You've probably already read somewhere that restructuring Dez Bryant's contract is one easy way the Dallas Cowboys can improve their 2017 salary cap issues. While I have no issue with this when it comes to some other players, moving money on Bryant's deal could wind up being more trouble than it's worth.
Right now, Dez is scheduled to count $17 million against the Cowboys' 2017 cap. He has $25 million left in dead money, the guaranteed bonuses that have to be paid out through the life of the contract. His deal expires after the 2019 season.
Dez Bryant Has Red Flags
Dez Bryant turns 29-years-old in November. He has missed 10 games over the last two seasons and played hurt, with limited effectiveness, in others. He still has moments and whole games where he looks like an elite receiver, but most Dallas fans would admit that he's not quite as explosive or dominant as in the past.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not here to bash Dez. However, the good of the team always comes first no matter who we're talking about. Restructuring Bryant's contract may be good for Dallas' in the present but could cause problems in the future.
When contracts get restructured, guaranteed money gets pushed into later years to create immediate cap space. That means you lose flexibility in those later years when the cap hits are at their highest. Even if the player isn't performing to the level at which you're paying him, releasing him either doesn't save you anything on the salary cap or even limited savings simply aren't worth the penalty.
Comparison to Tony Romo's Contract
Romo's contract situation is a good example of potential problems. The Cowboys have restructured his deal several times and now can't trade or cut him without a $19 million penalty. Granted, Dallas didn't expect to be in this position so soon with Romo. Still, this shows the value of preserving your flexibility for when unexpected things happen.
Now, compare that to Jay Cutler and the Bears. Despite his being signed through 2020, Cutler's deal only has $2 million left in guaranteed money. The Bears will almost surely be cutting him this offseason and saving $14 million in salary cap space off of the scheduled $16 million cap hit.
Cowboys Need to Preserve Salary Cap Flexibility
Within the next two years the Cowboys will need to give guard Zack Martin a long-term deal. They may also be looking at new deals for guard La'el Collins, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and safety Byron Jones.
Oh, and some kids named Zeke and Dak are going to be needing more money in a few years, too.
Can the Cowboys afford to keep pay Dez like an elite receiver if he continues to decline and miss games? Here's a look at the final three years of Dez Bryant's contract:
- 2017 - $17 million cap hit ($25m dead money)
- 2018 - $16.5 million cap hit ($8m dead money)
- 2019 - $16.5 million cap hit ($4m dead money)
One smart thing that Dallas did was keeping the later years of the deal from having escalating cap hits. Even with that, though, Dez is still currently scheduled to have the highest cap hit of any NFL wide receiver in 2017.
If the contract remains untouched, Dallas can save $8.5 million in 2018 or $14.5 million in 2019 by releasing Bryant. Those numbers will drop significantly if his deal is restructured, limiting the Cowboys' flexibility and the value of parting ways.
Even if he's no longer elite, Dez Bryant will still be a quality starting wide receiver for the next few years. If you were to cut him, replacing him might cost about as much as you'd be saving.
These decisions are never easy and especially when they come to beloved players. Dez means a lot to the team and its fans, but what just happened with Tony Romo is a warning that you should always be prepared for things to change. All it takes is one season for some little-known player to soar up the depth chart and demand a new contract, like Miles Austin in 2009.
Or, like Dez Bryant himself in 2010, you never know when a talented receiver might fall to you in the late first round. Dallas could find Dez's replacement sooner than they think, making it all the more critical to preserve their ability to release him.
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So, what's the final verdict? To be honest, I don't know if there is a definitive answer at this point. I believe the ideal solution is to try and avoid restructuring Dez Bryant's contract this year if you can.
See how 2017 goes; can Dez stay on the field and maintain a high level of play? If so, perhaps you can do some things in 2018 and 2019 free up salary cap space without the same worries.
However, this March there could be a much-needed pass rusher, defensive back, or some other free agents that the Cowboys want to sign. If you can't make those deals without restructuring Dez Bryant then you simply may not have a choice.
Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around
The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.
We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."
Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard
As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.
Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.
Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak
455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.
It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career: take care of the ball.
Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around
Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.
It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.
For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.
Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up
The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.
In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
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