The Dallas Cowboys currently have 26 players with contracts deals that will expire after the 2016 season. That may not seem like a big deal in early July, when there are 90 guys on the roster. However, the list is much more significant than you might assume.
Only six of the 26 players are unknowns; prospects signed to one-year deals for camp bodies or as projects. The other 20 were all on last year's team, and seven of them were starters at some point during 2015.
Here's a quick rundown of the defensive players with expiring contracts and what being in a contract year could mean for them this season:
Josh Thomas, CB
Originally a fifth-round pick of Dallas in 2011 who didn't make it past final cuts as a rookie, Thomas finally became a Cowboy late last year when Dallas needed healthy bodies to finish the season. Dallas re-signed the cornerback last March to a one-year, veteran minimum deal.
Much as he only joined the team last year due to injuries, Josh Thomas will likely only stick around this season under the same circumstances. Dallas will hope to be four deep at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Deji Olatoye. If they keep a fifth corner at all it would be a younger prospect they wish to protect.
Jack Crawford, DE/DT
David Irving, DE/DT
Turning just 23 in August, Irving will welcome whatever spotlight he can get before next year's free agency. His size and versatility are valuable but ultimately teams want to see it proven on the field. Irving could easily be your starting strongside DE for the first four weeks.
Crawford sat in free agency for a few weeks before finally re-signing with Dallas in early April. He's been a reliable rotation player for two seasons and will almost certainly make this year's team for the same role. He could also push for the strongside job, though I imagine they will give younger players the first crack at it.
The exposure at DE could be even more critical for both players this year as there could be a reduction in opportunities at tackle. Cedric Thornton should be a superior pass rusher to the departed Nick Hayden and may stay on the field in more passing downs, reducing the snaps for "tweeners" like Irving and Crawford.
Deji Olatoye, CB
Olatoye is seemingly walking in as the number-four corner, having no real competition that has yet emerged. If his trajectory continues from last season then he could be pushing for a contract extention.
Spending the first half of the year on the Cowboys' practice squad, Olatoye impressed his way onto the roster in November and eventually started a game when Morris Claiborne suffered one of his annual injuries. He had an endzone interception that day in Buffalo, one of only two picks by Dallas corners all season.
With Claiborne never far from IR and Orlando Scandrick also coming back from injury, Olatoye could be looking at significant playing time this year. At the least, he should gets enough opportunities to prove to Dallas if they want to keep him beyond 2016.
After two injury-filled seasons McClain will hope to hang on as a primary backup at defensive tackle. However, any health-related setbacks or performance issues could cost him his job fairly quickly.
Dallas can save $1 million by cutting McClain this year. That may not sound like a lot but they add up quickly, and become very valuable with the league's carryover policy for unused cap space.
If rookie Maliek Collins can make a quick recovery from his foot surgery or a guy like Rodney Coe can emerge from shadows, McClain could be squeezed out. Even if McClain makes the team, 2016 is likely the veteran's last year in Dallas.
Andrew Gachkar, LB
Viewed as more of a special teams ace and reserve when he joined the team last year as a free agent, Gachkar showed he could perform on defense when opportunity arose. He now enters 2016 with a strong chance to earn a starting job, even if it's only temporary.
Gachkar was already a potential candidate to start as the strongside linebacker. Now, thanks to Rolando McClain's 10-game suspension for substance violation, he could also be contending for the middle LB spot.
Listed at just 224 pounds, Gachkar isn't ideally built for either of those roles. He makes more sense on paper as Sean Lee's backup on the weakside. However, ultimately it comes down to who does the best job of recognizing plays and executing their assignment. Even if he's undersized, Gachkar may push past his competition on mental acuity.
Turning 28 later this year, Gachkar may have a tough time getting re-signed with Dallas. Younger guys like Anthony Hitchens and Mark Nzeocha could force him out, not to mention Jaylon Smith hopefully debuting next season. Gachkar will be grateful for whatever playing time he can get now to hopefully get him some market interest next offseason.
Barry Church, S
J.J. Wilcox, S
There are so many links between them this year that it makes sense to discuss Church and Wilcox together. Both could be gone after this season, and perhaps one of them won't even make it to Week One.
Byron Jones seems to have been moved to safety full time and will almost certainly be a starter. Also, right now all signs are that Church will retain his starting job without much open competition from Wilcox.
That could obviously change if Wilcox stands out in training camp. Dallas could save a little over $4 million off the cap if they release Church, compared to just roughly $1.5 million for Wilcox. That's a pretty clear tiebreaker.
Granted, they may not cut either one. Assuming Church is starting then Wilcox becomes a relatively cheap backup with loads of starting experience. Dallas did just re-sign Jeff Heath to a four-year deal but it was for backup and special teams purposes only. Unless he just goes in the tank over losing his starting job, Wilcox should still be the front-runner for the primary backup job at safety.
Barry Church will be 29 when the next offseason begins. That's not an ideal age for defensive backs but still young enough that Dallas might give him a one or two-year extension. If Byron Jones excels as a rangy free safety, Church could get to stay closer to the line of scrimmage and plays to his strengths like never before.
Dallas signed McClain to a one-year deal with several million in incentives. Now that the 10-game suspension has come, you have to wonder if McClain will even get to earn his base salary.
For all his incredible talent and prototypical size, McClain's motivation issues and other personal problems have all but derailed his career. Dallas could easily view this latest incident as the last straw, with the opportunity to send a message to the roster far more valuable than the six games that McClain would be eligible for.
On the other hand, getting McClain back on the roster in November could be welcomed if the team is in position for a playoff run. For all his issues, McClain does usually show up to play when he's active. He would still be second-best linebacker on the team.
Even if Dallas sticks with Rolando for the rest of 2016, it's hard to imagine they will continue the relationship beyond this season. Jaylon Smith will ideally be healthy and ready to take on the middle LB role. Even if Smith doesn't pan out, guys like Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson could be factors. There will also be a whole new free agency and draft process to work with.
Again, two players from the same position whose fates are directly intertwined. Although they are at different ages and stages of their careers, Carr and Claiborne both face significant pressure going into their contract years.
Dallas did not give Claiborne the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which would have paid him between $8-$10 million this year. Still, they brought him back with a modest $2.7 million contract and the chance to try and save his career. To his credit, Claiborne doesn't seem to be bitter about this and is saying all the right things about his motivation and need for redemption.
Unfortunately, we've heard all of this before from Claiborne. His body needs to finally cooperate with his spirit.
Unlike Claiborne, Brandon Carr's body never lets him down. He's about as healthy and durable as any cornerback I've ever seen, having never missed a game in eight NFL seasons. The problem with Carr is the natural regression of age and having never been an ideal fit for Rod Marinelli's scheme.
Ideally, Claiborne will have his best season and earn the starting job across from Orlando Scandrick. Carr will then serve as the third corner, with Scandrick playing in the slot when all three are on the field. Injuries have prevented us from seeing this full trio on the field very often, but it still appears to be the best Dallas has for 2016.
Given his age, Carr is likely a goner next offseason regardless of what happens this year. It's Claiborne who's in the real "contract year," hoping to earn a long-term deal with Dallas or some other team with a breakout season. He's still young enough to make it happen and has all of the motivation you can ask for.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
What’s Next for Cowboys Coaching Staff After Divisional Round Loss?
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
Top 5 Offseason Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys
Player News2 weeks ago
Allen Hurns Injury: Status, 2019 Prospects, Teammate Reactions
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
It’s Time To Stop Doubting the Dallas Cowboys