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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.

 



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!

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Jekyll or Hyde: Year 3 "Prove It" Season For Dak Prescott?

Last season could've gone a lot better for Dak Prescott. After a remarkable rookie season, he wasn't able to meet the very high expectations put on him after leading the Dallas Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC in 2016.

Inevitably, the "sophomore slump" managed to get to Dak, even though the numbers make it seem worse than it really was. From his 13 interceptions in 2017, not even half can be completely blamed on him. However, even though he made improvements in his game, it's fair to admit that there was indeed, a slump in his second year in the NFL.

Earlier this week, NFL.com published an article listing the most and the least consistent quarterbacks in the league last season. The way the list works is measuring "their average 2017 swing in week-to-week passer rating." In the list, Dak Prescott is listed as the third least consistent QB in the league, with only Cam Newton and Derek Carr behind him.

Just like the Dallas Cowboys' had a roller coaster for a season, constantly shifting between winning and losing, Dak Prescott also struggled at remaining consistent. It makes a ton of sense, of course, for the Cowboys' 9-7 season had a lot of swings throughout the year.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Ashley Landis / The Dallas Morning News)

At times, the team was missing its most important defender in Sean Lee. At others, Tyron Smith and/or Ezekiel Elliott weren't on the field either. This is not an attempt to excuse Dak, for he is partly at fault here, as is the entire team.

From week 10 to 12, Dak failed to throw for a touchdown but ended up throwing five interceptions. Later in the season, failing once again to get a TD pass in two straight weeks, he threw for two interceptions at Oakland then another two when hosting the Seahawks in Dallas.

In a season that will likely determine his future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dak needs to find a way to be more consistent week after week regardless of circumstance. Hopefully, with an improved offensive line and with Ezekiel Elliott leaving every suspension drama behind him, his offense will put him in position to have his best year yet.

In 2016 and in 2017, his Total Quarterback Rating has been in the top 4 among all quarterbacks, per ESPN. Now, this is not a stat that tells the whole story, but it does give you an idea of each quarterback's play. In a run-first offense and with a safe passer like Dak, I'm sure consistency will not be hard to deal with for the young QB next season.

As long as he takes advantage of the new set of targets he'll have at his disposal and his offense's powerful running back with recently-signed draftee Connor Williams, this offense will look a lot more like the one we saw in 2016.

We know Dak Prescott has a lot to prove. He has to make longer throws, throw more aggressively to get his receivers open, and more. But consistency is just as important. In order to be continuously successful and to be a contender year after year, you need that in your signal-caller. Even if key players on the team are down, he needs to be able to shine. It's a sixteen-game season, after all.

It's time for Dak to prove he can handle that.

Tell me what you think about "Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?

Sean Martin

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Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make Cowboys Roster? 2
(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.

This group includes Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Lance Lenoir, Deonte Thompson, Cedrick Wilson, Michael Gallup, KD Cannon, Mekale McCay, and Marchie Murdock.

The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.

One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.

Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.

What Happens if WR Allen Hurns Doesn't Pan Out?

Dallas Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson, Cedrick Wilson, Allen Hurns (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.

This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.

Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.

Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.

Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.

Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make Cowboys Roster?

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.

It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.

Tell us what you think about "Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?" 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 Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp
(Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

In less than two weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will be practicing in Oxnard, their final training camp tune up before the preseason and roster cuts. If last year is any indication, the Cowboys trim down to 53 players from 90 will be eventful as always. However, it was ultimately the depth of this final roster that failed the Cowboys in a 9-7 season falling short of the playoffs.

The loss of Ezekiel Elliott to suspension and Tyron Smith, Jonathan Cooper, and Sean Lee to injury was all too much for the Cowboys to overcome. Starting his career with a playoff appearance at 13-3, Quarterback Dak Prescott now enters a crucial third year, though he can only hope the team's free agent signings and rookies can help patch these holes.

Before the pads come on at training camp, here is a look at a few of the most important depth players the Cowboys have for 2018.

Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming

The Cowboys spent the 50th overall pick at this year's draft on their future Left Guard Connor Williams, making their signing of Cam Fleming more important. Should Williams grab hold of the starting spot left by Jonathan Cooper's departure, Fleming should serve as the Cowboys primary backup to Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

Joined only by Chaz Green and Kadeem Edwards on the depth chart at tackle, Fleming's experience should win out over the rest of the field. Also signing Guard Marcus Martin this offseason, it's clear the Cowboys want to avoid their offensive line breakdown from a year ago.

Cam Fleming needs to be in position to help the Cowboys do just that, unless Smith plays a full 16 games for the first time since 2015.

Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Tavon Austin

Wide Receiver/Running Back Tavon Austin

Whatever role Tavon Austin finds in the Cowboys offense, this is a play maker the Cowboys will have to get the ball to in a variety of ways. Expected to partially take the load off of Ezekiel Elliott as a running back while also being targeted in the passing game, Austin could very well influence the team's roster decisions at both RB and WR.

Two uncertain positions when it comes to depth, Austin's presence could mean bad news for Running Backs Darius Jackson and Bo Scarbrough, or Wide Receivers Lance Lenoir, KD Cannon, and Noah Brown.

We're still a long way off from knowing if a decision like this will be the right one for the Cowboys, but with so much uncertainty on offense entering 2018, Tavon Austin's importance could grow by the day in Oxnard.

Linebacker Justin March-Lillard

Needing to address the linebacker position heavily this offseason, the Cowboys locked in on Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick and selected him at 19th overall. With the 193rd overall pick, the Cowboys also added Indiana Linebacker Chris Covington.

Expected starters Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Vander Esch will still need quality depth behind them to play to their strengths this season.

A healthy Lee is locked in as this team's starting WILL linebacker, but the Cowboys are expected to test both Vander Esch and Smith at the MIKE position.

"The loser of this battle" moving to SAM linebacker is not so simple, especially considering other athletic options the Cowboys have for this strong side role. Along with Damien Wilson, the Cowboys have also seen strides from Justin March-Lillard.

Capable of contributing on special teams and providing important snaps in Rod Marinelli's defense, March-Lillard should be a hard player for the Cowboys to leave off their final roster. If he survives to the final 53, expect him to also be active on game days in support of the Cowboys LBs.

Quarterback Cooper Rush

What exactly do the Cowboys have in second-year Quarterback Cooper Rush, an undrafted sensation out of Central Michigan? Showing the potential to be Dak Prescott's primary backup or an enticing trade piece to QB-needy teams as a rookie, Rush is now joined by a new rookie on the depth chart.

Drafting Mike White in the fifth round, the Cowboys have plenty of skill at quarterback this season. The scope of this list is not to cover how well the Cowboys are prepared to play without Prescott.

Playing with two quarterbacks or three on the roster will be a looming decision for the Cowboys though. Either Rush or White could prove they deserve the second and last QB spot, with Rush's progress from last year challenged by White's accuracy.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Of course, more Cowboys backups will emerge as ones to keep an eye on, once the Cowboys are back on the field. With several coaches and 'big name' players potentially needing this season to reach the playoffs for the Cowboys, a second straight season of depleted depth won't cut it.

Such is the nature of the Cowboys roster cuts, with the final 53 man roster set on September 1st.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Most Important Backups Entering Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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