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Deep Dive: Inside the Dallas Cowboys’ 2018 Salary Cap

John Williams

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Are the Dallas Cowboys in for Another Quiet Free Agency in 2018?
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Super Bowl is over and finally we and the Cowboys can get to the business that is the 2018 NFL Season. It couldn't come soon enough. We need some good draft and free agency talk to cleanse our palates from the taste of the Philadelphia Eagles winning Super Bowl LII.

The Dallas Cowboys have some decisions that, on the surface, seem to be difficult ones when it comes to their free agent defensive talent. There may also be some opportunities to make a splash in free agency or through trades.

What we're going to look at here is what the options are for Dallas as they approach the offseason. Namely, what they can do with the salary cap to make it all work.

As we've seen in the past, what the cap room number looks like today can be vastly different tomorrow. The salary cap itself may be a hard cap, but the contracts have some flexibility that allow you to do some things that give you more room than you might think.

Before we get to the options, let's talk about what we already know.

Salary Cap Number

Spotrac.com is estimating the 2018 salary cap figure to be about $187 million, which would give the Dallas Cowboys about $19 million in cap space this offseason.

The league average is roughly $33 million. Dallas' salary cap room ranks them 21st in the NFL.

For perspective, the San Francisco 49ers will have about $114 million in cap space heading into the offseason, while the Philadelphia Eagles have a negative cap number at -$7.2 million.

Dead Money

In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys will have approximately $13.7-million dollars in dead money applied to the cap. The biggest hit is the Tony Romo contract. He will count $8.9 million in dead money alone.

Other highlights are the bad signings of Nolan Carroll and Cedric Thornton, who count $2.5 and $2 million.

Cowboys Wishlist:

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, WR Dez Bryant, C Travis Frederick (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Salary Adjustments

Dez Bryant's situation has been discussed ad nauseam this offseason, and some of it is for good reason. He didn't have a good 2017. To keep or not to keep Dez was discussed by our very own Mauricio Rodriguez. Read his work, it's a great debate.

I don't want to get into what Mauricio wrote, just want to mention the facts and figures surrounding any Dez Bryant activity.

If the Dallas Cowboys decide that the best course of action is to release Dez Bryant, they will save $8.5-million dollars on the 2018 salary cap. However, they will also add $8 million in dead money toward the cap as well.

A restructure for Dez wouldn't make sense coming off a down season, and getting to the latter stages of his prime, you don't want to keep paying players past their production point. The best option for the Dallas Cowboys is to keep Dez and attempt to work out some kind of salary reduction that lowers his cap number.

Tyrone Crawford is another player they might look at for a pay reduction, as his cap number of $9.1 million is looking a bit hefty for his production. He's a player they could do several things with, as I'll discuss later.

Restructuring Contracts

The option the Dallas Cowboys have been most fond of over the years when it comes to helping their salary cap space is restructuring contracts. We've seen them do it with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, and other players like them who they know will be on the roster.

A restructure, according to Spotrac, converts "that player's current base salary to their veteran minimum, pushing the remainder into a signing bonus that pro-rates over the remaining years of their contract."

For players who have already been restructured, they'll still carry a decent sized cap hit, but you'll still be able to save some money.

DL Tyrone Crawford

If they restructure Tyrone Crawford's deal, they'll get about $4 million added to the 2018 cap.

Crawford isn't a popular player because he hasn't lived up to the contract he was given several years back. He's still a productive player with ability to play both defensive tackle and defensive end, and had 4.5 sacks this season.

LT Tyron Smith

They could again restructure Tyron Smith, though with back issues this season, it doesn't seem as wise. Smith's current contract doesn't expire until 2024, though if he regains his health, his contract will be a bargain at that point. The restructure would prorate the money over the rest of the contract.

We all hope he can regain some health consistency and return to the All-Pro player he is, but backs are tricky. A restructure would get them a little more than $7 million in salary cap savings. That $7 million would then be spread out over the rest of the contract, in addition to his salary cap number for those years.

If healthy, Tyron will be with the team and he's young enough (27) where a restructure doesn't kill you. Offensive linemen play well into their 30s a lot of the time and with some luck, Smith will do the same.

Travis Frederick

Travis Frederick is another player who will have the consistency and the health to consider restructuring. Restructuring his contract would save the team a little more than $7-million dollars on the 2018 cap.

He's shown no signs of injury or decrease in ability to worry about pushing money down the road.

He's one of the best centers in the NFL, he isn't going anywhere. At 27, he still has several prime years left that you don't worry about kicking the can down the road.

TE Jason Witten

Jason Witten -- the timeless one -- will be on the roster in 2018 unless he decides to retire. The team can save $3.5 million dollars against the cap by restructuring him, thus pushing $3.5 million down the road to spread over the remainder of his contract.

While his age and the fact his current contract wouldn't expire until 2022 would leave many skeptical of restructuring, the savings could help this year and help them contend this year.

Takeaway Tuesday: 2

Dallas Cowboys WR Cole Beasley (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Releases

Let's clarify a few things first. I'm not saying they should or shouldn't release a player; I just want to discuss the options. Secondly. They aren't releasing Terrance Williams. His deal is not conducive to a release until 2019. So let's forget that notion right now.

A Post-June 1st designation is a good option for certain releases, as it typically allows for more savings on the 2018 salary cap and less dead money. The problem is, you don't get the cap relief until June 1st. The only early benefit is that it opens up a roster spot.

The Post-June 1st money would be used to extend a player like Zack Martin or get a long-term deal done with DeMarcus Lawrence before the franchise tag deadline.

Let's take a look at the options.

Pre-June 1st Releases

WR Cole Beasley

Cole Beasley is entering the last year of his contract and could save you $3.5 million if released, with only $1 million in dead money on the 2018 salary cap. I don't think it's likely Bease gets released. However, if they were going to make a move at WR, with Brice Butler's contract expired, Beasley could be the next guy out the door.

Cole's 2016 gave us the idea that perhaps he's a legitimate WR2 in the NFL, and one of the better slot receivers. His 2017 saw him crash back to his pre-2016 numbers that are typical for a WR3 or lower on the depth chart.

Again, I don't think they release Beasley, but it's a possibility with Ryan Switzer waiting in the wings.

DE Benson Mayowa

Mayowa is a good depth player. Someone who gives a consistent effort, even if he's not always showing up in the stat sheet.

Releasing him wouldn't get you a whole lot of money, only $2.7 million, but it would open up snaps for your 2017 first-round draft pick and again save you a bit of money. His dead money would be about $1.1 million.

There's no benefit to designating him a post-June 1st release.

TE James Hanna

James Hanna's another player who is entering the last year of his deal and would get you a cap savings of $2.7 million on the 2018 cap with a minimal cap hit.

It's nothing against Hanna's play, he's just caught behind a future Hall of Famer in Witten and could be considered a progress stopper. The team is high on Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin, and with Geoff Swaim around, Hanna is caught a bit in the numbers game.

If they see Gathers, or any of these other guys as capable of doing the job that Hanna's done, it seems very unlikely they would keep him.

Post-June 1st Releases

CB Orlando Scandrick

Orlando Scandrick has become a popular player among Cowboys Nation since he was drafted in the fifth round out of Boise State. He's been a good player for the team, but the writing is on the wall for his future.

With Dallas drafting four defensive backs in 2017, including three cornerbacks, and Anthony Brown in 2016, Orlando's age and production aren't matching his salary at this point. If he's released, it would be as a Post-June 1st designation, which would change the savings and dead money on the salary cap.

As a post-June 1st designation, the Cowboys would save $3 million with $2.3 million in dead money. If not designated post-June 1st, then the cap savings are only a little over $1 million with nearly $4 million in dead money for 2018.

DL Tyrone Crawford

People are going to look at Tyrone Crawford's cap number and at his production and shout for him to be released. He'll be a popular name on Cowboys Nation's chopping block.

It's a possibility, but it seems that the team actually likes Crawford as a versatile defensive line player.

If they were to release Crawford, it would have to be as a Post-June 1st designation, otherwise, they would only save about $1.8 million on the 2018 cap, while $7.3 million would be dead money still on the 2018 salary cap. As a post-June 1st designation, the Dallas Cowboys would save $6 million on the 2018 cap with a little over $3 million in dead money.

As I mentioned before, he could also be a candidate for a reduced salary agreement or a restructuring of his contract.

TE Jason Witten

Witten is also an option for a post-June 1st cut designation. If Witten plays, you can guarantee it's with a Star on his helmet.

If it happened, it would be strictly for accounting purposes. This move would only be to free up some more cap space to work on deals for Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence.

His current cap figure of $6 million isn't outrageous, but has some room to be reduced. He wouldn't cost you anything in dead money, so there could be some room to maneuver to make it work better for the team.

Restricted Free Agents

DL David Irving

David Irving is a difficult salary projection because of his status as a restricted free agent (RFA). 2017 showed he is one of the better defensive lineman in the NFL. Even if they place first or second-round  tender on him, any team that signs him to an offer sheet will have to hope the Dallas Cowboys pass on matching that offer.

The Cowboys aren't going to let him go. It was Will McClay who saw the potential in him when he signed him off the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad, and Rod Marinelli who has helped David Irving unlock his enormous talent.

The posturing by the Dallas front office is just their way of negotiating. They want Irving to return, and he will return, but they want to get it as close to their number as possible.

They aren't going to let seven sacks in eight games go away. Like Lawrence, they may want some protection against injury or make his contract a bit more incentive laden, but again, they aren't going to let him walk. Even for a second-round pick.

The best path forward for Irving is to place a first-round tender on him and get an extension done. The top 4-3 DTs get paid an average anywhere from $7-9 million a year, with the guaranteed money typically around 40-50%.

It's never wise to set the market, especially on a player you can match any offer with, like Irving. The Cowboys will have the last say, and that say will be him wrecking folks with a Star on his helmet in 2018.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Broncos

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Unrestricted Free Agents

DE DeMarcus Lawrence

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to get paid; it's as simple as that. And it won't be by anyone other than the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys want to keep him, and he wants to stay.

He deserves to be paid like one of the top 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL. The only hold up is going to be the amount of guaranteed money given to Lawrence. Based on some of his injury history, the Cowboys will probably want some protection.

Spotrac.com projects Lawrence will earn about $14 million per year over five years, which is a reasonable number for someone who nearly led the league in sacks and is only 25 years old. A five-year contract would carry Lawrence into his early 30s, which would get the Cowboys his prime years.

It's very likely that Dallas places the franchise tag on Lawrence to put off the long-term deal until their post-June 1st money is freed up. The franchise tag number -- the average of the top-five salaries at his position -- would be around $14.6 million.

Olivier Vernon has the richest contract for a 4-3 defensive end at $17 million per year. Jason Pierre-Paul is right behind him at $15.5 million per year. Man, do the Giants love spending some money on pass rushers.

Four of the top-five DE contracts received at least 40% of their contract guaranteed, therefore we're looking at a deal that could be as rich as $90 million total ($18 million per year) with $36 million guaranteed.

Dallas will have to franchise tag him so they don't have to bid against other teams.

LB Anthony Hitchens

Anthony Hitchens is coming off his best year as a pro and will get a nice offer on the free agent market. Spotrac projects his market value to be around $6.4 million per year.

He has become a valuable member of the defense with his ability to play all three linebacker positions and play them well. With Sean Lee entering his age-32 season and his extensive injury history, Hitchens may be more of a priority than we realize.

If they can bring back Hitchens at the projected number, that would be awesome, but it's possible that he gets offers in the free agent market that drive up his price.

With former Dallas Cowboys LB Coach Matt Eberflus headed to Indianapolis to be the defensive coordinator, there's at least one team that will have interest.

LS L.P. Ladouceur

L.P. Ladouceur is 36 years old and an unrestricted free agent as well. This isn't a position that gets a lot of attention from Dallas Cowboys fans, but that's because L.P. is so good at his job, you don't notice him.

You only ever notice the long snapper when something goes wrong, and how many times in his 13-year career has anything gone wrong? Not many.

He won't cost the team a ton to re-sign if he wants to continue playing. Hopefully that's the case, because he, Chris Jones, and Dan Bailey have made up one of the more consistent kicking game operations in the NFL for several years now.

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Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, RG Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Contract Extensions

We know Zack Martin will get a contract extension. That's as certain as death and taxes.

According to Over The Cap, the richest contract for a guard is Kevin Zeitler's with the Cleveland Browns. Zeitler is making $12-million annually on the $60-million deal he signed in 2017, with $23-million guaranteed.

That's the starting point for any negotiations between the Dallas Cowboys and Zack Martin.

He'll be paid as the top guard in the NFL because he is the top guard in the NFL. So we're looking at an annual salary around $12.5 - $14 million per year, with at least $25-million guaranteed over five years.

If the Dallas Cowboys and Zack Martin are able to get a contract extension done this offseason, it could cut his 2018 salary cap number from $9.3 million to just under $7 million. Not huge savings, but in the salary cap era, every bit counts.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

As my mathematician grandmother always says, "If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves."

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot options to make the math work in their favor to create a lot of room under the cap, if they want it. While some of these moves may not be big, the cumulative effect could be.

If we've learned anything about Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay, it's that they are a creative group that figures out a way to get things done.

Salary Figures, cap space, and dead money information gathered from OverTheCap.com and Spotrac.com



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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6 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    They cant let Hitchens go, he’s always there when Sean lee goes down EVERY SEASON.

    • EverybodyTalks

      Totally agree. He is a starter/back-up LB that is invaluable to the LB corp. I could make an argument that to lose Hitchens is more critical to our defense than Irving.

      • John Williams

        I think the only way he walks is if the number gets too high or he gets to walk in as a MLB1 for a team. Here he’s still competing for snaps with Jaylon and Lee.

  • TexHomaHeat .

    I don’t understand how the Cowboys can be in such bad position with the salary cap when they have only average players. I just don’t get it!

    • John Williams

      Most of it comes down to paying this year’s cap with next year’s money a lot of the time through restructures.

      They aren’t in a bad spot. They could very easily double the cap room with just a few moves.

      That said, they do have some bad contracts on the books at the moment with guys like Dez, Tyrone, and Terrance Williams that make it difficult to get out from under.

  • Steve

    I agree that we are in better shape this year than we have been in a while and I know we have to clean our own back yard signing up first before we go out and get someone, and I believe we resign everyone mentioned except Hitchens which I agree with you guys that we try to resign him but ultimately at what cost because somebody with tons of cap space will throw a massive contract at him and then we r done because we won’t get into a bidding war for Hitch mainly because we can’t. Yes 2 bad contracts and 8.5 mil left from Tony Romo still burns but that comes off after this year so the window is there we just NEED TO BE SMART!

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Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Ric Tapia via AP

An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw

However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.

In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.

The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.

We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys’ Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys' Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

In every game, whether it's a sporting event or a board game there is a path -- and sometimes more than one -- to victory. For the Dallas Cowboys, it's no different. As they get set to face a Seattle Seahawks team that is 0-2 for the first time since 2015, they'll have to win in several areas to bring home the W.

After starting out 0-2 in 2015, the Seahawks finished the season with a 10-6 record and won their wild card game over the Minnesota Vikings before falling in the divisional round to the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks are one of those teams that you can get down, but can never count out. If the Dallas Cowboys want to come out on top in their trip to the Pacific Northwest, they are going to have to come ready to play.

In particular, these are the things that the Dallas Cowboys have to achieve to be the victors on Sunday.

Limit Big Plays

The Seattle Seahawks are a very interesting offensive case study. They have one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but have invested very little in trying to protect their most important asset.

They rely on Russell Wilson's improvisational ability and penchant for big plays.

In 2017, Wilson had a quarterback rating of 100.9 on attempts greater than 20 yards down the field, per Pro Football Focus. He threw the ball "deep" 91 times, completing 31 passes for 1,134 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had the most deep attempts in the league last season and tied with Alex Smith with the most touchdowns on deep attempts. Wilson's yardage was nearly 200 yards more than the next best in the NFL on deep passing.

Wilson's going to take some deep shots. If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears, you noticed that even though Wilson was getting battered, it didn't deter him from taking shots deep down the field. Sometimes into unfavorable coverages.

The secondary has an advantage over the Seattle Seahawks group of wide receivers, but they'll have to stay disciplined and not allow the big pass plays to beat them.

In a game where they were being dominated for more than three quarters, the Seahawks were able to hang around and had a chance at the end because of their penchant for big plays.

Don't get beat deep.

Wrangling Russell Wilson

The Seattle Seahawks have allowed the most sacks in the league through two weeks. They've allowed six in each of their first two games this season. The Dallas Cowboys are going to have opportunities to sack Russell Wilson this week.

They have to take advantage.

Like Cam Newton in week one, Russell Wilson is a very elusive quarterback. Not only is he really good at making plays with his legs, he can be difficult to bring down. The Dallas Cowboys will have to work to keep Wilson in the pocket and finish when they get an opportunity to bring him down. He's not a physical presence like Newton is, but he's slippery and has some of that Tony Romo elusiveness to him.

If the potential tackler doesn't get Wilson down on first contact, it could lead to big plays both through the air and on the ground. Wilson averages 33.6 yards per game on the ground in his career and 5.7 yards per attempt. In order to get off the field on third down, they're going to have to prevent Wilson from using his legs to pick up third downs.

Establishing the Pass to Set Up the Run

At this point in the Dallas Cowboys offensive approach, everyone in the world knows what the Dallas Cowboys want to do on offense. They want to run the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys did a great job using this knowledge to their advantage on the first series of the game against the New York Giants.

On the first play of the game, they used a Run-Pass Option, with a clear out to the flat by Tight End Geoff Swaim, and found Allen Hurns on a slant to set up a second and short. Then after picking up that second and short with a run by Ezekiel Elliott, they used a straight play action out of a two running back, one tight end set, and hit Tavon Austin for the 64 yard touchdown.

Dak's willingness to throw the ball deep on a couple other occasions helped open up the run. The deep ball has to be a threat in order to back defenses off the line of scrimmage and do what you do best: Run the Ball. If they aren't going to back off, then you have to keep throwing it until you hit the deep ball enough that it forces them to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball pretty effectively for the rest of the game, even if they didn't hit a lot of big plays. With the New York Giants interior defensive line, it was going to be tough sledding anyway. Getting things going through the air, helped out immensely.

The Seattle Seahawks are going to try to do what everyone does; put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands. If they're going to win on Sunday, it's going to be because Prescott had another efficient game throwing the ball.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

This game sets up really well for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their record to 2-1 and keep pace with the upper tier teams in the NFC. Every win matters, but these NFC games matter even a bit more. No game in the NFL is a cakewalk and this game is no different. If the Dallas Cowboys aren't able to do the above, it could be a long day for America's Team. 



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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Ezekiel Elliott, Lions

If there's one thing we've learned in the past, it's that NFL seasons are unpredictable. Unknown factors, injuries and unexpected "breakout" players can shift the way we saw the league just a month ago, when we were still watching preseason games on TV. After two weeks of regular season action, Cowboys Nation might be surprised to see their Dallas Cowboys sitting on top of the NFC East, but that's precisely the case. Not only that, but they could remain division leaders for a while...

Now, let's not get carried away here. While the team might be on top right now, they're not even 2-0 and it's only week 3. The Cowboys' offense played well on week 2, but terribly on week 1. It's way too early to judge how this season will go based on what we've seen.

However, there is no denying that they seem to be in a very good position to remain the NFC East front runners in the coming weeks. The Cowboys had more reasons to celebrate last Sunday besides their victory over the New York Giants. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins suffered losses in their respective games, giving Dallas the opportunity to control their destiny.

As previously mentioned, though, it's only week 3. But the team's next three opponents aren't as scary as they seemed prior to the season's start. Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Cowboys' next three opponents are winless, sharing a combined record of 0-6.

Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While

 

Starting by the Seattle Seahawks, who have been a dominant team in the NFL landscape for a few years now but that simply don't seem like a very threatening opponent right now. The main reason why is their weak offensive line, which I expect the Dallas Cowboys to exploit just like they did with the Panthers and Giants. Russel Wilson is a tougher guy to contain, being one of the best playmakers in the NFL right now, but I trust the defense to handle him. They've done such a good pressuring quarterbacks, I'll trust they will continue to do so.

Next in the calendar will be the Detroit Lions. Through two weeks, they've struggled more than we expected under the reigns of their new head coach, Matt Patricia. On week 1, Matt Stafford threw four interceptions in a game that was in control of the New York Jets all night long. But it's not the Lions' offense that I think the Cowboys will take advantage of, but their poor run defense. They gave up 169 yards on rushing against the Jets on week 1 and 190 last Sunday, when they faced the San Francisco 49ers.

Ezekiel Elliott will have that defense dreaming nightmares before their matchup in week 4.

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Finally, on week 5, the Cowboys will face their in-state rival, the Houston Texans. Surprisingly, the Deshaun Watson-led team is 0-2 after facing the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. This might be the team that hands the Cowboys their second loss of the season. They have a balanced offense that will pose no challenge for the Cowboys' defense, but this could be a dangerous game for the offense.

The Cowboys will rely on Ezekiel Elliott for this one as well. On the defensive side of the ball, Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie will have to replicate their success versus Odell Beckham, only this time they will be facing Deandre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league.

✭✭✭

Even though the Cowboys were terrible in Carolina when they opened their season, the defense has been looking so good that I don't doubt their ability to carry the team to victories for the time being. If the offense continues to improve, then this team might be able to take full advantage of the unexpected head start it got in the NFC East.

I can't say it enough; it's only week 3... but look out. It could take some time before the Cowboys give up that #1 spot in the division.

Tell me what you think about "Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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