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Cowboys Salary Cap: Free Agency Looms Large Over Safety Position

Jess Haynie

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J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church, Defense

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.

Position Breakdowns: SPECIAL TEAMS | RUNNING BACKS | TIGHT ENDS | LINEBACKERS | GUARDS & CENTERS | DEFENSIVE TACKLES | OFFENSIVE TACKLES | DEFENSIVE ENDS | QUARTERBACKS | CORNERBACKS | RECEIVERS

Cowboys Capology: Safeties

With Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox both becoming free agents, the Cowboys’ safety position is very unsettled as the offseason nears. Right now the Cowboys’ safeties are counting little against the salary cap, but this could change quickly depending on how the offseason goes.

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.

Confirmed 2017 Salary Cap = $167 million
Cowboys 2016 Cap Rollover = $2.4 million

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Salary Cap = $169.4 million

Now, using that number as our foundation, let’s look at how much the Cowboys’ safeties are scheduled to cost against our 2017 salary cap.

Byron Jones

2017 Cap Hit: $2.35 million

Now entering the third year of his rookie contract, Jones is becoming one of the best bargains on the Cowboys entire roster. He was arguably the second-best player on defense after Sean Lee in 2016.

While not as expensive as cornerbacks, great safeties can still make $10 million or more. Jones isn’t elite yet but has already emerged as one of the better safeties in the NFL. The Cowboys have at least one more year before they have to worry about compensating him accordingly.

Jeff Heath

S Jeff Heath

Jeff Heath

2017 Cap Hit: $1.92 million

Would the Cowboys be willing to let Heath move into a starting role? It would certainly be financially advantageous.

Heath’s three interceptions over the last two years is more than either Church or Wilcox has had despite significantly more playing time. Heath seems to have a nose for the ball and has proven he can complete the catch when opportunities come.

Still, Jeff Heath isn’t new in town. 2016 was his fourth year with Dallas and yet he was still fourth on the depth chart. Interceptions aren’t everything and, based on the rest of his game, Dallas may not see Heath as more than a quality backup.

Kavon Frazier

S Kavon Frazier

Kavon Frazier

2017 Cap Hit: $565k

We didn’t see much of Frazier during his rookie year, only being active for nine games and getting minimal playing time when he dressed. Still, Dallas thought enough to keep Kavon on the active roster all season.

After the Cowboys used sixth-round picks to obtain both Frazier and cornerback Anthony Brown, Executive Vice President Stephen Jones said the team had fourth-round grades and high hopes for both players. We saw how Brown’s rookie season went; the corner stepped in and played very well when Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick had injury problems.

Kavon Frazier didn’t get those same opportunities, buried behind more experienced players at safety. Perhaps that will change in 2017.

Jameil Showers

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

The former quarterback was converted to safety after the 2016 preseason. You can understand why after seeing his work in special teams coverage. Showers is athletic and listed at 6’2″ and almost 230 lbs., a natural size for a safety. Now wearing Darren Woodson’s number 28, Showers will hope to find a new way to catch on with the Cowboys.

Free Agents

Barry Church – Coming off his best season yet but also turning 29, Church is hard to gauge as a free agent commodity. One website has him as the fourth-best free agent among safeties. How much will age and a potential “one-year wonder” label drive down his price?

J.J. Wilcox – Younger than Church but not nearly as proven, Wilcox could prove to be a steal for someone in this free agent market. Having only played one year of safety in college, Wilcox’s development may have been delayed. Still, he’s coming off his best season with Dallas.

2017 Salary Cap Impact

Total Safeties Cap Hit = $5.31 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 3.13%

Dallas faces some big decisions with Church and Wilcox hitting free agency. Both players had career-best seasons, but how much of that was thanks to playing next to Byron Jones and in a generally improved defense? Plus, how much did playing in a contract year boost their effort and performance level?

Barry Church

SS Barry Church

Last year, Barry Church counted $4.75 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap.  Dallas might try to do an extension that would keep his cap hit around that same amount, perhaps a three-year deal at about $15-$16 million. That would keep Church around until he turns 32, which is a good age to reassess his performance.

Right now, re-signing Church seems like the best of both worlds for the Cowboys. Free agents like Eric Berry or Jonathan Cyprien may not even be available if the franchise tag gets put on them. If they are on the open market then they will likely be getting $8-$10 million per year in their contracts.

At the other end of the spectrum is starting Jeff Heath, which is great for the salary cap but comes with significant risk to the strength of your defense. Only the Cowboys know how much faith they have in Heath to even take that chance.

The problem for the Cowboys’ finances will be if guys like Berry and Cyprien do come off the market with the franchise tag or get re-signed quickly by their current teams. That would vault Barry Church near the top of the free agent pool and could drive his price up significantly. At that point, the questions about his age and anomalous 2016 performance become bigger concerns.

~ ~ ~

Will Dallas surprise us and spend big on a marquee name?  Will they work out a reasonable extension with Barry Church, or perhaps even J.J. Wilcox?  Will frugality lead to Jeff Heath getting a shot at the starting job?

Tune in this offseason for the exciting conclusion. Same Star time, same Star channel.

 

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I’ll be sure to respond!

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Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat

The Cowboys have just one more game to get through without their star running back Ezekiel Elliott, but Alfred Morris and Rod Smith deserve a ton of credit for the way they’ve been able to fill in out of the backfield for Zeke Elliott. Throughout the time Elliott has missed though, the Cowboys have lacked the explosive plays on offense that he can provide – until Rod Smith was given an opportunity last week at the Giants.

Smith complimented Morris exceptionally well, running with quickness and power to prove his case for more of a role on offense behind Elliott moving forward. It was the Ohio State product’s consecutive touchdowns of 81 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground that sealed the game for the Cowboys in week 14.

Here is a closer look at Rod Smith’s performance from last week in this latest Sean’s Scout.

Smith3 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

The Cowboys offensive line was dominant as always against a tough New York defensive front, and this first play is a great look at their execution in space and on the move. Rod Smith’s decisiveness when hitting the hole with speed and balance was the first thing I noticed on the game tape.

The best thing Smith does on this play comes at the second level, where running backs can truly make a difference in Dallas. As RG Zack Martin rides his man out of the play entirely, he gets in front of Smith who is seeing the play develop straight ahead. With his long strides, Smith is able to smoothly get through traffic and continue accelerating up field through arm tackles for a big gain.

Smith2 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

These same traits are seen with Rod Smith as a pass catcher – something he does effortlessly to also help fill the void left by Elliott. Watch how quickly Smith commits to his angle up the field after catching this dump pass from Dak Prescott, attacking a defender that has the angle on him after the catch.

Rod subtly leans to the right just enough to make the defender hesitate long enough to allow his burst to evade him and gain extra yards falling forward.

Smith4 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

Smith essentially does the same thing without the ball in his hands here, on his 81 yard catch and run for a touchdown. Setting up the safety out of the slot to be beat across his face, Smith separates from him at the stem and then does a great job getting depth on his route into the vacated middle of the field. With blockers to help him reach the end zone, Smith turns this busted coverage by the Giants into the game’s biggest play.

Smith1 – Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

 

This last play I chose to show is probably the least well-blocked attempt for Smith out of the ones in this Sean’s Scout, but there is still a lot to like about what Rod does here with the ball in his hands.

The Giants might be a two-win football team, but they still have marquee players up front, particularly DE Olivier Vernon. Smith does well here to keep his feet moving as he cuts this play to the backside. Vernon does well to limit the potential gain on this play by staying away from the block of Jason Witten, as Smith is taken down by Darian Thompson.

The numbers the Giants had to commit to stopping the run was still a huge reason why Prescott had a career day throwing the football, and Rod Smith’s readiness to step in at RB was a deciding factor in getting Dallas to 7-6.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Proving to be one of the Dallas Cowboys most valuable players, considering his cost (under contract through 2018), and ability to contribute on special teams and offense, Rod Smith is the perfect RB3 for this team.

Smith is not elite in any one area, and is not a prototypical RB from a physical standpoint, but his contributions as a runner, pass catcher, and blocker could remain critical to the Cowboys’ hopes of reaching the playoffs behind this offense – even when Ezekiel Elliott is back in the fold.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: RB Rod Smith Proving Valuable Offensive Threat” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who’s The Cowboys Real RB1?

Brian Martin

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Rod Smith Vs Alfred Morris: Who's Cowboys' Real RB1?

The Dallas Cowboys are less than a week away from welcoming back their talented Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott, but until then they still have a game to play against the Oakland Raiders. That means we will have one more week of Alfred Morris and Rod Smith handling the workload, but which RB is sitting at the top of the Cowboys depth chart?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of decision that can end up winning or losing a game. Both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith have had their moments during Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, but neither one of them have really distanced themselves from the other. So, should Rod Smith or Alfred Morris receive the majority of the workload against the Raiders Sunday?

A Case for Rod Smith

RB Rod Smith and QB Dak PrescottRod Smith might just have had is coming out party last week against the New York Giants. Against their divisional rival, in what was a must win game for the Cowboys, Smith rushed for 47 yards on six carries and added another 113 yards through the air on five catches. He also found himself in the end zone twice, once on a rushing touchdown and the other on a receiving touchdown.

You may or may not agree, but I believe that “Lightning” Rod Smith was largely responsible for igniting the Cowboys offense and helping them pull away from the Giants last Sunday. He accounted for over 160 total yards and two touchdowns by himself and didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later in the game.

Rod Smith certainly has traits that make him a more desirable RB over Alfred Morris. First off, he is a more complete back. He is better in pass protection and at catching the ball out of the backfield. But, he is also starting to show up in the running game and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry this season. His size (6’3″, 235) also makes him a better short yardage back, although I wish he would deliver more of a blow at the end of his runs.

A Case for Alfred Morris

RB Alfred MorrisAlthough there’s nothing particularly special that stands out about Alfred Morris, he has proven time and time again he is more than capable of carrying the workload. He has received the majority of the workload during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and has performed pretty well. In fact, he is averaging 5 yards a carry this season, which is better than any other RB on the Cowboys roster, including Elliott.

Alfred Morris has looked pretty good this season and is playing with more of a spring in his step than I have seen from him in probably his entire career. Last Sunday against the Giants he received the the majority of the workload and finished the game with 19 carries for 62 yards. Not particularly spectacular, but the week prior he did rush for 127 yards on 27 carries in the victory over the Washington Redskins.

Like I mentioned earlier, Morris is a tried-and-true RB in the NFL and is at his best when he can continue to pound the rock and wear down opposing defenses. That is what he did against the Redskins, but he has his limitations as well. Despite his years in the league, he still struggles in pass protection and is limited in what he can do in the passing game. But, he does seem to have the trust of the Cowboys coaching staff.

✭✭✭✭✭

Personally, I would like to see more of Rod Smith this coming Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. I really like what I’ve seen from him in both the running game and in the passing game. I just think he is a more dangerous and versatile weapon then Alfred Morris. His presence on the field really opens up what the Cowboys can do offensively.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Alfred Morris at all. I just think that Rod Smith has proven he is a more dangerous offensive weapon of the two. I don’t know if the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff will agree or not, but I truly believe Rod Smith could once again be the X factor against the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, both Rod Smith and Alfred Morris will have to take the back seat once Ezekiel Elliott returns. So, this discussion really only has any credibility for this week in yet another must win situation against the Oakland Raiders.

Who do you like better… Rod Smith or Alfred Morris?

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La’el Collins’ Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise

Brian Martin

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La'el Collins' Toughness And Availability Earning High Praise 1

The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to move La’el Collins from left guard to right tackle was met by some skepticism by quite a few members of Cowboys Nation during the off-season. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was one of those skeptical of the move, but I’m not afraid to admit he has exceeded my expectations.

In all honesty, I always believed that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is on the interior of the offense of line as a guard. I thought he could use his strength and athleticism to his advantage when working in a phone booth against slower and less athletic defensive tackles. That’s not to say I didn’t think he would make a good right tackle, I just thought he had Pro Bowl potential as a guard.

Strangely enough, Collins has probably put together a Pro Bowl caliber season in his first season starting at the right tackle position for the Cowboys. He has become an upgrade over the previous starter Doug Free, and is really starting to earn high praise from the brass. Stephen Jones in particular has been impressed with Collins, especially considering how he has played after missing two full weeks of practice.

Mark Lane on Twitter

DallasCowboys COO Stephen Jones told @1053thefan La’el Collins has answered the bell after his contract extension.

I personally agree with everything Stephen Jones said about La’el Collins. I’ve really enjoyed watching his progression this season, but I have been really impressed how he played the last two weeks after missing so much practice.

You might not of known, but Collins has missed two full weeks of practice due to a herniated disc in his back. This is put his availability to play against the Washington Redskins and New York Giants in jeopardy, but somehow he has toughened up and played considerably well.

This unfortunately will be something he has to continue to battle through the rest of the season, but I’m not going to bet against him playing. He absolutely makes this offensive line better and I would hate to see Chaz Green or Byron Bell back on the field after the way they played as feel-ins.

La’el Collins has without a doubt earned my respect and I think it’s about time we all recognize the player he is turning into. I know the Dallas Cowboys appreciate all that he does and believe that his recent contract extension is money well spent.

What do you think about La’el Collins?

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