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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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Dallas Cowboys

Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Jalen Ramsey

The debate over "Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey" for from the 2016 NFL Draft has never really stopped in Dallas. From before that draft until now, Cowboys fans still argue over which player the team should have taken. For the team, could they face that question again in the next few years?

A little over three years ago, the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth-overall pick. In so doing, they also snubbed Ramsey; the cornerback expected to become a Cowboy and wound up going with the fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Where you stand on this issue likely has a lot to do with how you value running backs. Some argued in 2016, and still do, that no RB is worth that high of a pick or paying top dollar for in future years. You've seen plenty of those opinions this offseason as talk of a long-term contract extension for Elliott has heated up.

Those same folks would have loved for Dallas to take Jalen Ramsey, who instantly became one of the NFL's top corners. And in 2021, with both players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, they would probably rather see the Cowboys let Elliott walk away and use that money to add an elite player at a position like cornerback.

We mention Ramsey here because of his very public feud with Jacksonville over his contract. The team reportedly informed him they would wait until next year to do a long-term extension, and Ramsey made it known through social media that he was going to drive the price up. Given his known issues with Jaguars' VP Tom Coughlin, it could lead to a parting of ways.

If  Jalen Ramsey hit the open market, and still want to be a Cowboy, could the CB end up in Dallas after all?

Ezekiel Elliott Already Has Second Rushing Title Locked Down

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Let's hypothesize that both Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have to play 2020 on their fifth-year options. Now the Cowboys are having to decide if they want give Zeke a long-term deal, the franchise tag, or just let him go.

How does the prospect of potentially signing Ramsey, or some other elite talent at another position, sway Dallas' thinking? Could they decide that the best bang for their buck is to spend roughly $15 million per year at RB or at CB, OT, or somewhere else?

The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl corner in Byron Jones but there's still a lot of uncertainty at the other starting position. Neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis have been consistent enough and both will have expiring contracts in 2021.

Ezekiel Elliott will turn 26 that year. He will have five seasons of workhorse mileage. And this is the same Cowboys team that decided to let DeMarco Murray walk away a few years ago.

Of course, Elliott trumps Murray in almost every way. He's been elite every season so far, not just one, and has been far more durable. Assuming personal conduct issues don't remain a problem, Zeke will be much harder to let go of than DeMarco was.

However, the salary cap forces teams to think about the entire roster when making personnel decisions. Even if you can justify paying Elliott huge money, that means less for someone else. And even if it makes sense for a year or two, what about when Zeke is creeping closer to 30 years old?

Jalen Ramsey

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey

Again, I mentioned Ramsey here because of the intrigue with his contract situation in Jacksonville and connection to Dallas from the 2016 draft. It would be quite ironic if the Cowboys, five years later, were again having to decide between the same two players.

But Jalen exemplifies a greater issue that Dallas faces in the coming years. Does it make sense to tie up so much money at running back and weaken yourself at other positions?

While RBs as special as Ezekiel Elliott don't grow on trees, it's still one of the easiest positions to fill. Assuming the Cowboys still have one of the NFL's top offensive lines in a few years, they will be tempted to try and get solid rushing production with a much cheaper ball carrier.

When Dallas let DeMarco Murray go and then drafted Ezekiel Elliott a year later, some thought it could be the start of a new trend in roster management. Draft a RB high, get 4-5 years out of him, and then let somebody else pay him the big money. Rinse and repeat.

But then Zeke came along and has been the stuff of legends. If he has a long-term career in Dallas, he will be right there with Emmitt and Dorsett in the top-three of all time Cowboys running backs.

Elliott isn't just highly productive but brings personality and excitement. Guys like that are hard to let go of; they are as valuable for marketing as they are on the field.

That said, a lot can change in the next year or two. More issues with the league office, or a major injury, could have a dramatic effect on how we see Elliott's long-term value. It may make the decision much easier.

But assuming Zeke remains as valuable as ever, the Dallas Cowboys could be facing another major quandary between the running back and other elite players like Jalen Ramsey. What most helps the team win, and what has the most value over multiple seasons?

Hopefully, Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing well enough to keep the debate going.



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Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch

Jess Haynie

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Mitch Hyatt

Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?

Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.

While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.

For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.

Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.

“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”

Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.

The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.

If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.

Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.

Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.

If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.



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Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Melina Vastola / USA TODAY Sports

Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.

A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.

In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.

Michael Jackson

CB Michael Jackson

When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.

While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.

After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.

In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.

Tell me what you think about "Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?" 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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