses on the way if the Cowboys want to retain some of their current talent.

Before we get into all of the ways that salary cap space can be opened, let's deal with the free agents that Dallas will have to spend some money to keep.

David Irving

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving

Restricted Free Agents

The big issue here is David Irving, who is one of the most attractive defensive line prospects among this year's free agents. Thankfully, because he's only had three NFL seasons, David is only a restricted free agent and the Cowboys can use one of the RFA tenders to protect their asset.

The RFA tender amounts for 2018 are:

  • 1st-Round: $4.149 million
  • 2nd-Round: $2.914 million
  • Original Pick: $1.907 million

Because he was undrafted, David Irving won't be getting the lowest tender. It would be irrelevant, other than giving Dallas the option to match any contract offer he gets from another team.

If Dallas intends to use the RFA tender to dissuade other teams from trying to sign Irving, they will likely go with the highest 1st-round amount. That means if a team attempts to sign David and the Cowboys allow him to go, they would get a 1st-round pick back from his new team. Even for a guy with Irving's youth and upside, that is more than most team's would be willing to give up.

The 2nd-round tender is more interesting. A team could easily see Irving as someone who could help them more today, and perhaps even has more upside, than rookies they may acquire with that pick.

But that logic goes both ways. If teams think Irving is worth more than their 2nd-rounder, the Cowboys may feel the same way.

The most likely outcome here is that the Cowboys use the $4 million 1st-round tender to keep everyone else away from Irving and rent him for one more year at a relatively cheap salary. It will give them one more season to see how just much they like David and perhaps give him a long-term deal, or even the franchise tag, in the 2019 offseason.

As for fullback Keith Smith, the team's only other RFA, he is unlikely to get a tender given his position. Even the lowest $1.9 million option would be expensive for a fullback. I would expect Dallas to try to secure him with a simple two or three-year extension, paying a little less than $1 million per season.

Travis Frederick

Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick

Contract Restructuring: Offensive Line

So whether it's the 1st or 2nd-round tender, David Irving is going to eat up almost all of the Cowboys' remaining cap space. They will have to clear up room to do anything in free agency, and restructuring some of their veterans' contracts is the next move.

The easiest decision here is with center Travis Frederick. The All-Pro's 2018 cap hit is current at $13.2 million and the team can bring that down significantly with a restructure that could create up to around $7 million in new cap room.

Restructuring is all about sacrificing future flexibility for the present. Dallas would be increasing the dead money penalties in the later years of Frederick's deal for immediate spending power.

You don't mind this with a guy like Travis Frederick, who is always healthy and figure to be with your team for many years to come. There is little reason to think Dallas would cut him anytime soon, so you don't mind giving up leverage down the road that you probably wouldn't use anyway.

A similar opportunity is available with left tackle Tyron Smith, but not with the same confidence. Smith's recent back issues may give the team pause on moving money around, but his current $17.5 million cap hit is the highest on the entire roster.

The Cowboys may not have much choice here. They can clear about another $7 million on Smith's deal and, as we've established, it's money they desperately need. Dallas will likely have to hope that Tyron, still just 27 years old, isn't going to break down on them so early in his career.

One underrated move would be also doing a restructure on right tackle La'el Collins. Dallas could shave about $1.8 million from his 2018 cap hit and increase the guaranteed money next year. It's not a lot, but every little bit helps in their current state. It's also an easy move as Collins is a lock to be with the team through 2019.

Is Jason Witten Looking At A Lesser Role In 2017?

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Contract Restructuring: Older Veterans

While the offensive linemen offer the biggest potential cap relief, some of the team's other key players could be used to create space. Jason Witten and Sean Lee are two guys who are sure to stay with the club in 2018, and as such may be up for a little restructuring.

Witten's contract is a team-friendly deal that is heavily based on incentives and had no signing bonus. Dallas could actually cut him right now with no dead money penalty and an instant $6.95 million in cap savings.

Some of you out there might make that move. Heck, I just might if I was the general manager. But there is no indication that the Cowboys are going to get cutthroat with such a beloved veteran as Witten.

What the team can do is convert about $3.9 million of Witten's salary into a bonus and get that back in cap room. It would mean creating a potential cap penalty if Jason is released or retires next year, but the Cowboys may be willing to rob Peter to pay Paul in this situation.

As i wrote about earlier this week, Sean Lee's contract could also be restructured. But with Lee having some injury issues in 2017 and turning 32 this summer, Dallas may not want to kill their leverage for the next offseason.

The Cowboys could free up about $4-5 million in space now, but that would increase their penalty next year if they decide to part ways with Lee. If Sean were to have more health issues this year, Dallas might move on with Jaylon Smith and the next generation of talent at linebacker.

I am confident that something will happen with Jason Witten's deal, but I'm 50/50 on Sean Lee. There's just too much risk with Sean, be it past issues with his knees, concussions, or last year's hamstring problems. Dallas may do it just because they have to, but ideally they would keep their options open for next year.

 

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin

Long-Term Deals for Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence

Right now, Lawrence and Martin combine for almost $26.5 million in cap dollars. DeMarcus takes up $17.1 million with his franchise tag and Zack costs $9.4 million because Dallas picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

Both of these cap hits will go down significantly once Dallas reaches long-term deals with these Pro Bowl players. The issue here is timing; can they get any of the deals done in the next six days to clear cap space for free agency?

That's going to be tough, if for no other reason then agents like to use free agency activity to help set the market price. While the big contracts from last year serve as a guide, it's much better to point to current money being given to guards or defensive ends as it includes the general year-to-year inflation.

Of the two players, Zack Martin is far more likely to get something done in the near future. These negotiations were going on last year, plus you have Travis Frederick's contract from 2016 as a good starting place. Martin should get a similar deal, adjusted for inflation.

One Frederick was signed, Dallas immediately restructured the first year of his deal so that he counted only $2.1 million against the cap. The same will happen with Zack, lowering his cap figure by about $6-7 million from where it currently sits.

The real question is whether or not either of these moves can happen in the next six days and give Dallas more to work with in free agency.

Orlando Scandrick

Dallas Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick

Roster Cuts Not Named "Dez Bryant"

Let's get one easy one out of the way. James Hanna counts $3.5 million against the cap with only $750k in dead money; $2.75 million in cap savings. Like Benson Mayowa a few days ago, he should be released soon.

Veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick will likely be joining him. Cutting him outright saves Dallas $1.4 million of his $5.28 cap hit. That's not great, especially when it means losing a solid player.

If Scandrick is designated as a June-1st cut, the 2018 cap relief is $3 million and $1.6 million will go against the 2019 cap. This is better, but it comes with the downside that the $3 million isn't actually available until the calendar date of June 1st.

The same situation exists with Tyrone Crawford. Releasing him now saves only $1.8 million off of a big $9.1 cap hit. Make it a June-1st cut and it's $6 million saved in 2018, but again with the problem of not being usable until June 1st.

Freeing up more money for after June 1st isn't a bad thing, though. It can be used to sign your rookies or to sign players released from other teams at that time. It could go toward in-season contract negotiations with guys you don't want to hit free agency, perhaps like David Irving. If nothing else, any unused cap space rolls over to next season and offsets the deferred penalties.

As it stands, Scandrick looks like he'll be gone one way or another. Crawford is much tougher to predict as he's still a valuable rotation player who wouldn't be replaced easily. I think he stays one more year, allowing Dallas to cut him next season when there's way less salary cap penalty.

If the Cowboys really wanted to get hardcore, they could look at releasing Cole Beasley ($3.25 million saved) and Dan Bailey ($3.4 million). Both had down seasons in 2017. Beasley's replacement may already be on the roster in Ryan Switzer, and there are lots of ways to find a new kicker this early in the offseason.

Neither of these moves is expected, of course. But they are there, and cap friendly, if Dallas is truly desperate for spending room.

Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant

Last week I covered the Dez situation in more detail, but suffice to say that he presents the most important decision of the Cowboys' 2018 offseason.

Dallas can save $8.5 million by cutting Bryant. It's the most cap space they can clear with a single move. But with it comes the clear issue of losing your number-one receiver without anyone in place to take over.

There's no denying that Dez is not living up to his contract. How much of that is his own waning physical ability or the limitations of Dak Prescott and Scott Linehan is hard to say. But with the QB and the OC not going anywhere this year, Bryant is the one at risk.

The problem with losing Bryant is that you'd have to spend a lot to replace him in free agency, and then have an $8 million cap penalty on top of it. If you're not going to buy a new top receiver, can you afford to wait for the draft and hope is available?

What's more, can you trust a rookie to take on such a big workload right away?

This a real dilemma because the Cowboys are wanting to get back to championship contention. They want a return to their 2016 success, and they're going to need a lot more from the WR position to get it.

Dez Bryant can't be WR1 in Dallas anymore, for whatever reason you want to point at. But finding a new one is going to be difficult given the cap issues we've been discussing and the unknown nature of the draft. Given that, it makes cutting Bryant very risky.

I expect a move to come before free agency opens. So much of what happens this offseason hinges on the amount of cap space Dez occupies and what efforts the team may need to make to replace him. It will be hard to do business come next Thursday without resolving this matter first.

~ ~ ~

So yes, the Cowboys should be busy well before Thursday's deadline. We've discussed several ways the team can free up money and be able to conduct business in the weeks ahead. But with only six days to go, these things need to start happening if Dallas is going to be involved in the 2018 free agent market.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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3 Biggest Non-Divisional Games on the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule

John Williams

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The Dallas Cowboys Are Legit Contenders

There hasn't been a repeat champion of the NFC East since the early 2000's when the Philadelphia Eagles won three in a row from 2002-2004. Unfortunately, history is already against the Dallas Cowboys repeating as division champions again in 2019. For the Cowboys to repeat as NFC East champs, they'll have to navigate a tough slate of opponents.

That's the reward of winning your division.

Though much can change in the next five months as the NFL prepares to play football games that matter in September, there are already key matchups for this young Dallas Cowboys team. We know the NFC East is always a difficult division to play in. The rivalries make for a lot of close games. The Cowboys have to play well in the division to have a shot at winning the division. But with the schedule they have, they'll have to win some contests that they probably shouldn't to stake their claim as Super Bowl contenders.

Divisional games are always important, but let's take a look at the three games outside the division that will have the greatest impact on the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys 2019 season.

1. Week 4 - Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints

The Cowboys have an opportunity to get off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season with games at home against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, and a road game against the Washington Redskins. There's a legitimate chance for them to start the season 3-0.

Whatever momentum they do gain in the first three games of the season could all come to a screeching halt with a tough week four matchup in New Orleans.

New Orleans has been a tough place to play in the Sean Payton and Drew Brees eras. The Dallas Cowboys defense will have a tough test attempting to slow down the high scoring Saints offense two years in a row.

When the two teams met in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys defense completely dominated the Saints. On that day, they held the Saints to 176 total yards (111 passing and 65 rushing) and an amazing 3 for 11 on third downs. It was especially impressive because the Cowboys only had two sacks and one turnover in the game. The Saints just couldn't find a rhythm as the Cowboys came with a lot of energy and physicality. It was a defining moment for this young defense and gave us a picture of what they could possibly be.

If the Dallas Cowboys can find a way to win this game and potentially start the season 4-0, it would be huge for their playoff hopes.

On the flip side, if the Dallas Cowboys start the season 2-1, they could be going into New Orleans with the possibility of starting the season 2-2. The pressure would be incredible for the Cowboys the rest of the way with the slate of teams they have at the end of the season.

The Cowboys have to leave the first quarter of the season at worst 3-1 to have a shot at the playoffs in 2019.

2. Week 14 - Dallas Cowboys @ the Chicago Bears

The toughest part of the Dallas Cowboys schedule always comes around the Thanksgiving day game, and this season is no different. Starting with their week 12 game at the New England Patriots, the Cowboys will play three games in 12 days culminating with their week 14 game against the Chicago Bears.

The Bears, coming off an NFC North title in 2018, are similar to the Dallas Cowboys. They boast an incredible defense with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and a young an improving offense.

Playing in Chicago is always a tough task, but doing so in December is a tall order. Doing so after going to New England, then playing at home, then going back on the road seems like an impossible task.

It's a game that will likely be a grind-it-out affair, as both teams want to run the ball and play defense. Depending on what happens in the previous two games, this could be a must-win to start the final quarter of the season.

3. Week 15 - Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys

The rematch of the NFC Divisional round matchup is just another in a long line of important conference matchups for the Dallas Cowboys. It will be a very important game for the Cowboys because it will be a home game after their three games in 12 days stretch. They'll have to go to Foxboro and Chicago in a span of 12 days, which makes for tough travel.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams team that absolutely dominated the Dallas Cowboys defense is an opportunity for redemption, but will have huge implications on the playoff standings for the NFC.

The Cowboys and Rams could both be leading their divisions at this point in the season, which would make this game important for seeding. Or, they could be fighting for a wild card berth. Either way, a conference game this late in the season has huge consequences in the way the tie breakers shake out.

This one will carry an emotional importance as well.

The way the 2018 season ended for this club, especially on the defensive side of the ball, left a lot of players -- and fans -- with a bad taste in their mouths. It completely changed the way a lot of people view a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major defensive categories. The loss to the Rams was one of the worst defensive performances of the season and it came at the worst time of the season.

Not only was the defense bad, but the running game was terrible that day too. Ezekiel Elliott only managed 47 yards on 20 carries for one of the worst rushing performances of his career. It took a really good second half from Dak Prescott and the passing game to get the Cowboys within one score with a shot to get the ball back at the end of the game.

If the Cowboys can get revenge for that playoff loss, it would do a lot for the morale of this team heading into the final two weeks of the season.

These conference games will have huge implications for the Cowboys and their playoff hopes. Though the NFC East will have a bigger impact on their ability to win the division, how they fare in these three games will give us a better understanding of the legitimacy of their contender status. Each of these games is against the team that won the division the previous season. If they can go 2-1 against this quality of competition, then we'll know this is a team to be reckoned with heading into January.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule: Reaction and Analysis

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There's Only One Side To Blame

The full NFL 2019 regular season schedule was released last night. Here is my reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and analysis of how what I think it means for them next season.

Of course, a schedule can have a very different feel come September-December than it does in April. The teams don't change, but their circumstances can be wildly altered by the time they actually have to take the field.

Just ask the Cowboys' opponents from the 2015 season. Nobody was looking forward to playing that Dallas team coming off its 12-4 playoff run the year before. But all it took was a Tony Romo injury in the preseason to suddenly make the Cowboys a cupcake.

But for now, we can only react to what we know. Before we dive in, here's a quick reminder of the complete 2019 regular season schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints (SNF)
    • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys (SNF)
    • Week 8: BYE
    • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants  (SNF)
    • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys (MNF)
    • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys (T'giving)
    • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears (TNF)
    • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys

We already knew this wasn't going to be an easy slate. The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, meaning they were guaranteed to play against four division winners this season; Bears, Patriots, Rams, and Saints. They also get the regular two games against the Eagles, who were a Wild Card team last year.

Let's just talk about those six games for a minute. New England is still New England; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will ensure that it's one of the toughest games of the year, and especially on the road. The Patriots have won 12-straight home games going back to 2017.

The Bears and Rams are both rising teams that shouldn't suffer any drop off next year. Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky is entering his third year and LA's Jared Goff will be in his fourth season, but only third in Sean McVay's offense. Both have starting QBs with rookie contacts, which means having the resources to load up on talent elsewhere on the roster.

Much like the Patriots, the Saints still have their franchise QB and coach and should remain a top team. They will also be out for blood after the Cowboys humiliated them last season, as will their fans, and that could make for a very tough road game in New Orleans.

Then, of course, there are the Eagles.

Eagles vs Redskins Tonight; What Outcome is Best for Cowboys?

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The NFC East appears to be a two-horse race in 2019. The Giants are arguably the worst team in the NFL right now and the Redskins are dealing with major QB problems. It should be Dallas and Philadelphia once again battling for the top spot.

The Cowboys and Eagles should both get some cushy wins against their fellow division opponents. It could come down to their games against each other, and so far Dallas has dominated Philly when Carson Wentz is playing QB. With Nick Foles gone, how will that impact the Eagles going forward?

As for the rest of the schedule, the only other game that seems easy on paper is against the Miami Dolphins. Teams like the Bills, Jets, and Lions could go either way. The Packers and Vikings should both be tough opponents.

The teams aside, the general layout of the schedule isn't bad. The Week 8 bye is nice for a break right in the middle of the season. Dallas only has to play back-to-back road games one time, Weeks 11 and 12 against the Lions and Patriots.

The first three games against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins give Dallas a great opportunity to start the year right and build momentum. They will definitely need to go into December with some cushion, because that stretch against the Bears, Rams, and Eagles could be very difficult.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's got some tough spots because of the Cowboys' performance last year, but that means they were a good team then and they stand to be even better now. There's nothing here that prevents Dallas from building on the success of 2018 and making then an ever better season.



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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia

Although we're still months away from the 2019 NFL season, we finally know how the Dallas Cowboys' games will line up this year. The entire league schedule was just released. I know just how much you want to know who the Cowboys will be playing each week so don't let me keep you.

Here's the full 2019 Dallas Cowboys schedule and a few notes at the end. Enjoy!

  • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Sep 8th, 3:25p
  • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Sun, Sep 15th, 12:00p
  • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Sun, Sep 22nd, 12:00p
  • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
    • Sunday Night Football
    • Sep, 29th, 7:20p
  • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 6th, 3:25p
  • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Sun, Oct 13th, 3:25p
  • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 20th, 7:20p
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants 
    • Monday Night Football
    • Mon, Nov 4th, 7:15p
  • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Nov 10th, 7:20p
  • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Sun, Nov 17th, 12:00p
  • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Sun, Nov 24th, 3:25p
  • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Thu, Nov 28th, 3:30p
  • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
    • Thursday Night Football
    • Thu, Dec 4th, 7:20p
  • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 15th, 3:25p
  • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Sun, Dec 22nd, 3:25p
  • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 29th, 12:00p

A few notes and thoughts...

  • It feels like the Cowboys play the Giants on week 1 just about every year. In 2018 it was the Carolina Panthers, but now we're back to watching this divisional matchup early on.
  • I love that the Cowboys and Saints will matchup against each other on primetime on week 3. Last season's Thursday Night game between the two was one of the best games of the season.
  • Having a bye week right in the middle of the season is pretty ideal, and the Cowboys have been lucky in this regard lately. This time they'll rest on the eight week of the season.
  • Overall, this seems like a tougher calendar than last year's. This only makes sense given that the Cowboys are the current NFC East champions and are bound to face tougher opponents.
  • A particularly tough stretch might take place from week 12 to week 17. The Patriots, Bears and Rams will be on the list as well as two divisional rivals in the Eagles and Redskins.

Tell me what you think about "BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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