There may be one game left in the 2017 regular season, but the Dallas Cowboys have been eliminated from the playoffs. While this final game may allow for some new footage of guys like Cooper Rush and Noah Brown, my eyes have already turned to the 2018 offseason. Today, we're going to look at the Cowboys' potential salary cap casualties.
What makes someone a potential cap casualty?
First and foremost, the amount that a player is scheduled to count against the salary cap would have to exceed the amount of dead money remaining on the contract.
For example, Sean Lee counted $7.3 million in 2017 but still had $14.4 million in dead money on his deal. Even if Dallas wanted to cut him, which obviously was never the case, it wouldn't have made any financial sense to do so.
In 2018, Lee will count $11 million against the salary cap with only $7 million in dead money. Dallas could save a minimum of $4 million if they cut Sean, but of course nobody expects or wants this to happen.
Unfortunately, not everyone on the Cowboys has Sean Lee's staying power.
Here are the players whose contracts and performance have left them vulnerable to be released during the 2018 offseason.
DE Benson Mayowa
- 2018 Cap Hit: $3.85 million
- Dead Money: $1.1 million
- Cap Savings: $2.75 million
This is a likely move given Benson Mayowa's decreased role in 2017.
While he led the Cowboys in sacks last season (6), Mayowa was dwarfed this year by the rise of DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving, plus the first-round selection of Taco Charlton. Not only are these players all likely to return in 2018, but we may finally see Randy Gregory back in a Cowboys uniform.
If Gregory is reinstated by the NFL and still able to play, he would immediately take over the role Mayowa has now as a weak-side pass rusher and rotational player. Dallas will also hope to finally get Charles Tapper involved regularly, assuming he can stay healthy.
While $2.75 million doesn't sound like a lot, it is enough to pay for a decent veteran backup at many positions.
That money may be better spent on a new reserve offensive tackle. It could be used to pay the salary of your first-round rookie. It could also go into the pool for re-signing Lawrence, Zack Martin, Anthony Hitchens, and any other free agents you want to bring back.
More than likely, Dallas will find a better use for that money than keeping Benson Mayowa around for one more season. He's been a decent rotation player, but younger and better options have passed him by.
TE James Hanna
- 2018 Cap Hit: $3.5 million
- Dead Money: $750 thousand
- Cap Savings: $2.75 million
A strong blocker who occasionally flashes in the passing game, James Hanna may have played his final season in Dallas.
He turns 29 in July and has younger players pushing in, like Geoff Swaim and Rico Gathers.
Not only does James have to worry about the young guys behind him, but the offseason could bring changes at the top of the TE depth chart. Dallas may be looking to add more explosiveness to the offense by signing or drafting a new receiving option.
If Jason Witten is still around, as most expect him to be, then that would push Hanna down the depth chart.
It's hard to see Dallas paying $3.5 million to any third-string player.
Even if there are no new additions, the Cowboys are going to give Swaim and Gathers every opportunity to take on larger roles. Like we discussed with Benson Mayowa, the money allocated to James Hanna could probably be better used at other positions.
CB Orlando Scandrick
- 2018 Cap Hit: $5.28 million
- Dead Money: $3.88 million
- Cap Savings: $1.4 million
While the basic cap relief from cutting Orlando Scandrick wouldn't amount to much, making him a June-1st release would make it more enticing. Dallas could get $3 million in 2018 cap space by pushing $1.6 million in dead money into 2019.
With June-1st cap casualties, it's important to remember that those cap savings don't become available until the actual June 1st calendar date.
That means you can't use the money during the major free agency period beginning in March.
However, that money can be used to sign draft picks, sign June-1st cuts from other teams, any other remaining free agents, or re-sign your own players.
For example, let's say Dallas puts a franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence to protect him during the offseason. They may spend the spring and summer negotiating his long-term deal and then be able use the post-June 1st Orlando Scandrick savings to help pay his new deal once it's finalized.
Scandrick is expendable because of the youth movement in the secondary.
Dallas has a solid top-three of young cornerbacks with Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis. They may decide to give Orlando one more year for veteran leadership and increased depth, but you can also see why they'd decide to let him go.
DE/DT Tyrone Crawford
- 2018 Cap Hit: $9.1 million
- Dead Money: $7.3 million
- Cap Savings: $1.8 million
Like with Scandrick, the basic savings aren't worth losing a versatile and capable player. But once you get into the June-1st conversation, potentially releasing Tyrone Crawford makes way more sense. Splitting Crawford's dead money over two season would create $6 million in cap space in 2018, and push $4.2 million in dead money to 2019.
That $6 million would likely cover the entire 2018 draft class and leave some leftover for other financial needs.
Deferring dead money to 2019 may feel like robbing Peter to pay Paul, but there is a reason this could be a sound strategy for Dallas.
The dead money from Tony Romo's contract is still hanging over the team through 2018. When that $8 million comes off the books in 2019, that is new space which can absorb some of these June-1st deferrals that we've proposed.
It's a way to facilitate necessary moves now, spreading the costs over two seasons.
All that said, Tyrone Crawford may have played his way into at least one more season with Dallas.
He started nearly every game and is a valuable defensive line piece who can play both end and tackle. Unless Dallas feels they have to use his cap savings to bring back DeMarcus Lawrence, Crawford will likely stay in 2018 to provide stability and a veteran presence up front.
WR Cole Beasley
- 2018 Cap Hit: $4.25 million
- Dead Money: $1 million
- Cap Savings: $3.25 million
Some of these are tougher to think about than others. Cole Beasley is a beloved fan favorite, but his decreased offensive role in 2017 and potential cap relief mean he has to be looked at.
After leading Dallas in catches and yards in 2016, Cole was fourth in both areas this season. He had four touchdowns, but was otherwise far less visible. Much of this was due to increased attention from opposing defenses, and perhaps also the sophomore struggles of QB Dak Prescott and absence of RB Ezekiel Elliott.
One reason Cole may be expendable is Ryan Switzer.
A fourth-round pick last year, Switzer was viewed by many as "Clone Beasley" and the guy who would eventually replace him. He's already taken over as the primary return man and may now be in line for a greater offensive role.
If Dallas is confident in Switzer's offensive ability and can save over $3 million by releasing Beasley, that's a move they can't dismiss lightly.
Again, this isn't something anyone is rooting for.
These last few guys are all fan favorites. These are tough conversations to have, but the salary cap doesn't adjust for legacies or jersey sales.
Trying to win a championship often means making hard choices with beloved veterans.
Just ask the New England Patriots.
K Dan Bailey
- 2018 Cap Hit: $4.2 million
- Dead Money: $800 thousand
- Cap Savings: $3.4 million
If the Cowboys believe that Dan Bailey's 79% field goal accuracy this year is solely due to his groin injury and will not linger into next year, then this is one you can probably take off the board. However, if Dallas is concerned about the kicker's play going forward, there is a nice chunk of cap space to be gained by releasing him.
Dan Bailey turns 30-years old next month.
He's been as good as they come since 2011, but he wouldn't be the first kicker to lose the gift after so many seasons. Not many guys last as long as Morten Anderson or Adam Vinatieri.
If Bailey gets healthy and finds his rhythm again over the offseason, then there's nothing to talk about. He's still one of the two best kickers in the game today (Baltimore's Justin Tucker is the other). And 30 is hardly old for kickers.
Still, after a horrible December ,and with that salary attached to him, you can't ignore Dan Bailey in this conversation.
TE Jason Witten
- 2018 Cap Hit: $6.5 million
- Dead Money: $0
- Cap Savings: $6.5 million
This is highly unlikely, but we have to talk about anybody who can give you that much cap relief with zero dead money.
Jason Witten's contract with Dallas is clearly structured so that when he decides to hang it up, the team won't be stuck with any dead money. If Witten decides to play in 2018, they will likely convert base salary to bonus money to help lower his cap number.
If this was New England, we may be having a different conversation. The Patriots might take that cap space regardless of the veteran's wishes, but Jerry Jones isn't going to play hardball with arguably the greatest Cowboy of the modern era.
Jason Witten has said he plans to return next year, and it would be the most shocking move I can remember for the Cowboys not to go along with it.
But after such a disappointing season, you have to wonder how desperate Jerry Jones is getting. With Dallas moving to a more Patriots-style philosophy regarding free agency and roster management, could they potentially surprise us with how they handle Witten?
WR Dez Bryant
- 2018 Cap Hit: $16.5 million
- Dead Money: $8 million
- Cap Savings: $8.5 million
The most talked about Cowboy right now, Dez Bryant's current and future worth are being hotly debated after a quiet season, disastrous game last week, and his own defensive comments.
If these factors weren't enough, Dez has the highest cap hit on the team and offers the most cap relief of any single player.
Dallas wouldn't even have to wait for June 1st to get significant cap relief.
They could take that $8.5 million into free agency and get a franchise player at almost any position. If you were intrigued by the idea of Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas coming to Dallas, this is one way to make that happen.
The issue would be what's left at wide receiver.
You'd have to spend everything you save from cutting Dez -- and a little more -- to replace him with a new franchise WR. Unless you're wholly confident that this new player would be an upgrade, that could easily wind up as a zero-gain move.
The front office has yet to give any indication that they would part with Dez Bryant this offseason. From a purely fiscal sense, it's far better to wait until next year, when his dead money would be cut in half.
If the Cowboys can find another way to bring in some receiving talent this offseason, such as through the draft or with other cap space, Bryant could still be dangerous with less attention and another offseason to develop chemistry with Dak Prescott.
Still, $8.5 million is a lot of cap space.
Dallas cut a declining DeMarcus Ware in 2014 for $7.4 million in cap relief. If it happened to him, it could happen to Dez Bryant too.
Despite Going Undrafted, Kameron Kelly A Welcome Addition to Cowboys Secondary
The Dallas Cowboys best move of the offseason may very well be hiring Kris Richard as their new passing game coordinator. Despite not signing any free agents or drafting added talent for Richard to work with in the secondary, the Cowboys have plenty of reasons to feel great about their current starters - along with an intriguing class of UDFAs.
The prospects of Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones, and Xavier Woods working with Richard to sharpen their skills with Seattle's "Legion of Boom" fabricator is as good as it gets. In a very short period of time, the cornerback position has turned into one of the hardest spots for fringe players to make the Dallas Cowboys roster.
Don't tell this to San Diego State's Kameron Kelly. Neither Richard or Kelly may be household names around the NFL, but San Francisco 49ers Cornerback Richard Sherman certainly is. Sherman also happens to be the player the Cowboys are looking for Kelly -- an undrafted free agent that didn't receive a single college offer from "power five" schools -- to emulate.
Given all that Sherman meant to Richard's defenses since being drafted by his Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, these feel like impossible expectations for Kelly to live up to.
The 6015 (6' 1 5/8") defender didn't even play the same position as Sherman until his final collegiate season, slowly making the transition from WR to DB at SDSU by starting as a Sophomore and Junior at safety.
Now just another player in a blue jersey with white numbers at The Star, Kelly is looking to earn the star on a team that may look to remain young, deep, and most importantly versatile in the secondary by keeping one or more UDFAs.
That is, if any of these long shot players deserve a spot on the final 53-man roster. Kelly already has an edge on this field, blessed with the length and daunting frame that allows Richard and the Cowboys to dream of featuring their own Richard Sherman.
"I think he’s trying to turn me into his next Richard Sherman or something". - Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Kameron Kelly
Kris Richard is going to coach everybody he comes across hard. He knows no other way. Kam Kelly is already embracing this, seeing the Cowboys vision for him and not backing down from the challenge.
Turn on the tape for this "diamond in the rough" prospect, and you'll see a player that carries this same competitive toughness onto the field.
Will a DB compete / tackle ? Top of screen- flat footed read on bubble- trusts eyes and goes ! Just checking boxes- I see you, kameron Kelly of SDSU.... https://t.co/fJM4s16Eq1
Kelly joins Charvarius Ward, Donovan Olumba, and Tyree Robinson as the Cowboys class of UDFAs at both cornerback and safety. An athletic DB out of Oregon, Robinson has made a strong initial impression with several plays on the ball in drills so far.
However, it was Kam Kelly that set up an interception for Jameill Showers in yesterday's practice by getting in the face of rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup.
Projecting anything that resembles a starting lineup for the Cowboys defense in the last week of May is silly. So too is realistically expecting Kelly, Ward, Olumba, or Robinson to ever crack this lineup.
The Cowboys could find themselves without enough practice snaps to go around for starting caliber players like Awuzie, Lewis, Jones, Anthony Brown, and even Marquez White. This does not bode well for Kam Kelly, who is only going to continue generating buzz from fans and the Dallas media.
For now, Kelly is getting his chance though. The Cowboys are ever-so-slowly getting back into form for 2018 - doing so with many familiar faces no longer on the roster. This team is going to look different on both sides of the ball come September, and Cowboys Nation can only hope it's for the better given the impressive amount of depth all over the field.
Kam Kelly won't back down from the depth the Cowboys have at CB, expecting to impress his new coach Kris Richard in the mold of three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman.
WR Terrell Owens Featured As A Cowboy On Madden 2019 Cover
It's been a tumultuous few years for former Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, to say the least. Based on his numbers Owens deserved to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but due to his off field "antics" and poor relationships with voters, Owens was kept out of the Hall of Fame until this year.
Now that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this Summer, Terrell Owens has earned another honor: cover athlete for EA Sports' upcoming Madden video game.
Madden has become a staple of football culture over the years, and being placed on the cover of their Hall of Fame edition is pretty special.
What came as a surprise, however, is that Terrell Owens is featured as a Dallas Cowboy on the cover of the game.
@terrellowens will be on the cover of #Madden19 Hall of Fame edition
Terrell Owens played on a multitude of teams during his NFL career, spending 3 seasons with the Cowboys from 2006-2008. People tend to forget how great the Tony Romo-to-Terrell Owens connection was in Dallas, especially during their 13-3 2007 season.
That year, Owens caught 81 balls for 1,355 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also earned First Team All Pro honors during the same season.
This is the first time the Cowboys uniform has ever graced the cover of a Madden game, and the second time Terrell Owens will be on the cover of a professional football video game. The first time came as an Eagle on the cover of ESPN NFL 2K5, ironically just one year before Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was the cover athlete for Madden 2006.
Terrell Owens then announced the news himself on Twitter, by tweeting out the following video.
It's that time! I've made my decision to return to football. Madden 19 HOF #stayready https://t.co/pLL4lTAhD2
Terrell Owens is arguably the greatest (talent wise) receiver to ever play for the Cowboys, though he lacked the longevity to match any of the stat totals of guys like Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. It's a shame the 2007 season ended the way it did, and that 2008 was such an utter disaster.
Those Cowboys teams were really talented, hence why they won 11 games and another division crown after Owens' departure in 2009.
QB Dak Prescott Is Taking Control Of The Dallas Cowboys
Heading into 2018 there is no question that the Dallas Cowboys are Dak Prescott's team. While some of the Cowboys fan base is skeptical of just how good Prescott is/can be, the franchise had placed all of their eggs in the Prescott-basket over the last two offseasons.
They've begun to build the "Dak-friendly offense," attempting to recreate the circumstances which surrounded him during his highly successful rookie season. By drafting offensive lineman Connor Williams, wide receiver Michael Gallup, and signing wide out Allen Hurns the Cowboys have made a conscious effort to help their young quarterback in his development.
But what do his fellow teammates think about him? Well, thus far during OTAs, the respect they have for Dak Prescott as a quarterback and a leader is clear.
Members of Prescott's wide receiver corps have been incredibly vocal about the respect they have for Dak Prescott, including two of their newest additions. Hurns told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News that Dak "runs things" around the locker room, and that the Cowboys will have no problems with leadership as long as Dak is at the helm.
Allen Hurns: "When I first got here, what surprised me a lot was Dak's leadership. He's only in his third year, but he's a very vocal guy. He runs things. I was very surprised by that. ... I don't think we'll have a problem with leadership.
Tavon Austin chimed in as well, telling Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News that while he expected Prescott to have "some juice" to him, meeting him in person allowed him to realize that his leadership is on a different level than even he expected.
I asked Cowboys WR Tavon Austin on his impressions of Dak Prescott before his arrival in Dallas: "I always knew he had some juice to him, some swag to him and when I finally get here and meet him it's definitely a whole different ballgame because it was to even another level.
It's not only members of the offense which are showing their respect for Dak Prescott's leadership, however. Team sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence is noticing as well. This week Lawrence said that Dak is clearly taking control of the offense, and you can see it "every day in how he works."
DeMarcus Lawrence: "Dak is taking a lot of control over that offense. He's trying to take his game to the next level and be one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. You can see it every day in how he works.
There is an argument that can be made that the release of Dez Bryant and retirement of Jason Witten have allowed Dak Prescott to take that control. The veterans on offense from the Tony Romo-era have begun to disappear, and Prescott is now making the Dallas Cowboys "his team."
Of course, Prescott still has to do it on the field. While much of his first two seasons have been impressive, the final few weeks of 2017 featured some shaky play from Dak Prescott. But, the moves which were made this offseason combined with the full time return of running back Ezekiel Elliott should allow Prescott to take another step forward in 2018.
And if the Cowboys plan on being competitive as a team, they'll need Prescott to make those strides.
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