After a disappointing 9-7 season and a narrow miss of the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys are having to ask themselves tough questions. This is a critical offseason for making sure the next generation of Cowboys players don't suffer the ongoing disappointments of the last one. To accomplish that, the Cowboys need to keep looking ahead when it comes to their roster.
Emotional attachment to veteran players will not help us going forward.
The impetus for this article came from a tweet I got last night, in response to an article I wrote about Orlando Scandrick's future with the Cowboys:
@CowboysAddicts why do beat writers always try to get ride of cowboy players? Dez, Scandrick Hanna. Tyron smith. Like damn. Can we keep our good players?!
First off, I would love to legitimately call myself a beat writer someday. If any of you work for a major media outlet, get at me.
To Kevin's point, though, the idea of "good players" is one fans seem to struggle with. Many of the same people who complain about ongoing disappointing seasons, and the Cowboys not being in the Super Bowl since Tom Brady was a freshman in college, seem desperate to cling to the players who are part of those failures.
Dez Bryant has dominated the headlines this week after Stephen Jones' comments indicated the team may be taking a hard stance on Bryant's contract in the coming months. It's clear the Cowboys' front office isn't happy with the return they're getting on the franchise-receiver money that Dez is making.
The thought of Dallas actually releasing Dez Bryant bothers many, and understandably so. Whether it's your #88 jersey or throwing up the "X," Bryant is one of the true faces of the team.
But that team hasn't been to the playoffs much during his time. The few times it has, Dallas hasn't made it past the second round.
That's not to say Dez, Orlando Scandrick, Tyrone Crawford, or even Jason Witten have been part of the problem. Football is too big a game for that kind of simple analysis. However, veteran players with big contracts are very dangerous in the salary cap era.
Every team has to find the right balance between veteran leaders and their higher salaries, and the young guys on rookie deals or otherwise low contracts. They also have to make sure the development of those young players -- who could emerge as leaders in third and fourth seasons, if not even sooner -- isn't being stunted by lost playing and practice time because of those lingering veterans.
Let's take the greatest current Cowboy, Tight End Jason Witten.
Easily the best TE in team history and a worthy Hall of Famer, Witten is far from the offensive weapon he once was. He can still get open with his impeccable route running, but those windows are smaller now, and his ability to make plays after the catch is almost entirely gone.
Thankfully, Witten hasn't been a burden to the team's salary cap, thanks to some smart contract work and cooperation on both sides. Jason continues to accept restructured deals that keep him well paid and allow the team to not carry much of a cap hit.
That said, Dak Prescott is losing the opportunity to develop chemistry with a guy who he could rely on for the next decade. None of James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, or Rico Gathers are probably that guy. Even if they were, they wouldn't be on the field enough because Witten still commands so much respect and deference from the organization.
That is the inherent problem with veteran leaders. You want their experience and influence, but many times what they actually offer on the field isn't as good as you'd like. They can still flash greatness at times, but those flashes become fewer and a little dimmer every year.
The young core with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, their offensive line, and a rising number of young defensive stars is a wonderful foundation for the next era of Dallas Cowboys football. But as this season proved, the Cowboys have plenty of work left to do. They can't do that work without the cap space that some of these veterans are eating up, or the depth chart positions they occupy.
We all love Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and other longtime favorites. We appreciate what they've done and we hate that they didn't get to bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy to Dallas. But in all honesty, that trophy's never coming until the Cowboys truly move on from the last generation, and embrace the future.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain
When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.
Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.
La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.
For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.
That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.
But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.
If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.
But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.
If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.
Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.
They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.
While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.
Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.
If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.
How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension
Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.
Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.
Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.
You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.
What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.
Or does it?
Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.
As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.
Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.
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