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Cowboys’ Job Security: QB, WR, TE

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys' Job Security: QB, WR, TE

With eight games in and at least eight to go, it seemed a fine time to evaluate the roster. There are many different perspectives you can go with, but if you know me at all then you know I love to put my General Manager hat on. Today we're going to look at players within the context of job security, the likelihood that they will still be Cowboys next season. Today we'll look at the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends. Tomorrow we'll hit the running backs and offense line. And then over the weekend we'll cover the defense.

QUARTERBACKS

Tony Romo - Signed through 2019

If the needle has moved at all on the Cowboys' appreciation of Romo during the first part of this season, it's only increased in his absence. The highest-rated passer in 2014, Romo will hopefully return to the field next week in Miami and pick up with the same level of play. Even if the season is over for the Cowboys, seeing strong play from Romo will be inspiring for next year's campaign.

Romo's future with the team was never in doubt. Even if they wanted to part ways, the $31 million in dead money makes it practically impossible. Romo will certainly be the quarterback through 2016 and likely a year or two beyond, provided he can hold up physically.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Matt Cassel - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

Dallas has recently treated their backup quarterback position with more hubris than in years past, content with the risky Brandon Weeden over more trustworthy options like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton that have backed up Romo before. Cassel would be more akin to those players and I could easily see Dallas offering him a solid one or two-year deal to stick around.

The big question for Cassel and the Cowboys will be if Dallas finally looks to the draft for Romo's eventual replacement. I don't see Dallas spending a high enough pick, like first or second round, to where they'd be comfortable with that guy as their primary backup. Even if they bring in a rookie for grooming, I expect Cassel or some other veteran would still be the number-two guy next year.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 70%

Brandon Weeden - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

Even if Dallas can't get Cassel to stick around they will likely look elsewhere for a veteran backup. Weeden hasn't shown any growth from the player he was last year, let alone how he played in Cleveland. I might look at it differently if he was still under contract, but I can't see much reason to negotiate a new deal with him.

I'm only giving Weeden's return the slimmest of chances in the possibility that they simply can't find anybody better in free agency if Cassel's not retained.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 10%

WIDE RECEIVERS

Dez Bryant - Signed through 2019

I don't need to explain this one, I hope. Dez just got a new deal and has plenty of X's left to throw up in Dallas.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Terrance Williams - Signed through 2016

Williams has been disappointing this year but not enough to be shown the door. He will only count $872k against the cap in the final year of his rookie contract. Even if he falls out of the starting lineup next year, that's still a great salary for an experienced backup. They have no reason to cut him loose.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Cole Beasley - Signed through 2018

Like Dez, Beasley just got a new deal and isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He reminded everyone what an asset he is last week and should only keep that production going once Romo returns.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Devin Street - Signed through 2017

There was talk during the offseason from some Cowboys insiders that Street was every bit as good as Terrance Williams. I haven't seen that on the field, and it's not like Williams has been lighting it up.

Street will get every opportunity to keep his job next year in camp and preseason. However, it's not hard to see Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, or some new face from the draft or even the current practice squad work their way up and force Street out. I'll give him a slight edge as the incumbent, but I think he'll be in a dogfight for his job.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 60%

Lucky Whitehead - Signed through 2017

We've not only seen Lucky get used more on offense lately but he rewarded the team's trust with a big kickoff return against the Eagles. He has special skills and won't be easy to let go. Anyone near the bottom of the roster can't be too much of a lock, but if he keeps showing than Whitehead could all but secure his spot before the season's over.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 75%

Brice Butler - Signed through 2016

The Cowboys have Butler's original rookie contract having traded for him with Oakland. He is a cheap option with experience and has even shown up in a few games for Dallas. He will likely compete with Street for a roster spot next offseason, and I think he has a great shot at making it.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 50%

TIGHT ENDS

Jason Witten - Signed through 2017

Witten's last game as a Cowboy, barring injury, will be because he's retiring. There's no sign of that from Jason in at least the next few seasons.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 100%

Gavin Escobar - Signed through 2016

Drafting Escobar made a lot of sense if you were preparing for the future without Witten, or if you planned on getting him plenty of work in the receiving games. Neither of these appear to have been in the Cowboys' plans, making that pick pretty questionable in retrospect.

Escobar should return to play out his rookie deal. I'm leaving out a slight chance, though, that Dallas looks to move him to a team needing a starting tight end that could be enticed by Escobar's athleticism. They could then look to add a more balanced player with better blocking skills, or just stick with James Hanna, moving forward.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 90%

James Hanna - 2016 Unrestricted Free Agent

Hanna's in a tough spot as he enters free agency. He's done well when called upon here but hasn't been given enough opportunities to show his stuff. Dallas likely values him more than any other NFL team will, which could help him to at least find work.

The issue will be Hanna's asking price and ambition. He's likely going to have to take a minimal deal for Dallas to keep him, given that he'd be no better than the number-three player on the depth chart. If he willing to accept a low salary and a lesser role here for fear of what could happen on the open market? Only he knows.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 50%

Geoff Swaim - Signed through 2018

The seventh-round rookie will at least be back for another offseason and has shown solid potential. I imagine he will be at least the fourth tight end, if not the third, next season.

LIKELIHOOD TO RETURN: 75%



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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Dallas Cowboys

Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?

Sean Martin

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Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?

The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.

Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.

Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.

Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.

Danny Heifetz on Twitter

The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av

The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.

It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.

As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.

Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.

Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.

Tell us what you think about "Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money

Jess Haynie

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Tony Romo, Dez Bryant

You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."

Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.

For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.

But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.

Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:

(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)

  • QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
  • WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
  • DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
  • CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
  • CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
  • WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
  • DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
  • K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
  • TE James Hanna - $750 thousand

Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.

Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.

That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.

The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.

This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.

We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.



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Player News

Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program

Jess Haynie

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Travis Frederick

Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.

After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.

Rob Phillips on Twitter

Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire

While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.

It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.

Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.

That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.

But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.

Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.



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