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 Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Zeke Holdout: Remember, Owners Agreed to Renegotiating Contracts
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Michael Gallup Showing WR1 Talent in Amari Cooper’s Absence
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Backups Who Have Earned More Playing Time
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Looking Absolutely Stacked
Player News2 days ago
Report: Cowboys Offer Ezekiel Elliott a Contract to Make him the NFL’s Second Highest-Paid RB
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3
Game Notes2 weeks ago
3 Studs and Duds From Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 1 Matchup
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 2