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 Tackles
The 2016 defensive tackle rotation was arguably the deepest the Cowboys have had in over a decade. Even with Tyrone Crawford being pulled to the outside to cover for injuries, Terrell McClain and Maliek Collins were an effective pair of starters. Cedric Thornton provided exceptional depth and another good rotation piece,
Terrell McClain now a free agent and the 2017 cap hits for both Crawford and Thornton have seen major increases. The DT position is now problematic and has questions that the Cowboys must answer.
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 tackles are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.
I recently went into a lot of detail about the problems with Crawford's contract and his unclear role on the defensive line. Check out that article for a full breakdown of his situation.
For now, we'll just agree that Tyrone Crawford's far from a $10 million player. With Brandon Carr gone, Crawford has moved into the top spot on the "bad contract" power rankings. The end of this article will discuss more about the Cowboys' options.
As I wrote back in September, Thornton was paid to be a starter but wound up on the bench through no fault of his own. Dallas didn't know that Terrell McClain would finally show up or that Maliek Collins was going to be a rookie surprise.
Thornton's cap figure is nearly doubling, increasing from $2.25 million in 2016. That's not ideal, but the good news is that his role may also be significant expanding.
If Dallas lets McClain walk as a free agent, Thornton will at least be the primary backup at both DT position. Plus, if Dallas were to make Tyrone Crawford a cap casualty or even keep him at DE, then Thornton could end up starting.
At least one Inside The Star writer thinks Collins is about to have a breakout season. If Dallas agrees with him, then that could have a major impact on their offseason strategy.
There is good reason to be excited about Maliek's upside. He has the athleticism to be disruptive against single coverage but also the size to occupy space. Collins has the tools to become a star in Rod Marinelli's scheme and, even as a rookie, has already shown signs that that day may not be far off.
If the Cowboys have enough faith in Collins, they can let Terrell McClain leave as a free agent without much concern. It may also given them the confidence to cut Tyrone Crawford, whose ideal position is the same "three-technique" spot that Collins plays.
Terrell McClain - While he was finally a productive player in 2016, the sum total of McClain's three years in Dallas was disappointing. Injury problems kept him either inactive or ineffective for two seasons. Even last year, McClain started off hot but lost ground to Maliek Collins and David Irving as the season wore on. Now turning 29-year-old, Terrell will likely be looking for a new team in free agency.
Richard Ash - Dallas signed Ash off of the Jaguars' practice squad for depth in their Week 17 finale, when several starters and veterans were resting. He is now an Exclusive Rights Free Agent and we have yet to see if Dallas wants to bring him back this offseason.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Defensive Tackle Cap Hit = $15.43 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 9.11%
The good news is that Dallas may not need to add anymore defensive tackles. Along with Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, and Cedric Thornton there are some versatile guys like David Irving and Jack Crawford who can play DT when needed. The Cowboys may want one more big, space-eating player for the rotation but they probably won't need to spend big to get him.
The real question is what, if anything, they can do about Tyrone Crawford's big cap number. He is under-performing his contract, so is there a way out?
There is no benefit to releasing Crawford outright. His $10 million 2017 cap hit is roughly the same amount if he's released, creating no cap space. However, Dallas could use the June-1st provision and then Crawford would only count about $3 million against the 2017 cap, creating $7 million in relief.
The remaining $7 million in dead money would be deferred to 2018, which certainly isn't great. However, the likelihood that quarterback Tony Romo is being cut or traded means his $19 million in dead money will be falling off the books next year. Crawford’s dead money could be absorbed by that and still give $12 million in spending room.
That sounds pretty good, but there's one unfortunate caveat. Using the June-1st provision means the $7 million in 2017 cap relief wouldn't actually be usable until that calendar date. Therefore, Dallas couldn't spend any of it in the free agent market this March. It would be useful, though, as they look to sign their 2017 draft picks or work on some contract extensions.
Inside The Numbers: Everything Points to Cowboys Win vs Dolphins
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys (2-0) welcome the Miami Dolphins (0-2) to AT&T Stadium for week three of the NFL season. This game features two teams that are trending in vastly different directions. The Dallas Cowboys are one of the hottest teams to start the season and look to be positioning themselves for a run at the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins are heading the other direction as one of the worst teams in the NFL and positioning themselves for an opportunity to land the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft next spring.
While there are things the Dallas Cowboys can clean up, this game has the makings of a blowout at home against a Dolphins team that has allowed 102 points in their first two games.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins have only played 14 times in the course of their history, with each winning seven of those contests. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the Jason Garrett era against the Dolphins with the last win coming in November of 2015.
That win in 2015 would be the last time that Tony Romo would start and win a game for the Dallas Cowboys. The next week against the Carolina Panthers, Romo would be lost for the season.
Though the NFL prides itself as an "any given Sunday" league because of the parity between teams, this is one of those games that has a Dallas Cowboys blowout win written all over it.
With 66 points scored in two games, the Dallas Cowboys currently rank sixth in the NFL in points for. The top two teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots have each had a shot at the Dolphins. The Ravens scored 59 points in week one and the Patriots scored 43 in week two.
It stands to reason with Reshad Jones ruled out of Sunday's contest and Minkah Fitzpatrick now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers that the Dallas Cowboys have a shot to score 40 points in this game. There's no reason to believe the Cowboys won't at least hit their 33 points per game average through the first two games of the season. Anything less than that would be the result of them taking their foot off the gas after generating a decent-sized lead.
On the flip side, the Dolphins have only scored 10 points in 2019. That was back in week one against the Ravens. In week two, they were shut out by the Patriots, which led to a change at the quarterback position. Josh Rosen will now be starting for the Dolphins, but their problems go beyond quarterback play, though it hasn't been good either.
Offensive Success Rate
The Miami Dolphins have run the fewest plays in the league and have the worst yards per play average in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys average 7.6 yards per play, which is the best average in the league.
The Miami Dolphins have a league-worst offensive success rate of just 31%, per Sharp Football Stats. The league average success rate is 47%. Sharp Football Stats defines a successful play as one that gains at least "40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down."
The Dallas Cowboys success rate of 57% is tied for first in the NFL through two weeks with the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins are going to have a really difficult time keeping up with the offensive efficiency of the Dallas Cowboys.
Going into week two, the Miami Dolphins have been very susceptible to the deep passing game. Now with 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick off to Pittsburgh in a trade earlier this week, the Dolphins secondary just became even more suspect. In the first two weeks of the season, the Miami Dolphins have allowed Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady to complete 5 of 7 passes beyond 20 yards downfield for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
In week one of the season, Lamar Jackson averaged 16.2 yards per attempt on 20 attempts. 16.2!!! That's an insane number. Tom Brady, in week two, only averaged 9.4 yards per attempt against the Dolphins. That's also a really good number but was only good for fourth in the NFL in week two.
Under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore the Dallas Cowboys haven't been shy about taking shots down the field in the passing game. Through two weeks, Dak Prescott's completed six passes beyond 20 yards downfield and has an adjusted completion percentage of 87.5%. He's been incredibly accurate throwing the ball deep and should have opportunities for more big plays against the 0-2 Dolphins.
Heading to week three, the Miami Dolphins have allowed the most rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL. Now some of that is due to getting behind really quickly and by a large number against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. Though they've allowed a lot of yards, they've also allowed the most first downs by rush in the NFL with 21.
This bodes extremely well for a Dallas Cowboys offense that was able to build big leads against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins over the first couple of weeks. Those big leads in the second half allowed Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line to make their mark with the running game and grind out the clock.
Per Warren Sharp Football Stats, the Baltimore Ravens had a 54% rushing success rate against the Dolphins in week one. In week two, the New England Patriots had a rushing success rate of 60%. Both weeks were well above the average rushing success rate around the NFL.
Though the Dallas Cowboys rushing success rate is right at the league average of 47%, they're averaging 4.7 yards per carry and should see their success rate climb in week three against the Dolphins.
Among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks in 2019, both newly named starter Josh Rosen and former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick rank in the top six of the most frequently pressured quarterbacks in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Their combined pressure rate of 44% would be the third most pressured in the NFL.
The 10 sacks between the two quarterbacks would tie for first in the NFL with Houston Texans Quarterback DeShaun Watson (who led the NFL in sacks last season.
Under pressure, Josh Rosen has a completion percentage of just 12.5% and he's thrown two interceptions. That's the worst completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks per PFF. Rosen has a passer rating of zero when pressured.
This doesn't bode well for the Miami Dolphins who will have to face DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn this week. An offensive line that has a lot of problems keeping the quarterback upright isn't going to be able to hold up against these two. If the Dolphins attempt to provide help on the edges, it will create opportunities for Maliek Collins and the rest of the interior defensive line.
This bodes well for a defense that has played well but hasn't looked like the dominant force many thought they'd be in the 2019 season. Facing the hapless Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys look like a team that's about to feast.
For the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott has only been sacked one time. He's getting the ball out much quicker in 2019 than he was in 2018. In 2019, Dak Prescott has the sixth-fastest time to attempt at 2.33 seconds per Pro Football Focus among quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks. In 2018, Prescott had the 10th slowest time at 2.66 seconds. Per Pro Football Focus, Prescott is the least pressured quarterback in the NFL at this point of the season. He's only been pressured on 15.4% of his dropbacks.
Dak Prescott is making quicker decisions after the snap in 2019 because he has a greater understanding of what he's seeing before the snap. The Cowboys offense allows him to get a read of the defense with their use of pre-snap motion, which then allows Dak to know where he wants to go with the ball, once he's confirmed the coverage after the snap. This allows for Prescott to get rid of the ball much faster than he has in the past, which is why he's not getting pressured as much. Of course it helps that the offensive line is playing better to start the 2019 season than it was a year ago.
I don't see a way that the Miami Dolphins are going to be able to create enough consistent pressure to affect Prescott in the pocket. This week looks like another big game for Prescott and the passing offense.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys will win this game. With the betting line set at 21 points, it would be a tremendous upset if the Cowboys didn't walk away with the W. Everything points to the Cowboys putting up their third double-digit win of the season and should be able to walk to another 30 point game for the offense. The Miami Dolphins are in tank mode and won't be able to put up much of a fight. When teams tank, it can kill morale and after trading two of their former first-round picks in Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, it's obvious that the Dolphins are looking to the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Dallas Cowboys win this game in a rout and the offensive stars continue their excellent start to the season. The defense gets a couple of takeaways and begins to hit their stride in the sack department with the return of Robert Quinn.
Dallas Cowboys 41 - Miami Dolphins 9
Cowboys’ Trysten Hill to Make Regular Season Debut vs Dolphins?
A lot has been made of the Dallas Cowboys' decision to make 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill inactive for the first two games of the regular season. With Taco Charlton also being inactive, people attempted to compare the two to make broad generalizations about Hill's present and future in the NFL. The problem is these two are vastly different players in different situations.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones talked about where Trysten Hill was in his development and ability. It sounds as if Hill is ready to make his regular-season debut for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Trysten Hill will make his NFL debut Sunday vs. Miami. Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "He's ready to go. It's time for him to go. Rod's fired up about what he can bring to the table here. He's had a really good week of practice.
With Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford likely out for this game, the Dallas Cowboys could use some help on the interior defensive line. Christian Covington and Maliek Collins are the only true defensive tackles set to be active for the Cowboys, which makes Hill's debut a foregone conclusion. With Crawford and Woods dealing with injuries Hill will have the opportunity to play a lot against a Miami Dolphins offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks in their first two games.
Crawford and Woods' absences means the Dallas Cowboys will have around 40-50 snaps to be distributed to the rest of the defensive line. Christian Covington will get the first shot to play the 1-technique defensive tackle. Kerry Hyder and Joe Jackson will get some of those Tyrone Crawford snaps since they can play both on the interior and on the edge like Crawford can.
There will be opportunities for Hill, especially if the Dallas Cowboys can get out to a big lead. If he's active, which all signs indicate he will be, then the Cowboys' coaching staff will use this game to get Hill as much experience as possible.
Trysten Hill is a player that Rod Marinelli and even Kris Richard are really excited about. They believe that he has what it takes to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL, he just needs to refine certain aspects of his game. Hill has elite quickness and get off on the snap. He's very good at getting penetration and causing disruption in the backfield. He needs to work on his technique and playing with better leverage when engaged with blockers, but the tools and the effort are there for Marinelli to turn him into the dominant 3-technique defensive tackle that they've been looking for.
Facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday will is an excellent opportunity for Trysten Hill to get some experience and earn opportunities to be on the gameday roster in the future.
Trysten Hill has the skills to be a force for the Dallas Cowboys. With the depth that the Cowboys have along the defensive line, it's not always possible to bring everyone you have to the gameday roster. With injuries and earned opportunities, the time has come for Trysten Hill to get an opportunity to show his skills in the regular season. That's a good thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Not so much for Josh Rosen and the Miami Dolphins.
Could OC Kellen Moore Be More “Vanilla” Against Dolphins This Week?
The Cowboys are sort of in a no-win situation this Sunday.
If they come out and dominate the openly tanking Miami Dolphins, they'll have done exactly what they should do. But, if they lose to this putrid roster or lose one of their key players to injury, then this week three game would be considered a disaster.
So how should the Cowboys approach the Miami Dolphins?
Something tells me that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore may look more "basic" than usual this week. Heralded for his creativity over the first two games, Moore may not want to show too much against the lowly Dolphins. Especially if the Cowboys can simply impose their will, a la the 2016 offensive gameplan.
Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should expect a lot of inside and outside zone opportunities this week, with each having a chance to have their best individual performances of the season. Tight end Blake Jarwin and wide receiver Devin Smith could see a lot of opportunities through the air as well, as the Cowboys may want to avoid putting Amari Cooper in situations which could cause injury.
Kellen Moore may want to come out firing with Dak Prescott and this dynamic passing game at first to get a quick lead, and then look to shorten the game as much as possible with his running game.
Honestly, as much as Cowboys Nation may not like it, I wouldn't be shocked if Miami covered this lofty 23 point spread. Dallas could look to get up a couple touchdowns, then proceed to sit on the ball and just look to get out of the stadium alive. Especially considering that the schedule gets much more difficult in the weeks following this Miami game.
With key NFC matchups against the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles looming large, health is the most important factor this week against the Dolphins.
Well, health and winning, of course.
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