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: Receivers
The receiver group is arguably the toughest for the Cowboy's 2017 salary cap. Dez Bryant alone counts $17 million; the highest cap hit after Tony Romo of any player. They are also about to lose Terrance Williams and Brice Butler, creating holes that have to be filled. That's even more money Dallas will need to spend at an already expensive position.
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' receivers are scheduled to cost against the 2017 salary cap.
With the biggest cap hit in the entire NFL for his position, Dez has a lot to live up to on the field. 2016 was overall a down year for the franchise receiver; a mix of big and quiet games. The big change at quarterback certainly contributed, but seven NFL seasons have clearly taken a physical toll on Bryant as well.
Dallas could free up a lot of cap space by restructuring Bryant's contract. However, as I wrote about last month, there is tremendous risk in modifying Dez's deal based on his slowly declining play and injury issues. Even with about $12 million to potentially gain from restructuring Dez, the Cowboys need to strongly consider preserving their future flexibility to move on from Bryant if needed.
For now, the Cowboys have to hope for the best with Dez. They will hope that better health and a full offseason with Dak Prescott as the starting quarterback will allow Bryant to return to franchise form next year.
After leading the Cowboys in catches and yards last year, Beasley has emerged as one of the best salary cap bargains on the roster. He has replaced Jason Witten as the team's "security blanket" receiver, showing a great chemistry with Dak Prescott in 2016 in critical moments.
Not only does Beasley' own modest contract help our cap, but his big role in the passing game relieves any pressure to spend big on free agent Terrance Williams or his replacement. Dallas can afford to wait for a bargain, or perhaps use a draft pick, because that player will not have heavy expectations right away.
Is trouble brewing for the Cowboys' current return man? When Dallas signed a return specialist in January, we speculated as to what this meant for Whitehead's future. He is certainly not guaranteed to return.
Still, Whitehead has a minimal cap hit, versatility, and experience. With other holes to worry about in their receiving group, I expect Dallas will retain Lucky at least through the preseason. He will likely be fighting for his job, though.
The undrafted free agent was one of the stars of Cowboys training camp but failed to live up to that hype in the preseason. Jones had a few drops and did nothing to challenge for a roster spot. After a year on the practice squad, he returns and has at least one Cowboys insider projecting that he will be a factor in 2017.
I believe drafting and Andy Jones are a priority. https://t.co/A1E4mVHcDA
While counting on Jones to be one of your top three receivers isn't realistic, hopefully he's developed enough to replace Brice Butler at the fourth man.
A 4th-round pick by the Jets in 2014, Evans missed his rookie year with a shoulder injury. He was waived at final cuts the following season and then spent the year on the Jaguars' practice squad. He did not make final cuts with Jacksonvile either, eventually spending about a week with the Patriots.
It's unknown what's stopped Evans from impressing teams so far in his career. The Cowboys will hope that he can gain some traction in their training camp this year, as roster spots are definitely available in Dallas.
As was said when Dallas signed McDuffie several weeks ago, his experience as a returner could be trouble for Lucky Whitehead. He led the nation in kickoff return average as a senior in college and led the Canadian Football League in kickoffs last year. Given his limited projected upside as a receiver, special teams appears to be the focus in his joining the Cowboys.
Undrafted in 2013, "E.Z." spent two years on the Texans' practice squad. He has since bounced from the Dolphins to the CFL to the Seahawks. Dallas signed Nwachukwu, a Texas native and former Aggie, to a futures deal last January.
Brice Butler - Some thought that Butler would have a breakout year, especially once Dak Prescott became the starting quarterback. However, Butler's production dropped steadily and he was barely a factor in the offense. There is no reason to think that he'll return.
Terrance Williams - I wrote last week about how this year's crowded free agent market at WR might keep Terrance with the Cowboys. I think Dallas would be fine with him to keep the same place in the offense going forward, but only if his salary is commensurate with his supporting role. They are certainly not going to get into bidding war to keep Williams around.
2017 Salary Cap Impact
Total Receiver Cap Hit = $23.6 million
Percentage of 2017 Salary Cap = 13.95%
Whether or not the Cowboys do anything with Dez Bryant's contract is the biggest question. They could free up close to $12 million by restructuring him but have to think about the future as well. Right now, with only about $9 million cap space, Dallas may not have any option but to restructure Dez.
The next question is how much they will spend to replace Terrance Williams. While he was only the fourth option in the offense last season, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are both on the decline. The next receiver we add may need to be able to step into a bigger role, especially if Bryant has one of his routine injury issues.
Coming off rookie deals, neither Williams or Brice Butler cost the Cowboys much more than the league minimum last year. Re-signing Williams or replacing him will mean a significant salary increase at the WR2 position.
The good news is that there will be plenty of options out there in free agency, which should help to keep the market price low. Dallas may be able to get a veteran like Kenny Britt or Torrey Smith for about $3-4 million per year.
The rest of the WR depth chart will likely be filled out with rookies or guys like Andy Jones. Dallas might bring in one more veteran on a minimum contract for insurance, but he would be competing with the young guys for a roster spot.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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