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: Linebackers
Anytime you have one of the NFL's best players at a certain position, you expect that he's going to be expensive. Sean Lee takes up a big chunk of salary cap space but, now that he's stayed healthy for two seasons, he's worth every penny. Thankfully, most of the other linebackers are still on their cheap rookie deals.
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' linebackers are scheduled to cost against our 2017 salary cap.
If you still think of Sean Lee as awesome but oft-injured, it may be time to reassess. Lee missed one game last year and that was simply for veteran rest in Week 17. In 2015, he missed two games for a concussion. It appears, hopefully, that Sean's knee issues are finally behind him.
While Lee's 2017 cap hit is high, it's commensurate with the other elite players at his position. Pass-rushers from 3-4 schemes Von Miller and Justin Houston will count over $20 million each against they teams' caps. The best comparison in the league would be Panthers star Luke Kuechly, whose cap hit is just about $300k more than Sean's.
That said, the Cowboys do have some options for getting Sean Lee's cap hit down to a more team-friendly level. We will discuss those further down the article.
No matter who Dallas drafts or signs this offseason, Jaylon will probably still have the most-anticipated debut for 2017. Considered an elite, top-five draft prospect last year before a major knee injury, Smith is looking healthy and ready to improve the Cowboys defense next season.
If Jaylon Smith is as good as projected, the three years left on his rookie deal will be a tremendous bargain for the Cowboys. His most expensive cap hit will be just about $2 million in 2019. As we just discussed with Sean Lee, elite play-makers at linebacker don't usually come cheap.
The former 2014 forth-round pick emerged last season as solid starter at the SAM, or strong side, position. With Jaylon Smith moving in at middle linebacker, Wilson will likely have to fight for his starting spot with Anthony Hitchens.
If not for the eye injury that kept him out of training camp, Wilson might have been starting from Week One. Jason Garrett praised Wilson as one of the most-improved players during their May and June practices. Once he finally broke into the starting lineup in Week 9, Wilson continued to impress.
Hitchens has a major experience advantage over Wilson so that should be a fun competition to watch. Even if he loses out, Wilson will be a solid reserve player at minimal cost.
As just mentioned, Hitchens may find himself back in a reserve role in 2017. We almost don't think of him as a backup after starting 36 of 48 games in his first three seasons. However, those have mostly come from Sean Lee and Rolando McClain missing time.
If Hitchens does wind up on the bench then Dallas might consider trying to trade him. He has a lot of playing experience and might net a mid-round pick. However, his low cap hit and ability to play all three LB positions is highly valuable to the Cowboys as a backup.
Dallas re-signed the veteran last offseason to a two-year contract. Wilber only started one game but provides good depth and some versatility as a former 3-4 scheme pass rusher.
With only $500k in guaranteed money left on his contract, Wilber is a name to watch as a potential salary cap casualty. More details on that below.
One of the standouts from the 2016 preseason, Nzeocha injured his Achilles and wound up having a minimal role last year. He is highly athletic and still has two years left on his rookie contract. Dallas will be hoping for Nzeocha to emerge as a quality backup and special teams player this season.
A fifth-round pick of the Jets in 2014, George bounced from New York to Jacksonville to Tampa Bay during his first two years. Dallas signed him to their practice squad last September and he stayed the whole season.
Justin Durant - The veteran's second stint with the Cowboys has likely come to an end. Turning 32 in September, Durant looked like an aging player last year and never could make consistent contributions. He had flashes, but likely not enough that Dallas would want to pay him around $1 million for the veteran minimum.
Andrew Gachkar - Dallas might offer Gachkar a minimal one or two-year deal to return. He provides veteran depth and can play both the MIKE or WILL positions. He's also a core special teams player and a favorite of coach Rich Bisaccia, who brought Gachkar over from San Diego in 2015.
Rolando McClain - Our three-year roller coaster ride with McClain should finally be over. After injuries, drug suspensions, and general concerns about his effort and conditioning, Rolando isn't even eligible to play until October because of his last suspension, making it unlikely that any team will be giving him a look this offseason.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Linebackers Cap Hit = $18.46 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 10.9%
Sean Lee's $12.45 million cap hit is obviously the big issue here. Thankfully, $9 million of that is base salary that the Cowboys could convert to bring down the cap. Lee is signed through 2019, so there are two years left after this season for kicking the can down the road.
A week ago I wrote about Dez Bryant's contract and how restructuring it could be dangerous for the Cowboys. I might've written similar article about Sean Lee in recent seasons, but now I feel like he's given us enough evidence to feel okay about losing our financial leverage.
Obviously, anything can happen. But after two seasons of good health and elite play, Lee has earned my confidence. If the Cowboys do restructure his deal in the next month, we'll know that he's earned theirs as well.
Potential Cap Casualties
The only guy who might be worried is Kyle Wilber. Dallas can save $1.25 million by releasing him, though that would leave $500k in dead money. Is that really enough savings to lose one of your few experienced backups?
Given Sean Lee's injury history and the remaining uncertainty with Jaylon Smith, Dallas will likely hang on to Wilber. If both of them were to be out at the same time, Wilber would likely start as the SAM while Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson slid into the other two spots.
With two veteran depth players likely leaving in Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar, I don't see Dallas discarding Kyle Wilber on top of them.
Will Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Return This Week?
The Dallas Cowboys have been without one of their defensive starters for the first two weeks of 2018; safety Xavier Woods. A preseason hamstring injury has kept him in street clothes so far, but Woods could make his season debut this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
The positive update on Woods' status was provided by Owner Jerry Jones in his regular radio appearance this morning.
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said it appears Randy Gregory (concussion) will be available to play Sunday at Seattle. Jones also thinks Xavier Woods (hamstring) has a chance to play this week after missing the first two games
Gregory has already played this year, suffering his concussion and leaving the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. Even in his absence last week, the Cowboys got six sacks on Eli Manning in their victory over the Giants.
That's not to say getting Randy back isn't noteworthy, but the real news here is the potential for Xavier Woods to take his place as the team's starting free safety.
While Woods has been out, Jeff Heath has been the free safety while Kavon Frazier has started at strong. The plan going into 2018 was for Heath to play strong safety, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage where his skills are best suited.
Xavier was one of the team's most exciting rookies last year, flashing the potential to be a game-changing presence.
Woods' upside is one of the reasons some fans haven't been as desperate about the Earl Thomas situation. While Thomas would be an upgrade in almost any defense, including the Cowboys, the chance to see what Xavier has mitigated disappointment over not acquiring the All-Pro safety.
If Woods can provide what the team hopes for at free safety, it has a positive ripple effect for the roster. Not only do you upgrade at FS, but Heath moving to his ideal role at SS is another improvement.
It also moves Frazier, who's been solid in his playing time, into a valuable bench role. It gives Dallas depth at safety which, up til now, they've lacked in Xavier's absence.
The loser in this deal would likely be either veteran backup Ibraheim Campbell, who Dallas signed two weeks ago to deal with their depth issues, or undrafted rookie Tyree Robinson. Robinson has been with the team since they signed him immediately after the 2018 NFL Draft.
With talk that the Cowboys are looking to bring back WR Brice Butler, a roster spot will be needed. Xavier Woods' return could allow for that spot to come from safety rather than receiver, where Dallas is hesitant to part with any of its current players.
In the end, all we have right now is a "maybe" about Woods' status. But with Dallas' defense already performing well this year, the thought of getting even better is enticing. With the tough road environment of Seattle and Russell Wilson coming up this Sunday, getting Xavier back could be timely.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants
I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.
With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.
If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.
The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.
I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.
I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.
Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.
The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.
There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.
The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.
The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.
What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?
Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants
Unlike last week, today's Monday morning hangover isn't nearly as bad. Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys had a bounce back game against the New York Giants Sunday night, meaning you were probably drinking in celebration instead of drowning your sorrows. Hopefully, this continues.
Today, I want to do a little recap over what took place last night for the Dallas Cowboys and share with you some of the good and not so good I observed. Luckily, there was much more good for the Cowboys compared to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
First off, how impressive was the Cowboys defensive play against the Giants? The pass rush consistently put pressure on Eli Manning and finished the night with six quarterback sacks. Nearly all of the defensive line got in on the action. I think we can credit Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard for the aggressive game plan.
The pass rush wasn't all that was dominant against the Giants for the Cowboys defense. Dallas' secondary pretty much shut down Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the Giants aerial attack. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire night and it paid off. Again, I think we can give credit to Kris Richard. He's changed how these defensive backs are being utilized.
The one negative I took away from the Cowboys defensive performance was the missed tackles once again. There were several Cowboys defenders who failed to take down Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley on first contact. Barkley unfortunately was able to pick up several yards after contact because of this. Tackling was a problem against the Panthers as well and it needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.
Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys looked like an entirely different unit than what took the field in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan was much more aggressive with his playcalling, evidenced by the long touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first offensive series.
Unlike against the Panthers, Linehan put Dak Prescott in the best position to succeed. He didn't have No. 4 sit in the pocket, instead he put him on the move and allowed him to use his mobility to put pressure on the Giants defense. I believe this is where Prescott is at his best and should continued to be utilized in this manner.
Ezekiel Elliott didn't have the biggest rushing totals, but we all know the Giants defense was trying to take him out of the game. He finished the night with 78 rushing yards on 17 carries, but he did manage to pretty much put the game away with a rushing TD. Personally, I would love to see Zeke more involved in the passing game, especially down the field instead of around on a scrimmage.
All in all, the Dallas Cowboys did what they needed to do in order to secure the victory. They still have several things they need to clean up and improve upon, but what team doesn't at this point in the season. Now, they need to carry over this momentum into Week 3 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
What do you think about the Dallas Cowboys performance against the Giants?
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