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.
Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts
For the first time since 2003, the Dallas Cowboys were shutout on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Their five game winning streak snapped, the Cowboys also saw their chances at clinching the NFC East dashed before the late kickoffs. Needing both a Redskins and Eagles loss to win the division without the benefit of a win themselves, the Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive with a walk off field goal at the Jaguars.
Washington Quarterback Josh Johnson won his second start since 2013 with 151 yards and one touchdown. The Redskins aren't the only NFC East team playing with a backup QB, as the Eagles must once again rally around Nick Foles against the Rams to extend their shot at the playoffs on Sunday Night Football.
The Cowboys certainly didn't deserve a celebration of any kind after their performance at the Colts. An emotional letdown after a win streak that featured triumphs over the Eagles twice, Redskins, and Saints, the Cowboys were slowed to a complete stop on offense while struggling fundamentally on defense.
Uncharacteristic missed tackles and lack of pressure on Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck allowed Indianapolis to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into an easy 23-0 win. Defending their home field, the Colts came out like a team still fighting for their playoff lives, while Dallas played like a team knowing two more chances at winning the division are still to come.
Instead of being able to watch and root against the Eagles tonight, the Cowboys can focus on not letting an embarrassing loss define a season that'll still end on a high note should they defeat the Buccaneers or Giants. A week 16 or 17 win automatically seals the division for the Cowboys, even with the Redskins improving to 7-7 moments before the Colts secured their shutout.
It was a masterful performance from Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus, preparing his team against Scott Linehan's offense to disrupt the momentum of one of the league's hottest teams.
Praising the Redskins for defeating a Jaguars team the Cowboys handled 40-7 much earlier in the season is hardly the situation Cowboys Nation wants to be in right now, but the team still has everything in front of them once Sunday's sixth loss is put behind them.
IND 23, DAL 0: Cowboys Get Shut Out, Embarrassed by Colts
The Dallas Cowboys must think they've already won the NFC East, because they looked like a team with nothing to play for today. The result was an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys were shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, which was Jason Witten's rookie year.
Dallas squandered a major time-of-possession advantage in the first half, finishing three drives with a blocked field goal, punt, and a failed 4th-and-1 play near the Colts' goal line. Indianapolis capitalized on their own drives and took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Colts got the ball back to start the third quarter and drove down for another touchdown. Down 17-0, Dallas responded with a weak drive and a punt. The game felt out of reach even then, with the Cowboys just looking flat from that point forward.
Ezekiel Elliott had 87 rushing yards 41 receiving for some empty production. Amari Cooper won't be winning any awards this week, held to just four catches for 32 yards.
Dak Prescott completed 62% of his passes for 206 yards. He was sacked three times and threw a late interception; an overthrown ball got tipped by the receiver and picked off on the team's final offensive series.
While the offense was especially bad today, the defense wasn't much better. Dallas surrendered 139 yards rushing yards and two touchdown to Colts RB Marlon Mack, who hadn't had a 100-yard game since October. Andrew Luck wasn't sacked and went virtually untouched the entire day.
The Cowboys could have taken the NFC East with a win, but they didn't come close. Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call with the postseason only a few weeks away.
- With the Redskins defeating the Jaguars today, Dallas will have to wait until next week to try to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys needed losses by both Washington and Philadelphia if they didn't win themselves. The Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
- The Cowboys will get some softer competition to finish the year, hosting the Buccaneers next week and then going to play the Giants in Week 17.
- With the Bears defeating the Packers today and moving to 10-4, they will likely stay the #3 seed in the playoffs. That means Dallas, assuming they do win the NFC East, will almost certainly be hosting the 5th-seeded Seahawks in the first round.
- Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, but neither he or Leighton Vander Esch were making the big plays that we've grown accustomed to.
- Xavier Woods had the highlight play on defense, delivering a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Colts TE Eric Ebron and stop a potential big gain.
- Blake Jarin and Dalton Schultz combined for seven catches for 68 yards; another week of increased TE production from what we've seen must of the year.
- Fullback Jamize Olawale doesn't get many opportunities on offense, and he may not get more after dropping an open touchdown on the team's second drive of the day.
Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Trailing Colts 10-0 at Halftime
The Cowboys have had no trouble moving the ball today, but they've failed to finish drives with points. Dallas is thus trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 at halftime.
Dallas has had possession for over 19 minutes compared to just 10 for the Colts. But their three drives have ended with a blocked field goal, a failed 4th-and-1 play near the endzone, and a punt.
The offensive line continues to suffer from health issues. With Zack Martin already out and Connor Williams starting at right guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game with an eye injury during the second quarter and will not return. Backup Adam Redmond is now playing.
The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win in any of their final three games. They could also clinch today if the Redskins and Eagles lose. Washington is trailing 10-3 in Jacksonville at halftime, and the Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
Hopefully, Dallas will start showing up on the scoreboard in the second half.
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