Many did not expect the Cowboys to re-sign receivers Terrance Williams or Brice Butler during this 2017 free agency. At the most, maybe you thought they’d bring back one of them. However, the Cowboys have taken the least expected route of all; both Butler and Williams are re-signed for next year’s roster.
On Wednesday, the day before free agency opened, Brice Butler’s return was announced. He got a one-year deal for $1.1 million and $300k guaranteed. This move appeared to be a low-cost insurance policy against Dallas not adding any other significant receivers this offseason.
Instead, it appears that the Butler signing may have been the leverage needed to force Terrance Williams to take a discount. The Williams news came about 48 hours after Butler. It also came in the wake of several other free agent receivers getting more lucrative contracts:
- DeSean Jackson (Bucs) – $35 million, 3 years ($11.67M per year)
- Kenny Britt (Browns) – $32 million, 4 years ($8M per year)
- Terrelle Pryor (Washington) – $8 million, 1 year
- Kenny Stills (Dolphins)) – $32 million, 4 years ($8M per year)
- Robert Woods (Rams) – $39 million, 5 years ($7.8M per year)
- Brandon Marshall (Giants) – $12 million, 2 years ($6M per year)
- Torrey Smith (Eagles) – $15 milion, 3 years ($5M per year)
Coming in below all those other deals, Terrance Williams signed a four-year, $17 million contract to remain a Cowboy. It will pay him an average of $4.25M per season. The following breakdown of the guarantees was provided earlier today:
Terrance Williams Cowboys deal: $17M, $5M signing bonus, $9.5M gtd; salaries $1M (gtd), $3.5M (gtd), $3.5M, $4M; 2020 option year
Before free agency began, many were projecting that Williams would be competitive with those other listed receivers in the free agent market. We will never know what interest he did get from other teams.
Remember, even though free agency officially opened on Thursday, NFL teams could start talking to free agents on Tuesday. Were those days too quiet for Terrance Williams? Did he start to fear what his prospects were becoming as other receivers were being signed?
If Terrance was getting anxious, the Brice Butler re-signing couldn’t have helped. Dallas now had at least covered themselves adequately in case Williams didn’t come back. There’s also been plenty of talk that the Cowboys might look at receivers in this year’s draft.
We will never know how much Terrance really wanted to come back to Dallas. At the same time, we can’t be sure how much the Cowboys really wanted him. Perhaps their own salary cap issues made a discounted return for Williams more of a necessary evil than an ideal situation.
In the end, Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are both back and at a total cost of less than $5 million for 2017. Here are two key reasons you shouldn’t be disappointed by it.
Cowboys Still Have Flexibility
Even after these signings, Dallas can still consider other options at receiver. While they are probably done in free agency they shouldn’t feel limited at all during the NFL Draft.
If the Cowboys draft a receiver who is ready to contribute now, they can release Butler for just a $300k dead money penalty. If the player they draft can serve as a kick returner, they could instead release Lucky Whitehead for virtually zero penalty.
Dallas has accomplished two critical strategic goals with these signings, covering themselves at the WR position while maintaining financial flexibility. If nothing else, they’re bringing back the core of an offense that got you to 13-3 and a few plays from the NFC Championship Game. But if the opportunity to add more talent comes around, they will be free to take advantage of it.
Dez Bryant Salary Management
Making franchise WR money, Dez Bryant counts $17 million against the 2017 salary cap and $16.5 million each of the following two seasons. By keeping Terrance Williams at a low-cost and already having Cole Beasley making about the same money, Dallas has kept the rest of the receiver position cap-friendly to offset those big Bryant numbers.
What’s more, the low-cost of bringing back Williams and Brice Butler helps Dallas avoid “breaking the glass” on restructuring Dez Bryant’s deal. Because of some of Dez’s red flags with age and injuries, it’s not in the Cowboys’ best interests to make any changes on his contract.
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I know that this is the time of year that we get excited about fresh faces joining the roster. This is especially true when the previous faces weren’t all that consistent or spectacular. Re-signing Terrance Williams and Brice Butler is far from the kind of “sexy” moves that fans look forward to during NFL free agency.
However, as we’ve explained here, they are the most practical and savvy moves that the Cowboys had at their disposal. They have preserved offensive continuity for their young quarterback and done the best things available for the team salary cap. These types of moves may not make big headlines in March, but they can help you win come September.