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.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys would seem fairly settled at offensive tackle for 2019, with last year's starters both still under contract and set to return. But the need for a reliable backup has become increasingly important, and Dallas may also want to use this offseason to start planning for the future.
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins return to their starting roles, but not without some concern. Smith has now missed three games in each of the last three seasons, though a few of those have been for veteran rest at the end of the year.
We all remember the Chaz Green debacle in 2017 Atlanta. That led to the Cowboys paying veteran Cameron Fleming $2.5 million last season to come and play as the swing tackle, and Smith's ongoing issues with health will make his backup an offseason priority once more.
Meanwhile, Collins has started every game since taking over as the right tackle in 2017. He's been solid but not a star, which is a disappointment after his draft year hype and some of the talent he flashed at left guard during his first two seasons.
2019 is a contract year for La'el. He will turn just 27 by the 2020 season, making him an attractive potential free agent. But his play has arguably not lived up to his current salary, which has him as one of the higher-paid right tackles in the NFL already.
Anyone who has the privilege of playing next to Zack Martin has no excuses.
Even with his many trips to the Pro Bowl, Tyron Smith isn't immune to contract talk. The 2020 offseason presents Dallas with about an $8 million cap relief opportunity by releasing Smith. It would only leave them with about $5 million in dead money, which is less than they've had when releasing stars like DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, and Dez Bryant in recent years.
While still just 28 years old, Tyron has been getting increasingly bothered by nagging injuries. Bad backs and necks tend to become lifelong issues, and we've already mentioned the games he's missed over the last few seasons.
When healthy, Smith is still about as good as they come at left tackle. But could his health issues spark an early decline in skill? And if it happens as soon as 2019, could Dallas start looking at that cap space more intently?
With Cameron Fleming now a free agent and these 2020 question marks looming on both starters, there's a good argument for the Cowboys to spend their second or third-round pick at offensive tackle.
Ideally, a "Day 2" rookie would be able to take over as the swing tackle this year. Dallas could still sign a veteran insurance policy to compete in camp and the preseason, or even carry both players next season.
But more important aspect would be taking a player now to groom for 2020, when you might need to make a big decision on either Collins or Smith's future. Or, at the very least, have a solid swing tackle in place for the duration of his four-year rookie contract.
That said, free agency starts a month-and-a-half before the NFL Draft. The Cowboys can't really afford to wait for the draft to find a swing tackle, or else they may wind up with nothing.
The simplest move would be to just re-sign Cam Fleming. He is an adequate player with plenty of experience, and could likely be retained for about the same salary as last year.
But given Fleming's age (26) and experience, which includes starting in playoff games and even a Super Bowl for the Patriots, he could attract teams looking for even more than just a backup. Thankfully, there a still a number of veterans out there if Dallas has to find a replacement.
One guy to consider, especially for just a one-year deal, is Ty Nsekhe from the Redskins. He's a native of Arlington, TX and has started 14 games over the last three seasons, backing up the oft-injured Trent Williams. On the negative side, Nsekhe turns 34 next October.
As a whole, this 2019 offseason doesn't present any immediate dangers. The Cowboys will need to figure out their swing tackle situation by either re-signing Fleming, adding a different veteran, or drafting a replacement.
But given the contract situations of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in 2020, Dallas could make a move in the next few months to help prepare for a potential big change a year from now.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Linebacker
One of the brightest spots on the Dallas Cowboys' projected 2019 roster is linebacker. The young pair of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have already emerged as one of the league's best duos. But that doesn't mean that the Cowboys have no work to do at the position this offseason.
Having Jaylon and Leighton does take a lot of pressure off. Most teams utilize their nickel scheme more than any other these days, which generally utilizes just two linebackers, in the increasingly pass-focused NFL. And thankfully, both Smith and Vander Esch have shown great skills in pass defense.
But there's still a semi-starting role to get figured out in the base 4-3 scheme. Damien Wilson has held the strong-side or "SAM" position for the last few years and has an expiring contract.
What's more, Dallas has a big decision to make regarding the contract of Sean Lee, which is ripe for terminating with $7 million in salary cap savings possible.
It's highly unlikely that the Cowboys would keep both Lee and Wilson. If they decide to re-sign Damien, Lee will be cut to help fund that move and others. If Sean is kept on, Wilson will almost surely be looking for a starting role somewhere else in free agency.
Even if the Cowboys do make Lee a cap casualty between now and March 13th, they may still allow Wilson to test free agency and then try to re-sign him later at a discount. He's unlikely to attract the same attention that Anthony Hitchens got last year.
Another factor in all of this is Joe Thomas, a free agent addition last year who provided good depth and could potentially start in 2019. He is scheduled to count $2.2 million against the cap, which is fine for a primary reserve but a bargain for an occasional starter.
A core of Smith, Thomas, and Vander Esch gives the Cowboys a good foundation to build from. Smith can play the SAM in the base scheme and Thomas can be the primary backup to Jaylon and Leighton in the nickel.
However, going that route would deplete the depth chart. Chris Covington, a sixth-round pick last year, would be the only noteworthy player under contract. Dallas would need to find at least two more guys to fill out the group for 2019.
They could look at re-signing backup Justin March-Lillard, who would at least bring some familiarity and veteran experience. But that might still leave them looking for more of a primary reserve, which would be especially vital if Thomas is promoted to a starting role.
The projected LB free agent pool for 2019 should make it a buyer's market. Dallas may be able to re-sign Damien Wilson or even add an upgrade, like perhaps the Vikings' Anthony Barr, at a relative bargain. There should be ample options for depth as well.
Barring an extremely favorable value opportunity, don't expect the Cowboys to spend a significant draft pick at linebacker. The fourth-round is the earliest I could see one going based on other needs, and even then it would need to be someone they really like.
Good drafting is why Dallas has flexibility and leverage this offseason. The picks they invested in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch appear to have made LB a strength of the team for the next several years.
There is still business to attend to, but the Cowboys won't have to be too concerned with linebacker in 2019 thanks to their young stars.
Xavier Woods Versatility Key in Dallas Cowboys FA Safety Pursuit
There has been a debate going on among Cowboys Nation for more than a year now about the prospects of bringing in Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas. Now with free agency approaching, there are several other names that the Dallas Cowboys could consider when looking to upgrade the safety position. Landon Collins, Tyrann Mathieu, and Tre Boston are several of the many quality and really good safeties that are hitting the free agent market in a few weeks. It's a group with varied skill sets and abilities, which makes the debate even more interesting. The Dallas Cowboys, however, will be able to take a look at all of them when free agency opens March 13th because of one player; Xavier Woods.
Xavier Woods, the Cowboys fifth round draft pick from the 2017 NFL Draft just finished his first full season as a starter for the Cowboys and played really well. In two years he's shown the ability to cover from the slot, play deep, play in the box, be a force over the middle, and make plays on the football. He's one of the more versatile players on the defense with his ability to play all over the field. That versatility allows the Dallas Cowboys' front office an advantage when approaching the names mentioned above.
The Dallas Cowboys don't have to be locked in to one particular type of safety. When people talk about Landon Collins, they label him a "box safety." Earl Thomas is a traditional free safety. Tre Boston is a similar player to Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu is like Collins. The Cowboys can go into free agency with the freedom to explore their options and do their due diligence when it comes to these players.
That's a distinct difference from this offseason to last.
Last offseason, the feeling was that the Dallas Cowboys had to go get Earl Thomas. The safety position was so weak that the Cowboys were going to be playing at a disadvantage in the high-flying, pass-heavy NFL. Xavier Woods proved in his first full season that he can be a productive, play making starter in the NFL and should only continue to improve.
According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier Woods was sixth in the NFL in passer rating against among safeties with at least 352 coverage snaps. His 62.8 passer rating allowed in his coverage was tied with Eric Weddle, better than Derwin James, Reshad Jones, Adrian Amos, and Maliek Hooker. Of the safeties drafted in the 2017 draft class, only Eddie Jackson from the Chicago Bears had a better passer rating against than Xavier Woods.
The Dallas Cowboys got a really good player in Xavier Woods and as they get ready to potentially make a run at a big name safety, they can feel confident that whoever they end up signing will be a good fit with Woods. He can play in the box or cover receivers and tight ends. You can run more two deep safety looks, because he has the range to play it.
This year, as opposed to last, they have more certainty at the safety position because of Xavier Woods and the strides he took in 2018. There's no reason to believe that he can't continue to take a step forward for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play all over the field allows the Cowboys to be smart and patient in their pursuit of a safety upgrade this offseason.
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