DeMarcus Lawrence was just the beginning. Over the next 12 months, we’re going to see more Cowboys players given contract extensions, and other players will be off the team in an effort to save money and pay off their stars. What’s unfortunate will be the value that some of these players that will be gone bring is higher than others. Some of the Cowboys best players are all on one-year deals, or even one year remaining. But that’s the world of the salary cap.
Some players can stay and others will go. Whether it’s because the team was out-bid, or the player's representation and the Cowboys front office can’t agree on contract numbers and terms. It happens every year and it will happen again come 2020, if not sooner.
It’s all a numbers game. What number does the player want? What number does ownership want to pay? Is there a number they can agree on? Does that mean another player’s number’s up? For this, we’ll dive into some players who we’ve been hearing about for a while who are up for their contract extension, as well as who could be walking at the expense of it all.
This doesn’t mean anything is a done deal, but if history’s any indication, we can predict how these will go down.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
This is the most obvious one. The contract extension for Dak Prescott has been talked about since Jerry Jones made it known on 105.3 The Fan back in November.
“Listen, Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young, and he’s going to get extended,” Jones said.
Since then, the mood has changed from "maybe the Cowboys should move on from Dak" to "how much should the Cowboys pay him?" Over this time, the figures have only gone up.
Remember that highest paid QB doesn’t necessarily mean best. If we look at the five highest-paid quarterbacks we can see where Dak Prescott will find his number, and who it will be compared with:
5) Matt Ryan - $30 million/year
4) Carson Wentz - $32 million/year
3) Aaron Rodgers - $33.5 million/year
2) Ben Roethlisberger - $34 million/year
1) Russell Wilson - $35 million/year
Using this we know where Dak Prescott’s contract will start. He won’t get Aaron Rodgers-type money or higher. However, Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz’s deals are more realistic.
He’s likely going to get more than Matt Ryan thanks to the market reset, and could probably get more than Carson Wentz thanks to having better health, more wins, and -- aside from the 2017 season -- has had a better career up to this point.
Based on all of this, it’s safe to assume a deal of 5 years, $160 million ($32 million per year) with $100 million+ guaranteed is where these negotiations start and what kind of deal he’s going to end up with.
Running backs are hard to figure out. It not only depends on the market but also the health and age of the player. Even still, almost all of the league devalues the position, believing you can get value any time, anywhere. But what happens when you’ve got a generational talent who could become Hall Of Fame worthy one day?
In his first three seasons, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing twice in three years, being suspended six games in 2017. Despite that, he’s currently only the 10th highest paid running back in the league. In fact, only three running backs make over $10 million per year.
- Todd Gurley ($14,375,000 per year) is coming off an injury and his knees may never be the same again;
- Le’Veon Bell ($13,125,000 per year) is back from a year he took off after refusing to play under the franchise tag which ultimately led him to sign with the New York Jets;
- David Johnson ($13 million per year) played a full 16-game season after tearing his ACL in 2017, but even his health and longevity is brought into question.
Make no mistake, Ezekiel Elliott is going to get paid. Hopefully, Dallas not only realizes how valuable he is to the offense but the team overall (28-12 in games he starts).
His quality health, age (23) and the fact that his play has been consistent in his time is edging him closer and closer to being the highest paid running back in the game. The team will likely pick up his fifth-year option and could put his contract on the back burner. After that, his price is going to start at around $14 million per year, with $45 million guaranteed (the amount Gurley got) and will only go up from there.
We all saw the complete 180 this offense made after the trade with Oakland. Amari Cooper was well worth the first round pick they paid to get him.
Not only did Cooper, himself, bounce back to his Pro Bowl form, but Dak Prescott’s play greatly improved. His arrival opened up other receivers like Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Blake Jarwin to more opportunities and even put less pressure on the running game.
How do you price Cooper? Receivers and their contracts are different than quarterbacks. With quarterbacks, it’s usually whoever’s next, gets to be the next highest paid player. With receivers, it’s much more attuned to what the player wants and if the organization is willing to even entertain the offer.
Right away, we know he’s going to get at least $16 million per year based on current contracts. Odell Beckham Jr. is making the most ($18 million per year) and there are six receivers who make between $16 and $17 million per season: Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Deandre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Adam Theilen, and Sammy Watkins.
If we base it off who’s at the top, Amari Cooper certainly falls into that group based on age (25) and his chemistry with Prescott and how it changed the offense.
Receiver contracts are always tricky because some don’t want to overpay for skill positions, especially receivers. It’s just as important to pay for players who’ve earned what they're worth. This will probably be a deal that gets done later than sooner.
It took the Cowboys a long time to get themselves an All-Pro cornerback, but after landing the creator of the Legion of Boom, Kris Richard and switching Byron Jones back from safety to his natural corner spot, they got him. Now we’ll see if they pay him or search for an All-Pro corner again.
He didn’t log an interception in 2018 but also didn’t allow a touchdown either, solidifying his shut-down status. Shut-down corners are in high demand, no matter for who, but they also come with a high price tag.
There are nine cornerbacks who earn $13 million per year or more. Don’t expect Byron Jones’ deal to get done before any of the offensive players mentioned before.
The Cowboys already picked up his fifth-year option and if I had to guess, he’d be an obvious candidate for the franchise tag. It would give them another year to work out an extension and focus on the previously mentioned players.
Lastly, a player we haven’t heard near as much about but who matters just as much is the player the Cowboys were patient on and who has seemingly paid off.
The Cowboys linebacker group was arguably the focal point of the Cowboys defense, led by Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch. Smith seemed to finally recover from his ACL/MCL tears from his final season at Notre Dame, showing the speed and tackling power that made him such a threat in college.
In a breakout season, Jaylon Smith totaled 121 tackles (T-14th in the league) with six tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups. An emerging star, Jaylon Smith made Dallas one of the league's best in 2018.
Smith’s first contract could actually be a bit less than people might consider. The fact that he missed his rookie season and was limited in his second season could lower his asking price. Being that after this next season he will be an unrestricted free agent, another great season could earn him some money but likely not the same figures that players like CJ Mosley ($17 million per year) or Luke Kuechly ($12.3 million per year) earn.
Given his value to the defense and what the team has seen a health Jaylon Smith can do, right now his deal will not be at the top, but should still be in the range of $8-$11 million per year, especially if he has another great season.
La’el Collins has been a popular name this offseason for a player the Cowboys move on from. Nothing against Collins himself. He’s become a better, high-quality right tackle for the Cowboys but re-signing Cameron Fleming and drafting interior Offensive Lineman, Connor McGovern in the third round -- who could push Connor Williams outside -- might be the writing on the wall.
Collins is currently scheduled to make about $9.9 million this season and is due for a pay increase. It might be too rich for Dallas to want to pay, especially if the team wants to extend any of the previous players mentioned.
Cutting him would free up $8.5 million in cap room with a hit of only $1.4 million but it’s more likely that, if given the option, the team lets him walk in free agency. Their priorities will be attached to the other, more expensive contract players who will get extensions. Collins is the most expensive player on this list and would make it more possible to extend them.
This is the one that’s been a long time coming. It’s actually a little surprising that the team didn’t release him in the offseason to try and save money.
Sean Lee has been a double-edged sword his entire career. While he’s never played a full 16-game season in his career, his value has been so tremendous that the Cowboys kept him. He’s one of their best, most consistent tacklers, a leader on defense and, when healthy, ranked among the best inside linebackers in the game.
Sean Lee is entering the final year of his contract and will be 33 in July. Unfortunately, he’s been on borrowed time since the team drafted Vander Esch last year. Letting him walk this season will be tough, but the right move for the future.
The Cowboys interior defensive line is stacked this year with depth: Maliek Collins, Antwan Woods, Chris Covington, Daniel Ross, Kerry Hyder can move in and out along the defensive line and this year’s second-round pick Trysten Hill. Tyrone Crawford will be 30 this year and counts $10.1 million against the cap (6th most on the team). His days are numbered.
Aside from Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford should be the least surprising name here. Not only has the team loaded up on talent on the edge and interior of the line, but his age and salary are red flags right away. 30 is not old but it’s too old to pay to a lineman that much money when other, younger and arguably more valuable pieces are looking to get paid.
Given his ability to go on and outside the line of scrimmage, and his role as a captain, he won’t be cut but this is probably going to be his last year in Dallas.
Allen Hurns is the team’s second-highest paid receiver, but he might not even make the team’s final 53-man roster. Not only did his graphic injury in last year’s playoff game deter him, but he had also been supplanted by the acquisition of Amari Cooper and the rising play of rookie Michael Gallup.
A cap number at $6.25 million for a player that will likely be a fourth or fifth receiver option (assuming he makes the team) doesn’t make much sense. Couple that with a stacked receiver group including the aforementioned Cooper and Gallup, as well as Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown (H-Back), a surprisingly resurgent Cedrick Wilson, and undrafted free agents Jalen Guyton and Jon’Vea Johnson who’ve also made an impression at OTAs.
Among these four cap casualties, Hurns could be the one who doesn’t even suit up this season. Too many factors. His cap number, coming off an injury, other receiver options who’re more cost-effective. His time with the Cowboys is coming to a close.
This breakdown shows what these extensions could potentially look like:
Dak Prescott: 5 years, $160 million ($100 million guaranteed)
Ezekiel Elliott: 4 years, $58 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Amari Cooper: 5 years, $80 million ($50 million guaranteed)
Byron Jones: 5 years, $65 million ($40 million guaranteed)
Jaylon Smith: 6 years, $55 million ($35 million guaranteed)
Opposed to this are the numbers for players who could be gone to make room, the combined cap number for Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee, Allen Hurns, and La’el Collins:
A combined $21,354,250 in cap savings with $10,933,334 in dead money
The NFL salary cap is expected to rise to about $200 million in 2020 and the Cowboys are projected to have over $100 million in cap room next season based on who’s on the books right now. Somewhere in the ballpark of $116 million. In theory that would be enough to pay all five players today, but don’t be surprised if they make more moves in the offseason like they did this year, or if the team pays their players even more than projected.
If these extensions don’t get done sooner rather than later, the markets will reset for all these positions and the price tags will just keep going up, and all that cap room won’t matter when more is getting eaten per contract.
By the time the 2020 new league year begins, I expect the last four names to not be re-signed or be released (some may retire), three players (Prescott, Cooper, and Smith) will have extensions, the Cowboys will franchise tag Byron Jones ($16 million) and pick up Ezekiel Elliott's fifth-year option and work on his extension for 2021.
This is the money the team will need to spend to keep their stars, and these are also the sacrifices they’ll have to make in order to do so.
Is 2019 Wide Receiver Group Best Dak Prescott Has Worked With?
Dak Prescott will be leading the Dallas Cowboys offense for the fourth consecutive year in what has been a very unlikely career. In three seasons, he's led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles and one playoff win. He's done so with quality offenses, starting by a strong offensive line and an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliott. During his career in Dallas he's had some solid receivers, but he hasn't played with a group as strong as the one he'll have in the upcoming 2019 season.
This year's starters will be headlined by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Although there's many other intriguing players to watch at the position, those three are the presumed starting three.
Despite the big debate among fans and analysts, Prescott has been able to win games for this football team. Perhaps his worst came at the beginning of last season, when the team's plan of not having a WR1 backfired terribly.
In the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, Dak averaged only 202 yards per game. In that span he threw for less than 200 yards in four games. Once the team traded for Cooper, that average rose all the way up to 274 yards per game. He threw for less than 200 yards in only one occasion since then.
Michael Gallup is poised for a breakout season after a rookie season in which he improved every week. The Cowboys' 2018 third-round pick didn't get as much playing time at the beginning of the season as he fought for snaps with Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin among others. In the postseason, Gallup caught six passes for 119 yards. He still has a long way to go, but the talent is clearly there.
As for Randall Cobb, many fans have doubts. He's coming in to replace Cole Beasley, who was such an effective slot wide receiver. Cobb's style will likely be different, and although he might not be as good at shaking defenders off as ol' #11, he'll be more of a downfield threat than Beasley.
Comparing this starting group to the ones from prior years, it really seems like the best Dak Prescott has worked with. During his first couple of years in the league, Dak played with a Dez Bryant that (like it or not) wasn't anywhere close to his peak. 2016-2017 Dez wasn't on last year's Amari Cooper's level. Williams had his moments, but wasn't consistent and was well-known as a body-catcher.
This year's group has its question marks, that's for sure. Randall Cobb hasn't played a full season since 2015 due to injuries and Michael Gallup doesn't have a ton of experience and is yet to breakout. Even still, it seems like Prescott will have a great group of pass-catchers to help him lead the Cowboys to another NFC East title. It'll be an interesting fourth year for the young Cowboys quarterback. It's definitely good to see he'll have help.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be bringing back the same key trip of players at offensive tackle from last year. But with talk that 2019 could be La'el Collins' last season in Dallas, will we see signs that the Cowboys are preparing for future changes in how they handle the position in this year's training camp?
With Tyron Smith as an All-Pro fixture at left tackle, and Cameron Fleming re-signed this offseason to be the swing tackle, the intrigue swirls around Collins and his impending free agency in 2020. If the Cowboys have no intention of paying La'el what he can command on the open market, what might they do now to lay the groundwork for Collins' exit?
Here's a quick look at the projected OT depth chart for 2019 camp:
- Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- Cam Fleming, Jake Campos
- Mitch Hyatt, Derrick Puni, Brandon Knight
As was just said, the returning top three are locked in to those spots. Campos is a carryover from last year's practice squad, so that experience gives him a potential edge over the three undrafted rookies.
Back to the top, though, and this situation with La'el Collins. If Dallas had Collins locked up for years to come, they would likely only keep the two starters and Fleming as a backup. A fourth OT is unlikely to be active on game days, and they have Guard Connor Williams' college experience as a tackle in case of an emergency.
If the Cowboys are truly thinking that La'el won't be back in 2020, perhaps they use a roster spot now to hang on to a player who they value for depth next year.
This is where undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt becomes an intriguing figure in this 2019 camp. He comes from a championship college program at Clemson and was projected as a late-round pick this year. Dallas made him a priority free agent signing after the draft.
Of course, Campos, Knight, or Puni have the potential to make some noise as well. But Hyatt would seem to have the most upside of the group, and Dallas might be willing to consider him as a 2020 swing tackle option if he can hit the ground running in camp this year.
Cam Fleming is also going to need to have a strong camp to help the Cowboys' in their strategy. Letting Collins go would be predicated on their comfort level with Fleming as the right tackle next year. If he struggles now, then doesn't get much playing time in the regular season, that would likely shake their confidence.
The final result of all this talk could be that La'el Collins and Dallas actually do figure out a way to continue their relationship. But when the Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of this last draft it felt like a future-pointed move, with Collins' projected departure the likely impetus for the investment.
What we may wind up seeing is McGovern taking over at left guard and allowing Connor Williams to replace Collins at tackle. But that's a discussion better saved for next offseason.
You can read more about La'el Collins impending free agency in this recent article by our own Kevin Brady. A few weeks back, I also discussed the idea that Dallas should trade Collins now rather than lose him as a free agent next year.
For now, the offensive tackles in 2019 should have continuity and stability. But if we really pay attention in this training camp and preseason, we may see signs of what the Cowboys are planning to do at the position in the coming years.
~ ~ ~
OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Randall Cobb Will Be a Different Slot WR for Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys signing Randall Cobb might just be the most underrated move of their offseason. For less than five million dollars, they got an experienced wide receiver who is only 28 years old. The former Green Bay Packer has had a solid career wearing green and yellow and now gets the chance to play with the Cowboys' colors. But what can we expect from the veteran wideout?
There are some players who are absolute locks to make the 53-man roster and Cobb is one of them. That much is clear. On the depth chart, he probably sits behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who will likely be the number one and number two receivers, respectively.
With Cole Beasley departing to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, Cobb is expected to take his place as the offense's starting slot receiver. Cowboys Nation knows very well just how good Beasley was at playing in the slot. His ability to shake defenders off was really impressive and his hands were reliable. However, we might see something different from Cobb.
Yes, it all points toward him playing the same position, but don't expect him to be a Beasley 2.0. This is of course, not a bad thing. Something fans consistently complained about Scott Linehan's offense were the short routes receivers had to run. In Cobb's short time with the Cowboys, we're seeing deeper routes even out of the slot position.
Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com wrote: "the ball to Cobb even playing out of the slot is further down the field. We hadn’t seen that from Cole Beasley and visually it looks different."
This should be exciting for Cowboys fans, specially considering all the positive reviews on new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. What we see from Randall Cobb in 2019 could be very different from what we had seen from Beasley in prior years.
It's also worth mentioning that word is Cobb has quickly developed an important chemistry with his new quarterback, Dak Prescott. Beasley was very important in Prescott's rookie season, when he averaged 52.1 yards per game and accounted for five touchdowns.
While Beasley was an important receiver for Cowboys, he wasn't really known as a team leader. Cowboys reporter Lindsay Cash Draper wrote about Cobb's leadership skills will carry on to the team whether he's doing it intentionally or not. It's always good to have such presences out there on the training field to spark the team.
Randall Cobb won't be this team's #1 guy or anything like that, but he will surely contribute every week. When we look back to this offseason, I believe this signing will look like a great move by the Cowboys' front office.
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