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.
Trade for Cooper Shows Where Cowboys Stand on Prescott
The Dallas Cowboys clearly needed a starting wide receiver, so they went out and got one. The Oakland Raiders were willing to shop the two time Pro-Bowler and the Jones were willing to pull the trigger. This year, offense has been the problem for Dallas and a WR1 should give the fans a bit of hope for the remainder of the 2018 season, a year in which the division title is very much on reach as it's only led by a 4-2 Washington team.
There's no much debate as to whether or not Amari Cooper's arrival to the team helps the offense or not. Cooper is undeniably better than Allen Hurns or Deonte Thompson and his impact will be immediately felt on the field when the Cowboys play the Tennessee Titans after their bye week.
The concern surrounding this trade has to do with the compensation aspect. Dallas decided to part ways with a first round pick to get Cooper. That's a lot. It's hard to justify giving away a first rounder and Cooper will have to try to fix the offense to prove he was worth it.
But the meaning of this trade goes deeper than that. Due to Dak Prescott's struggles in 2018, many are rightfully questioning his future on the Cowboys. Is he the franchise QB we thought he was in 2016 or was he really just a "one-year-wonder"?
Playing his third year as the team's starting quarterback, negotiation time is not far for the Cowboys and Prescott. So far, he's not proven to be worth the huge contracts signal-callers have been getting around the league lately.
But this trade is a clear indicator on where the front office stands regarding Dak. They are all-in on him. He's not going anywhere for a while and they just proved it by trading for Cooper. If the Cowboys were to consider moving on from Prescott after 2018, they would've probably saved a first round pick to have the option of going for his replacement on the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Instead, they are getting their young QB a strong weapon for him to throw the ball to.
It looks like Prescott's play would have to keep regressing in order for this front office to consider making a move here down the road.
Trusting Dak is not a wrong decision here. He might not be elite or even close to being among the league's best but he should be able to compete with a strong supporting cast around him. Cooper is great at creating separation which will only help Dak connect with him often and open un the passing game as well as the running game.
On the other hand, though, this should put a bit more pressure on Prescott. He's got a WR1, a great slot receiver and one hell of a running back. He must take advantage of the position the front office is putting him in. There are no excuses now.
Whether or not the Cowboys paid "way too much," their offense is better today than it was last Sunday. We'll have to wait until November 11th to watch him and Dak Prescott connect with each other. With a little bit of execution, they should have Cowboys Nation feeling better about giving away a first rounder.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Offense, Coaches Have a Ways to Go Still
Another week, another mood swing for Cowboys Nation. The Dallas Cowboys failed to get what would have been their first road win in 2018. They fell short of taking the Washington Redskins to overtime in an NFC East match up that was lost as the visiting team kept shooting themselves on the foot.
As Dallas falls back to a losing record on the season, there are a lot of things to point out regarding last Sunday's heartbreaking loss.
Here is this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday! As always, feel free to tell me your thoughts on the comments section below.
Cowboys could've had the "ugly win" but ended up with horrific loss.
The Cowboys have lost four games in total this season and this one is definitely the most painful one yet. Why? Despite all the drive-killing penalties and mistakes they made, Jason Garrett's team actually had a chance to walk away from FedExField as the NFC East leader.
But they didn't. Instead, a "snap infraction" pushed them back five yards and Brett Maher failed his first field goal attempt since week 1 as the football hit the post.
What's even worse, is that once again, this team proved to have a ton of flaws. This isn't just about poor quarterback play, wide receivers dropping passes, offensive linemen getting beat or about coaching.
It's about all of it collectively being bad and inconsistent.
A couple of weeks ago, we were complaining about Garrett not being aggressive enough to go for it on fourth and one on the opponent's 42. In response to the immense backlash from fans, analysts and even Jerry Jones, Garrett went for it on fourth and one in his own territory in Washington.
This was definitely a good call. In this case, coaching was good, but execution wasn't. Dak Prescott fumbled on a simple QB sneak and the drive was done. The Dallas Cowboys have many, many issues. Pointing the finger at one coach or one player will not make the difference.
This isn't your 2016 offensive line.
Since 2014, Cowboys Nation has been proud of this team's offensive line. Filled with elite talent, no one would ever beat them, but things have changed. Ron Leary and Doug Free are long gone and Connor Williams and La'el Collins have taken their places. Travis Frederick is sidelined with an immune system syndrome and well... as much as you and I hate to admit it, Tyron Smith is not the same.
So far today... Tyron Smith penalty kills a great run by Dak. Connor Williams penalty kills a great throw from Dak to Beasley. La'el Collins penalty kills a great run by Dak.
They can make blocks and are an above-average unit, but the penalties make them look like a terrible one. The game started with a huge gain erased by a holding penalty and a few plays later it was the Redskins with the lead 7-0.
Prescott hasn't played very well, and this OL's struggles are a big part of the why.
Simply put, Dak needs to be better.
Before we say Prescott is a terrible quarterback and a one-year wonder, let's try to find some middle ground. Dak is not a great quarterback. He's not an elite gunslinger that will put the team on his back and lead them to victories. He's definitely not that. But he's also not a terrible quarterback and he's not the worst QB in the NFL.
With a strong supporting cast, I think Dak Prescott is a very capable QB. Does that make him special? No. Does that make him a bad player? No.
Now granted, this has been a bad year for him and that needs to change. He's taking longer to make the throw, his poise isn't nearly as good as in 2016 and his in-pocket awareness needs improvement. Against the Redskins, we might've seen one of the worst plays in his career.
With Michael Gallup breaking open deep, Prescott doesn't make the throw and instead tries to roll out of the pocket. First off, there is simply no excuse in not making that pass. He didn't even have to "throw him open." He just had to take the shot. But he didn't.
Then, he fumbles the ball and Washington takes it in for six. Yikes.
We know he can be better, we've seen him playing way better football than he is right now. Even if the OL isn't performing as well or his receivers are dropping balls (because they are), he must step up. It's okay if he doesn't put up elite performances, but come on.
Despite the scoreboard, Cowboys defense is legit.
Before we end this Takeaway Tuesday, let's say goodbye with a positive note. The Cowboys' defense is very, very good. The Redskins' first TD came early in the game after a rare bad punt from Chris Jones that gave Alex Smith and company a very good spot to start the offensive drive.
In a disastrous opening performance, the Cowboys let them march the ball into the end zone and give them the early seven-point lead. After that, Dallas only allowed six points on defense. Note that the Redskins' second touchdown came from Prescott's fumble mentioned above.
Sean Lee was great in his comeback to the field. The defensive line also put a nice game and the secondary made sure to exploit a banged up receiving core. At least we have our defense to feel good about.
History Working Against Amari Cooper Trade Working Out For Dallas
When it comes to trading for wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys don't exactly have the best track record. That is why I wasn't all that happy to hear the Cowboy sent their 2019 first-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Amari Cooper, especially knowing how a couple of trades just like this have worked out in the past.
Giving up a first-round draft pick is a tough pill to swallow, especially after we saw the New England Patriots acquire Josh Gordon for just a fifth rounder. Talk about a slap in the face. I personally believe Gordon is a better WR than Cooper, but that's a discussion for another time. What I want to talk about today is history hopefully not repeating itself for the Cowboys.
Unfortunately, the Amari Cooper trade looks a lot like a couple of wide receiver trades the Dallas Cowboys have made in the past. Yes, I'm talking about the acquisitions of Roy Williams and Joey Galloway, arguably the worst two trades in Cowboys history.
You may have forgotten, but the Dallas Cowboys sent to first-round draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks in a trade to acquire Joey Galloway back in 2000. He spent three whole seasons and part of a fourth in Dallas and never really lived up to the expectations he brought with him from the Seahawks. His most productive season with the Cowboys was in 2002 where he caught 61 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns, hardly worth two first round draft picks.
The Dallas Cowboys didn't learn their lesson from the Joey Galloway trade and decided to throw caution to the wind once again when they acquired Roy Williams in 2008 from the Detroit Lions. Williams only spent three seasons in Dallas and like Galloway, didn't live up to the 1st, 3rd, and 6th round draft picks traded away to acquire him.
I really don't know how all of you feel about history repeating itself, but the Amari Cooper trade just has way too many similarities to the acquisitions of Roy Williams and Joey Galloway for me to have too much hope of it being successful. I guess we could take a little solace in the fact the Cowboys just gave up one draft pick if that helps any.
Amari Cooper has about a year and a half with the Dallas Cowboys to prove the organization doesn't have some kind of curse when it comes to trading for wide receivers. He becomes a free agent in 2020 unless an extension is worked out before hand. It's not a lot of time to prove oneself, especially since he's joining a new team with a new QB, but that's the situation he finds himself in now.
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