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: Guards & Centers
Dallas may have the best center and guard in the NFL in Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. It’s an incredible luxury, but the days of enjoying their greatness on rookie salaries are about over. Frederick has already received his big contract and Martin may have his before the year is over.
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’ guards and centers are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.
As was just reported late yesterday, the Cowboys have restructured Frederick’s deal to create a little less than $10 million in cap space. This move has been expected for some time; Frederick and Tyron Smith‘s contracts were strategically designed with these cap-friendly mechanisms.
Still just 26-year-old and perhaps the best center in football, Frederick is the kind of player you have no hesitation about restructuring. He is signed through the 2023 season and has plenty of wiggle room left on the contract. We can expect to see money moved around on Frederick’s deal for the next few seasons.
The final year of Martin’s rookie contract is here and makes him one of the biggest bargains in football. However, that cap amount could change before the season’s over.
Dallas has already exercised the fifth-year option on Martin’s deal, ensuring he’ll be a Cowboy through 2018. However, last year that was worth $11.9 million. Assuming that the 2018 amount will be close to that once calculated, Dallas is going to want to sign Martin to a long-term deal to bring that number way down.
We go into even further detail on Martin’s potential contract changes at the end of the article.
While he’s received first-round treatment since joining the Cowboys in 2014, Collins has yet to get paid like a top prospect. After missing all but three games last year to a foot injury, Collins returns ready to reclaim his starting spot and prove he deserves his own major contract extension.
Collins will have just three accrued seasons after 2017, meaning he would be a Restricted Free Agent next offseason. Last year’s first-round tender was worth $3.6 million, which the Cowboys would likely be more than happy to pay.
The big question is if Dallas thinks another team wouldn’t be willing to give up that first-round pick to sign Collins. Given Collins’ age and potential, sacrificing that pick might not deter teams picking in the middle to back of the first round.
It’s too early to know, especially after the injury, where Dallas is on Collins’ long-term prospects. Would they go ahead and extend him now or wait for a clearer picture? More on this below.
The versatile veteran replaced Mackenzy Bernadeau last year as the backup center. He has one year left on the contract and should be back to at least compete in training camp and preseason, if not make the team next season.
Dallas could save $800k by releasing Looney. It’s not a big amount but is almost penalty free, which can never be ignored. I don’t expect that to happen this early in the offseason, but “Jumbo Joe” will certainly be wary of any younger prospects who look like they can provide depth at center.
A fifth-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Edwards was on their 53-man roster as a rookie but was never active. The former Tennessee State guard was released the following year, then spent the last half of 2015 season on the Jaguars’ practice squad.
Last year, Edwards was still in Jacksonville until final cuts. He was eventually signed to the Cowboys practice squad last November and has now been signed a two-year futures contract.
Ronald Leary – It would be a major surprise if Leary returned to Dallas at this point. After a year of grumbling about his money, which was perfectly justified, Leary is going to be looking for a starting job and a solid payday. With La’el Collins coming back from injury, he won’t find either with the Cowboys.
Jonathan Cooper – The former first-round talent was signed shortly after the Week 17 game as veteran depth for the playoffs. It was also a chance for Dallas to kick the tires on a player they admittedly coveted in the 2013 NFL Draft. We will have to wait and see if the Cowboys are interested in a further look.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Interior Linemen Cap Hit = $9.45 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 5.58%
It’s a safe assumption that Dallas isn’t going to let Zack Martin count $11-$13 million against their 2018 salary cap. The fifth-year option they’ve exercised is just a placeholder; they will almost certainly get a long-term deal done sometime between now and the end of the 2017 regular season.
We can expect that Martin’s big contract will be similar to Travis Frederick’s and Tyron Smith’s, built to make year restructuring easy and friendly on Dallas’ salary cap. They are the three foundation pieces of this great offense line and the Cowboys clearly intend for them to remain in place for many seasons to come.
That being the case, Martin’s 2017 cap hit may not chance much even with the extension. Frederick’s first season counted just $2.2 million against the 2016 cap. Martin is currently at $2.85 million and I would expect that number to stay about the same no matter what happens with his new deal.
The other starting guard, La’el Collins, is perhaps the more intriguing figure. How much does Dallas already believe in him? How much can the needle move during the early part of the season?
Signing Collins as an undrafted free agent was an anomaly. He was only there because of an unfortunate personal circumstance that robbed him of his draft status and the money that should’ve come with it. Dallas would probably love to make things right for him with his next contract, but can they really afford to pay four offensive linemen like superstars?
Considering how well the line has performed with Ronald Leary, Dallas might decide that Collins is a luxury they can’t afford after this year. Perhaps they’ll give him that first-round RFA tender for one more season. Still, I could see the Cowboys being more than happy to see another team sign him away in exchange for a first-round pick.
There’s an old adage that “you can’t have prime rib at every position” on your team. Sometimes you have to settle for the chopped steak just to make the budget work. Dallas gets at least one more year of Collins on the cheap, but they’ve already got a lot of prime rib on the offensive line for many seasons to come.
Thankfully, it’s a decision they don’t have to make just yet.