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Cowboys Salary Cap: Running Backs Have Tremendous Value in 2017

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

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 | SAFETIES | TIGHT ENDS | LINEBACKERS | GUARDS & CENTERS | DEFENSIVE TACKLES | OFFENSIVE TACKLES | DEFENSIVE ENDS | QUARTERBACKS | CORNERBACKS | RECEIVERS

Cowboys Capology: Running Backs

The Cowboys’ running backs get as much attention as any group in the NFL. With three first-round picks and increasingly big contracts invested in their offensive line, Dallas made a commitment to running the ball that few NFL teams have matched. Once they spent a fourth-overall pick on Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ run game became its clear offensive focal point.

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’ running backs are scheduled to cost against our 2017 salary cap.

Ezekiel Elliott, Zeke Elliott, Salvation Army Kettle, Buccaneers

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott, RB

2017 Cap Hit: $5.67 million

While rookie contracts are often huge money-savers for NFL teams, Ezekiel Elliott’s doesn’t offer quite the same benefit. Between the generally lower cap figures for running backs and being the fourth overall pick last season, Elliott’s cap hit is still in the top 10 for the position. He is only about $2.5 million below veterans like LeSean McCoy and Jonathan Stewart, who are in the top three.

Not that anyone’s complaining, though. As the league’s leading rusher and the most talented runner to come into the NFL since Adrian Peterson, Elliott is still a bargain at his current cost. He will continue to be the Cowboys’ primary weapon on offense while making far less than some of his teammates.

The first time Dallas even has to think about Zeke’s contract is 2019, the fourth and final year. That is the first time that Elliott is eligible to get an extension. Because Zeke was a first-round pick, the Cowboys can also consider using their fifth-year option; basically a cheaper version of securing him for one more season than using the franchise tag.

There is a lot of football between now and then, though. For the present, Zeke is one of the best bargains in the NFL. Enjoy it!

Alfred Morris

RB Alfred Morris

Alfred Morris

2017 Cap Hit: $2.13 million

After an encouraging preseason and solid play from Weeks 1-5, Morris’ performance trailed off as the season went along. He eventually lost his spot to Darren McFadden and finished the year with just a 3.5 average on his carries.

Alfred’s contract expires after 2017. Dallas can save about $1.6 million by releasing him while eating $500k in dead money. Morris’ potential to be a cap casualty is explained in detail towards the end of this article.

Keith Smith

FB Keith Smith

Keith Smith (FB)

2017 Cap Hit $600k

A few weeks ago I wrote about Smith’s value as the Cowboys’ fullback and special teams player. Suffice to say, he’s a solid contributor to the offense and team as a whole. I don’t expect him to be going anywhere. The linked article goes into much further detail about what Keith Smith offers.

Rod Smith

RB/FB Rod Smith (Paul Spinelli via AP)

Rod Smith

2017 Cap Hit: $465k

Smith was active in seven games last year but only touched the ball once. He lost the competition for the fullback job to Keith Smith and wound up being released in Week 9, though he did finish the year on the Cowboys’ practice squad.

It doesn’t hurt that Rod Smith’s brother, Jaylon, is a Cowboy and projects to be a very important one in the near future. Dallas will likely keep Rod through training camp as a body, though we will have to wait and see if he gets more work at RB or FB.

Free Agents

Darren McFadden – While he looked slightly more effective than Alfred Morris with his limited carries, McFadden still had just a 3.6 average in 2016. Turning 30 this August, it may simply be too little, too late for the veteran. However, if Dallas still likes him more than Morris, we might see McFadden get the veteran minimum to stay while Alfred gets released.

Lance Dunbar – While he stayed healthy, a rarity for his career, Dunbar’s role on offense and special team was even less than prior seasons. Now a 27-year-old running back who relies on speed, there doesn’t seem to be a spot for him in Dallas going forward.

2017 Salary Cap Impact

Total Running Backs Cap Hit = $8.87 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 5.24%

I don’t see these numbers changing much after the offseason. If anything, they could go down if Dallas cuts Alfred Morris.

This should remain a cap-friendly position for the next few seasons. Ezekiel Elliott’s rookie deal should continue to be a bargain through 2019. Given his workhorse role, Dallas can continue to find low-priced veterans or even cheaper, younger options to stock behind Zeke on the depth chart.

There will come a time when the Cowboys have to decide if Elliott is worth paying franchise player money too. What happens this year with Le’Veon Bell’s free agency in Pittsburgh and David Johnson in 2019 will got a long way to setting the market price. For now, Dallas thankfully can just enjoy the savings with Zeke’s rookie contract.

Potential Cap Casualties

Alfred Morris should definitely be worried. That $1.6 million in savings is not a small amount, especially with Dallas needing to fill several holes and find upgrades on defense. He wasn’t effective enough to guarantee his spot.

The issue, as it almost always is with releasing players, is that you have to then replace them. Morris’ dead money will still count $500k against the cap and Dallas would then have to pay someone to take his spot. Unless they go with someone making near the minimum, that $1.6 million in cap savings will get eaten up fast.

What will really matter with Alfred’s future is if Dallas finds someone they simply see as an upgrade. Even if the money is a wash, a more effective backup RB is still worth finding.

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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!

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job

Sean Martin

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Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job 1

By keeping all three top coaches (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli) in place for 2018, there isn’t a Dallas Cowboys coaching hire that feels like they “must” get it right to contend next season. This is how it should be.

Producing nine wins, despite missing key players throughout the season, the Cowboys are changing things up at the position coach level to hopefully introduce new ideas and give the talent on this team a better chance at sustained success.

One coaching vacancy that needs to be filled by the right guy above any else is on the offensive line, where things haven’t been the same since the great Bill Callahan departed.

Frank Pollack took his place, and now finds himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after not being retained by Dallas this offseason.

Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates For Cowboys Vacant OL Coach Job

Tom Cable (Stephen Brashear / Getty Images)

The first name that was thrown around in consideration for the Cowboys job was Tom Cable, which sent a panic throughout Cowboys Nation before Cable decided to sign with John Gruden and the Raiders.

Cable had been coaching the Seahawks’ OL, a position that franchise has not valued in some time, and struggled to develop any talent in protection of their franchise QB Russell Wilson.

Now, two new names have emerged as candidates to coach the likes of two-time 1st Team All-Pro LT Tyron Smith, 1st Team All-Pro C Travis Frederick, and two-time 1st Team All-Pro RG Zack Martin.

Mike Solari and Paul Alexander

Paul Alexander has already met with the Dallas Cowboys, looking for work after 23 seasons with the Bengals. During this time, Alexander served as Marvin Lewis’ assistant head coach, in addition to his duties as their OL coach.

Judging on reactions out of Cincinnati to Alexander’s departure, the Bengals offensive line regressed under him in 2017, warranting change from a franchise that is as reluctant as any to move on from coaches.

Goodberry on Twitter

Paul Alexander better be gone

Most recently, Mike Solari has served as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants — far from a renowned unit around the NFL lately. He does have previous experience with the Cowboys, having served as an assistant OL and special teams coach here from 1987-88.

From 2006-07, Solari did reach the rank of offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, which shows the level of respect that the 30-year NFL coaching veteran has earned.

He will be the Dallas Cowboys’ next interview for their open OL coach position.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

Dallas Cowboys RT La’el Collins, RG Zack Martin

Depth at tackle, a long-term answer at left guard, and an extension for Zack Martin are among the questions facing the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. Whoever is in charge of keeping this unit up to standard in 2018 though, may hold the keys to getting the entirety of the Cowboys’ program back on track.

Whether it’s Alexander, Solari, or another outside candidate yet to emerge, Inside The Star will keep you updated on the Cowboys’ ongoing coaching search.

Tell us what you think about “Mike Solari, Paul Alexander Candidates for Cowboys Vacant OL Coaching Job” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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