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 Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?
Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.
With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.
At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.
But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.
Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.
Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.
I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc
With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?
In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.
This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.
Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice
Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.
Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.
With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.
Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.
Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.
When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.
Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.
La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.
We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.
If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.
For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Way-too-early 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projection
Star Blog2 weeks ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Despite Perception, Dallas Cowboys had an Excellent Offseason
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Why Cowboys Should Make Signing RB Jay Ajayi a Top Priority
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp