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: Special Teams
While they rarely come up in salary cap conversations, special teams players cost money too. The Cowboys boast one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and the model of perfection at long snapper. The punter isn't half bad either, leaving no surprise that Dallas has one of the more expensive trio of specialists in the league.
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 special teams players are scheduled to cost against our 2017 salary cap.
Dan Bailey, K
A career-low 84.4% accuracy in 2016 dropped Dan Bailey from being the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Still, he's second all-time behind Justin Tucker by just half a percent.
When not being asked to kick 55-yarders, Bailey is still as good as has ever been. It's no surprise that his 2017 cap hit is currently scheduled to be fifth among kickers. Above him are the aforementioned Justin Tucker and three other veterans; Matt Prater, Sebatsian Janikowski, and Stephen Gostkowski.
As long as Dan Bailey continues to be "Mr. Automatic" when kicking within his range, the Cowboys are more than happy to keep him as one of the league's best-paid kickers. He has more than earned it and hasn't shown any signs of losing his touch.
Chris Jones, P
Chis Jones' 58 punts in 2016 was one of the lowest numbers in the NFL; 25th overall. The Cowboys' proficient offense kept Jones on the sideline more than most punters. However, when called upon, he was a valuable tool in the ever-important factor of field position.
With only the 15th-highest salary cap hit scheduled for punters in 2017, Chris Jones gives the Cowboys excellent value. He has a knack for aiming kicks for the sideline or hanging them high while still maximizing distance. His punts were only returned 29% the time by the opposition, one of the lowest rates in the league.
Jones will be in the final year of his contract next season. Having already been re-signed once by Dallas and improving his play during that deal, it's likely he will get another extension in the near future.
L.P. Ladouceur, LS
Usually, having the league's best player at his position comes with a heavy cost. Thankfully for the Cowboys, long snapper doesn't follow that same trend.
You could argue that L.P. Ladouceur is underpaid given the service he offers and the perfection with which it's handled. He is in on every punt, field goal, and point-after play and yet makes less than either Dan Bailey or Chris Jones.
Still, Ladouceur makes double what many long snappers do in the NFL. He is scheduled to be the league's highest-paid long snapper next season but you won't hear anyone complaining from Dallas. Louis-Philippe more than earns it.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Special Teams Cap Hit = $6.97 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 4.11%
Given the huge role that these specialists play in the team's success, 4% of the salary cap is nothing. Dallas gets more than their money's worth with all three players and shouldn't be looking to part ways with any of them.
Potential Cap Casualties
You couldn't blame L.P. Ladouceur if he feels a little threatened. Turning 36 in March, Ladouceur has seen young long snappers come through for several years now during training camp. The Cowboys have always said this is just for insurance purposes and to take wear and tear off their aging veteran.
If Dallas were to find someone they thought could match L.P.'s efficiency, they might go with the cheaper youngster and save $1.1 million by releasing Ladouceur. Finding that guy won't be easy, though. Ladouceur is the best in the business and perhaps of all time. What beats perfection?
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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