It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. Time after time we’ve seen our favorite Cowboys players, players who had been with the team forever, fall from the stars. It doesn’t matter who it is, every player has/will have to go through it.
The long-term players are always the hardest to get over: Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Emmitt Smith, etc. It’s a harsh reality that while the NFL brings a lot of joy to so many, and is where millions of kids growing up strive toward, at its very core the NFL is a business.
Dez being released was coming and whether we want to realize it or not, we knew it was happening. His production and his health have gone down the last three seasons, he had problems meshing with Dak, he dropped way more passes than we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him, and he was being paid like a top-10 receiver when he wasn’t played like one.
Think the drama is over? Dez was only the beginning. There are a few names, some more obvious than others, that could no longer be a Cowboy sooner than you think.
The real question is…
Who Will Be the Next Cowboy Let Go?
Jason Witten – Probably the most obvious on the list, Witten will be 36 in May and isn’t getting any younger. Not only has he visibly slowed down over his 15-year career, but he’s no longer the dependable receiver he once was.
In 2017 he had the lowest receptions, receiving yards and yards-per-game since his rookie year.
In a year where Dak Prescott needs all the help he can get, he needs late-2000’s Jason Witten and the Witten he has won’t cut it. Whether it’s Rico Gathers or a rookie from this year’s draft, Witten’s successor will be here sooner than later.
I doubt the Cowboys will outright release one of their all-time greatest players, but I also thought the same thing about DeMarcus Ware. It’s possible the Cowboys will do what the San Antonio Spurs did with Tim Duncan and ride it out until Witten chooses to go out on his own terms. But with players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Zack Martin, David Irving and Byron Jones all needing contracts in the next year or two, Witten might be the next one out.
Sean Lee – It’s not for lack of skill, but lack of health that Sean Lee is on this list. When he is on the field, he is undoubtedly the Cowboys’ best defensive player. However, surprisingly the 31 year old has never played a full 16-game schedule.
What does it say about a defense when their best player can’t stay on the field?
What else does it say when that same player is the third highest paid player on the team and can’t stay healthy? My guess is the Cowboys will draft two linebackers this year and one of them will be Lee’s replacement in 2019.
Ironic that Sean Lee and Dez Bryant were both taken in the 2010 draft. One was drafted in the first and the other in the second round, and now it looks like they’ll follow each other out of Dallas in the same order. Hopefully the team finds a proper replacement, because it is coming. Like it or not.
Tyrone Crawford – Tyrone Crawford is not on this list for lack of skill. He’s only 28, works in the system well, has been a team captain and got his second highest sack total in 2017. His flexibility as the right defensive end and occasional three technique defensive tackle has made him a valuable piece. What hurts him is his cap number vs. his production.
Crawford is the 5th highest paid player on the squad with a $9.1-million cap hit. However, he’s arguably only the 5th best defensive linemen on the team right now. He’s still got plenty in his tank but how much longer the team can afford to keep him is all about the Benjamins, baby.
Terrance Williams – Ironically, I thought if any receiver was gone this year, it was going to be the one who scored no touchdowns all last season after signing a new contract extension.
Monetarily it makes sense that Dez took the hit over Williams, but from a production standpoint, Williams’ days may be numbered. He’s put up decent numbers over his career and is getting paid fairly, but now that Dak Prescott is running the show, the team may think it’s better to get him weapons that can better produce.
The Cowboys signed Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns in free agency and are more than likely going to draft another receiver. If this comes to fruition, the team would have seven receivers on its roster. The Cowboys usually only go with five or six receivers in a season, and I’d bet Williams might be on the cutting block first.
Cole Beasley – Part of the reason for Cole Beasley’s decline after a career season had to do with the offense going from Dak being generous with the ball to all the receivers, to it being centered around forcing the ball to Dez. Even with Dez gone, Beasley’s future is still in doubt.
The Cowboys may have drafted Ryan Switzer to be the team’s new returner, but it looks like he could one day be the new slot receiver. He’s slightly younger, much faster, and as we saw in the final game of the season, has great chemistry with Dak. Not to say Beasley doesn’t have speed, isn’t young or doesn’t have chemistry with his quarterback but all signs point to it.
Beasley won’t be gone this year or maybe next, but he would be one of the “next” ones to go. Papa Johns is one of the Cowboys’ biggest sponsors but the team may soon be without the sauce.
Dan Bailey – I’m not sure if losing a kicker ever broke anyone’s heart but losing one of the most accurate in NFL history might bring you as close you can get. But he is coming off a year where he missed four games due to injury and missed more kicks than he ever had in his career. That’s a pink slip recipe.
In 2017, Bailey missed four games due to an injured groin. As a kicker, anything below the belt is necessary. If part of it is hobbled, your one job is jeopardized. Not only did he miss a quarter of the season but while he was playing, he had career lows in field goal percentage (75%) and extra point percentage (92.9%). In all his total kicks, he was 41 out of 48, playing in fewer games.
Kickers aren’t always too hard to replace but elite ones are. Bailey is going to need a rebound season in 2018 or he could have the Cowboys searching for a new leg.
Tyron Smith – This one may be the most surprising on the list but there is some probability here. Don’t get it twisted about Tyron Smith. He’s the team’s highest paid player (deservedly so), he’s arguably the league’s best left tackle, and he’s one of the key franchise players on this team. But he’s still human.
Smith has missed 6 games the last two seasons, and while he’s had injury bugs in the past, 2017 was an interesting year. He had issues with his knee, hip, groin and back.
While he was on the field, he was his usual great, future hall of fame worthy self, but the team struggled without him. They went 0-3 and had to rely on Chaz Green and Byron Bell to keep Dak upright, which they couldn’t.
The team needs Tyron Smith, he’s essential, but if he can’t stay healthy in the future, he could be one of the bigger surprise cuts to come from Dallas.