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: 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.
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, RB
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While
If there's one thing we've learned in the past, it's that NFL seasons are unpredictable. Unknown factors, injuries and unexpected "breakout" players can shift the way we saw the league just a month ago, when we were still watching preseason games on TV. After two weeks of regular season action, Cowboys Nation might be surprised to see their Dallas Cowboys sitting on top of the NFC East, but that's precisely the case. Not only that, but they could remain division leaders for a while...
Now, let's not get carried away here. While the team might be on top right now, they're not even 2-0 and it's only week 3. The Cowboys' offense played well on week 2, but terribly on week 1. It's way too early to judge how this season will go based on what we've seen.
However, there is no denying that they seem to be in a very good position to remain the NFC East front runners in the coming weeks. The Cowboys had more reasons to celebrate last Sunday besides their victory over the New York Giants. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins suffered losses in their respective games, giving Dallas the opportunity to control their destiny.
As previously mentioned, though, it's only week 3. But the team's next three opponents aren't as scary as they seemed prior to the season's start. Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Cowboys' next three opponents are winless, sharing a combined record of 0-6.
Starting by the Seattle Seahawks, who have been a dominant team in the NFL landscape for a few years now but that simply don't seem like a very threatening opponent right now. The main reason why is their weak offensive line, which I expect the Dallas Cowboys to exploit just like they did with the Panthers and Giants. Russel Wilson is a tougher guy to contain, being one of the best playmakers in the NFL right now, but I trust the defense to handle him. They've done such a good pressuring quarterbacks, I'll trust they will continue to do so.
Next in the calendar will be the Detroit Lions. Through two weeks, they've struggled more than we expected under the reigns of their new head coach, Matt Patricia. On week 1, Matt Stafford threw four interceptions in a game that was in control of the New York Jets all night long. But it's not the Lions' offense that I think the Cowboys will take advantage of, but their poor run defense. They gave up 169 yards on rushing against the Jets on week 1 and 190 last Sunday, when they faced the San Francisco 49ers.
Ezekiel Elliott will have that defense dreaming nightmares before their matchup in week 4.
Finally, on week 5, the Cowboys will face their in-state rival, the Houston Texans. Surprisingly, the Deshaun Watson-led team is 0-2 after facing the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. This might be the team that hands the Cowboys their second loss of the season. They have a balanced offense that will pose no challenge for the Cowboys' defense, but this could be a dangerous game for the offense.
The Cowboys will rely on Ezekiel Elliott for this one as well. On the defensive side of the ball, Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie will have to replicate their success versus Odell Beckham, only this time they will be facing Deandre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Even though the Cowboys were terrible in Carolina when they opened their season, the defense has been looking so good that I don't doubt their ability to carry the team to victories for the time being. If the offense continues to improve, then this team might be able to take full advantage of the unexpected head start it got in the NFC East.
I can't say it enough; it's only week 3... but look out. It could take some time before the Cowboys give up that #1 spot in the division.
#SEAvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
The Dallas Cowboys found a way to get their first win last Sunday, defeating the New York Giants from start to finish, 20-13.
Now at 1-1 and locked in a three way tie for 1st place in the NFC East, Dallas is looking to string together a few victories and create some early separation. Seattle is now sitting at 0-2, and while that's typically a hole teams cannot climb out of in the NFL, the Seahawks will be desperately fighting to avoid an 0-3 start.
The Seahawks opened up as 3 point home favorites against the Cowboys, with the over/under set at 44.5 points.
After an abysmal season opener against Carolina, the Cowboys came out firing against the Giants on Sunday night. Dallas led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, and ended up holding on as the Giants made a late garbage-time run.
Dak Prescott looked as comfortable in the pocket as he as in weeks, finding Tavon Austin for a 64 yard touchdown pass on the opening drive. Ezekiel Elliott scored another rushing touchdown, and the Cowboys defense was straight up dominant.
Now, the Cowboys defensive line has another chance to increase their sack total against the Seahawks' weak offensive line. And you know DeMarcus Lawrence is salivating.
Dallas improved to 1-1 straight up and against the spread, covering the 3 point spread set by Vegas a week ago. Both Cowboys games have gone under thus far as well.
The Seahawks fell to 0-2 on Monday night with a tough road loss to the Chicago Bears. Khalil Mack dominated the Seahawks offensive line, dictating protections and keeping Russell Wilson uncomfortable all night long.
The Seahawks haven't been able to get much of a run game going this season, despite their insistence upon doing so. Russell Wilson is their offense, and if the Cowboys can pressure him and force him into hero-ball throws, they should have success on Sunday. After all, this was the Bears recipe for success on Monday night.
Seattle is 0-2 straight up and 0-1-1 against the spread this season.
- The score total has gone under 5 straight Cowboys' games.
- Dallas is 2-4 against the spread their last six times playing at Seattle.
- Seattle is 1-5 against the spread their last six games at home.
- The under has hit 4 of the last 5 Cowboys/Seahawks games.
While I've thought hard about picking the under for the third straight week (I'm 2-0 doing so), I'll pick the actual game for you guys this time. I think the Cowboys will get this road win and improve to 2-1 behind dominant defensive line play and a strong running game.
This match up favors Dallas in multiple ways and I expect them to take advantage of Seattle's weak spots.
I like the Cowboys +3 a lot this Sunday.
Kris Richard, the Cowboys X-Factor Against the Seahawks
In the NFL, wins are hard to come by. That is why teams do their due diligence each and every week to try to come up with some advantage, however slight. This week, the Dallas Cowboys may have the biggest advantage they could possibly hope for over their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, and he goes by the name of Kris Richard.
The hiring of Kris Richard may have been Dallas' biggest offseason move. We have already seen in the first couple of games of the 2018 season the impact he's had on the Cowboys defense. The entire defensive unit has been playing possessed and has pretty much dominated their opponents. I believe Richard deserves the majority of the credit.
But this week is different. The Dallas Cowboys travel to Seattle for a Sunday afternoon game against the Seahawks, who are a tough opponent when playing at home. History hasn't always been kind to the Cowboys when playing on the road in Seattle.
In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Tony Romo doesn't still have nightmares about playing in Seattle. A mishandled snap on a routine 19 yard field goal attempt ended up costing the Cowboys a playoff victory in 2007. Then he sustained the back injury that would ultimately end his career in a meaningless preseason game against the Seahawks in 2016.
To say history hasn't been kind to the Cowboys in Seattle would probably be an understatement. But still, that's where they're heading for this Week 3 matchup.
Luckily, I believe the Dallas Cowboys have an ace in the hole in 2018. I think their new Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach, Kris Richard, is going to be the X-Factor. Who could give you more inside information than someone who spent the last eight years with Seattle as both a coach and a player than Richard?
Kris Richard should know just about all of the ins and outs about the Seattle Seahawks, especially on the defensive side of the ball since he served as their Defensive Coordinator the previous two seasons before joining the Cowboys. But, his knowledge of their offense could prove to be invaluable as well.
Richard has seen the Seahawks offense and Russell Wilson on a daily basis in practice firsthand. He should have a very good understanding of not only their tendencies, but what types of plays they run out of different formations. It should be just like having a spy within their own huddle.
Now, having inside information is one thing, but executing the game plan is something different entirely. Kris Richard can possibly predict with high probability exactly what the Seahawks plan on doing, but it falls on the Cowboys players as to execute the game plan.
In the end, this game will ultimately come down to which team executes better on the field Sunday afternoon. The Dallas Cowboys may have an X-Factor in Kris Richard, but he's not the one suiting up against the Seahawks. It all falls on the player's shoulders, as it always has.
Do you think Kris Richard can be the Cowboys X-Factor against the Seahawks?
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