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: Defensive Ends
Struggling to pressure opposing quarterbacks has been the Achilles heel of the Cowboys defense for several seasons. It has played a major role in early playoff exits in 2014 and 2016. Not since DeMarcus Ware has Dallas had a consistently great pass rusher at defensive end.
Given that this is a recurring weakness, it's no surprise that a pass-rushing DE remains at or near the top of everyone's offseason wish list. It could be hard to find in the draft at the 28th pick, so free agency may be the only way for Dallas to get immediate help. Unfortunately, that won't come cheap.
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' defensive ends are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.
On the final year of his rookie deal, Lawrence needs everything to go right in 2017. His first three years in Dallas have had some highs but have been most disappointing. Lawrence only had one sack last seasons despite appearing in nine games.
Ongoing back problems limited Lawrence in 2016. There were several times that he was getting pressure or hitting the quarterback after the throw, but he just couldn't seal the deal on those all-important sacks.
Even if Lawrence finally has a breakout season, the Cowboys could be leery about signing him long-term. Their recent experience with Anthony Spencer was a good lesson about players who only show up in contract years. Lawrence needs to not only show up on the field but earn the coaches' trust with his character and work ethic.
Mayowa led the Cowboys with six sacks last season. That's not a great number on its own, but it helps to know that he got 3.5 sacks in just Weeks 13-16. If Mayowa's late-season production can translate to a full year in 2017, he could emerge as a major player on this Dallas defense.
The problem for Mayowa and the Cowboys is that he may not have done enough to discourage them from signing a big name in free agency. If Dallas does spend big on a pass rusher, it's Mayowa who might suffer the most from the lost playing time.
Benson wouldn't be released; still $2.2 million in dead money makes that worthless for the Cowboys. Still, getting buried on the depth chart is never good. Whether or not Dallas pursues a major DE free agent should have a lot to do with their belief in Mayowa's upside and how big a role they see him having next year.
Hit with a one-year suspension following the Cowboys Week 17 game, Gregory won't be able to play at all during the regular season. That means his current cap hit will go down significantly; $782k in base salary will be voided by the suspension. By the end of the year, Gregory should have only counted a little over $200k against the salary cap.
Taken 34 picks before Dak Prescott in last year's draft, Tapper remains an exciting prospect. He has rare athleticism for his size, posting one of the fastest 40-yard dash times ever for a player who weighs 270 pounds or more.
Tapper never got to play in the regular season because of a spinal defect that was discovered during the preseason. He has reportedly done the work necessary to get past it and is fully cleared to play next year.
Thankfully, Tapper still got all of the summer practices and training camp last year to build on. He'll still be a rookie in some ways, but that foundation should help him to hit the ground running.
Wood appeared in three preseason games for Dallas and then spent all year on their practice squad. He is not only capable of playing DE and DT but even has experience as a long snapper. He will almost certainly be back to compete in this year's training camp.
An undrafted free agent of the 49ers last year, Jones started as a 3-4 outside linebacker in their scheme. He has since spent time with both the Raiders and Rams before Dallas added him in January. The former Nevada Wolf Pack player will hopefully get a chance to show the Cowboys something this offseason.
David Irving - As an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, Irving can't go anywhere as long as Dallas offers him some kind of deal. Arguably the most exciting prospect on their defensive line right now, Irving is sure to get a contract. We'll go into more detail about what that might look like below.
Jack Crawford - The versatile Crawford was re-signed in 2016 to a one-year, $1.1 million contract. As always, he was a solid reserve and even had 10 starts as part of the base defense. A reliable player who can work inside or out on the line, I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas brought Crawford back again one a similar deal.
Ryan Davis - Signed after Week One for depth, the veteran never really got a chance to show much due to injuries. Even when healthy Davis failed to give the Cowboys much boost in their pass rush, which was why they brought him in. He is highly unlikely to return.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Defensive Ends Cap Hit = $7.01 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 4.14%
These numbers will change in the coming month, though maybe not much. The first big question is how much Dallas will pay David Irving to return. His ERFA status gives the Cowboys nearly all of the leverage.
Dallas could give Irving the league minimum if they wanted to. However, if they see Irving as a potential long-term player for them, preserving a good relationship is also important. David just played on a $525k salary for 2016 and out-performed it, so Dallas might bump him up to the $1-$2 million range.
Remember, though, that Randy Gregory's cap number is going to drop from the suspension. That should offset some, if not most, of what Irving will make in 2017. Even if Jack Crawford is also re-signed, the total cap hit for the DE position shouldn't be much more $10 million.
If Dallas is going to make any "splash" signing in this free agent market, a pass-rushing DE is the first thing most would expect. The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul is a name many are floating. Arizona's Chandler Jones and the Chargers' Melvin Ingram are also possible, though they may wind up getting the franchise tag.
The scary thing is that the market for a top name DE is very pricey. Last year, Olivier Vernon got a five-year, $85 million contract from the Giants. The first year of that deal counted $13 million against their cap.
Dallas can find ways to make a big signing work, but they would have to have supreme confidence in that player to take the financial risk. It could also mean being unable to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence next year if he does have a big season, which could leave you back in the same position of needing help.
Ezekiel Elliott ‘Excited’ About Dallas Cowboys ‘Promise’ in 2019
There's a lot to look forward to as the team gears up for offseason training activities and minicamp. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys look like a potential contender in the NFC after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling to the NFC representative Los Angeles Rams by a score.
The offseason additions the team has made in addition to the draft have many in Cowboys Nation excited about the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season. That includes Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I'm just excited about the group of guys we have. I'm excited about the talent we have on this team. I'm excited about the leadership group we have. I think we have a lot of the right pieces. I think we have a lot of promise for this season.
I think the Cowboys are right to be optimistic about their team heading into the season. They had one of the top 10 defenses in the NFL and an offense that was trending in the right direction over the last half of 2018.
On both the offensive and defensive side of the football the Dallas Cowboys have gotten better as a team.
The offense sees the return of Travis Frederick to the middle of the offensive line and though Joe Looney was good, he's no Travis Frederick. Frederick's return will improve communication along the offensive line and improve their run blocking up the middle; an area where the Cowboys struggled with consistency in 2018.
Another veteran returning to the Cowboys for 2019 is Tight End Jason Witten. Though he's slowed down some at 38 years old, having his leadership and veteran presence on a team attempting to make a deep playoff run is very important. Witten's as steady a player as has been in the NFL and should still be able to make plays in the run and pass game.
The additions of Randall Cobb and Tony Pollard give the Dallas Cowboys a more versatile group of players for new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to toy with. This versatility will allow them to keep teams off balance. With Randall Cobb, the Cowboys will be able to move Amari Cooper around the formation in order to find favorable matchups in the passing game. Tony Pollard gives the Cowboys a durable gadget option and big-play threat in the run and pass game. Pollard's ability as a returner could help the Cowboys get more favorable field position in 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott himself stands to benefit a great deal from the additions and changes the Cowboys made to the offense. Pollard is an upgrade as a running back to Rod Smith, so the Cowboys can cut Ezekiel Elliott's workload a little and keep him fresh by expanding on the two series a game the coaching staff used to give Smith.
On defense, they added Robert Quinn to a defensive line that already boasts one All-Pro pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill provide depth to an interior that struggled against the Rams in the playoffs and the Indianapolis Colts during the regular season. The defensive line.
In addition to all that, the Cowboys will get to see what kind of progress their 2018 rookie standouts make in year two.
Leighton Vander Esch was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and should have won defensive rookie of the year with his play. Connor Williams looks to have gained the necessary size and strength to play left guard in the NFL. A second offseason at guard should help him to improve at his new position. Michael Gallup was a revelation in the third round of the draft last year. After slowly being worked into the lineup over the first half of the season, he emerged as the Dallas Cowboys second wide receiver.
The NFC East and the NFC is a tough place to play. Every year, it's an uphill climb to win enough games to win the division or make the playoffs, but the Cowboys have put themselves in a fantastic position to do just that. Though no team has been a repeat winner of the NFC East since the early 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys have built a team that will be able to compete with any team in the NFL.
From the roster to the coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys have built a squad that should get anyone excited. Are there questions as the team heads to training camp? Of course. But every team has questions at one position or another. The Cowboys have done an excellent job to minimize those questions through free agency and the draft and have one of the best teams in the NFL on paper.
The excitement that Ezekiel Elliott feels is warranted. The Dallas Cowboys do have a lot of promise as we look ahead. Now as they get ready to start ramping up practices, it's time for Elliott and the rest of the team to go prove it.
And I have a feeling they'll live up to that "promise."
DT Leonard Williams May be Available, Should the Cowboys Explore a Trade?
Per a report by Rich Cimini of ESPN, the New York Jets may be exploring a trade for their star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. With Williams set to hit free agency in 2020, the theory is the Jets may not be interested in locking up Williams long-term after just drafting Quinnen Williams with their top five selection in 2019.
Here's what Cimini had to say in his report:
"There's already talk in league circles that Gase could be looking to move on from Williams, who will be a free agent after the season. He's due to make a guaranteed $14.2 million in the final year of his contract. Gase hasn't said anything about Williams that would spark speculation, but it's not hard to connect the dots when examining the defensive line situation."
Rich Cimini - ESPN.com
Williams has been a really good player for the New York Jets who has played 3-4 defensive end and some defensive tackle for the Jets in his four-year career. A former sixth overall pick has had as many as seven sacks and as few as two sacks a season, but he's played in all 64 games in his career, starting 63. He's stayed healthy and been productive on a Jets defense that hasn't been very good over the last few years.
For the Cowboys defense, he would project as a 3-technique with the ability to be the Cowboys 1-technique in passing situations. Among interior defensive lineman, Leonard Williams finished 21st in run stops per Pro Football Focus and sixth in total pressures with 53. Williams was third among interior players in QB hits with 16 ahead of Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Lineman Chris Jones and Seattle Seahawks Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. For reference, DeMarcus Lawrence had 63 total pressures and 11 QB hits in 2018, while Tyrone Crawford had only 37 total pressures.
The Dallas Cowboys have been working to reinforce their defensive line this offseason after struggling in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams when the Cowboys gave up over 200 yards rushing. Though they like Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins, they obviously weren't satisfied with the going into 2019 with just those two in the Dallas interior.
In free agency, the Cowboys added Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder and then drafted Trysten Hill with their second-round pick. They also added Daniel Wise, a player that was seen as a fourth or fifth rounder in most people's minds as an undrafted free agent and will compete for a roster spot.
As intriguing as Covington, Hyder, Hill, and Wise are in addition to Maliek Collins and Woods, Williams would be an immediate upgrade at 3-tech and the Dallas Cowboys should explore it, even if they don't plan on resigning him beyond 2019.
The Cowboys could swap expiring contracts by sending Maliek Collins to New York and a draft pick. Collins is unlikely to be resigned by the team in the 2020 offseason as they have plans for Hill as their 3-tech of the future.
The Dallas Cowboys showed with the trade for Robert Quinn that they're alright going after the one-year rental player. Leonard Williams would make their defense better for 2019 and while they have high hopes for Trysten Hill, Williams is a known asset right now and wouldn't prevent you from giving Hill snaps at 3-tech.
For a team hoping to make a Super Bowl run, adding a player like Leonard Williams makes a lot of sense. He's another disruptive player that would immediately improve your pass rush and also helps your run defense. The Dallas Cowboys have a team ready to win now, so now's the time to go get players that help you do so.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
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