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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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.