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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.

Cowboys Headlines - Could Brandin Cooks Play For The Dallas Cowboys In 2017? 2

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

6 Comments

  1. Travis Diggs

    February 8, 2018 at 6:32 pm

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

    • EverybodyTalks

      February 8, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      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

        John Williams

        February 9, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        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.

  2. TexHomaHeat .

    February 9, 2018 at 10:46 am

    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

      John Williams

      February 9, 2018 at 1:53 pm

      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.

  3. Steve

    February 18, 2018 at 7:40 am

    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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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future

The next class of players to join the Dallas Cowboys may be on the field at Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, but their young core is well represented in front of the Cowboys coaching staff at the Pro Bowl.

With Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin not participating, the Cowboys have six Pro Bowl participants. The improved health of their offensive line is still one of the best things going for this team in the early part of the offseason, expecting four-time Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick to rejoin Smith and Martin as soon as OTAs.

A compilation of the best linemen in the NFC will have to do for Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott - making their second Pro Bowl appearance together. It took the addition of Wide Receiver Amari Cooper for the Cowboys offense to find their expected form under Prescott and Elliott in their third season, as Cooper will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl in as many years.

Both times Elliott's made the Pro Bowl, he's done so as the league's rushing champion.

Hardly on track to reach Orlando with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper put up 725 yards and six touchdowns on 53 catches in nine regular season games for the Cowboys. He followed up this resurgent performance with seven catches for 106 yards in the Wild Card Round vs. the Seahawks and six for 65 and a touchdown at the Rams in the Divisional Round.

The Cowboys shouldn't be done adding talent at wide receiver, with Cooper serving as the bold reminder of what Prescott can do with dynamic talent on the outside. Moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan already this offseason, the next steps towards building the offense around Dak's strengths is yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, their established strengths will be on display, and not just on offense at the Pro Bowl. Making strides as one of the best young defenses in the league this season, Cowboys rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be joined by Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones.

Though its unlikely their coaching will match the intensity of the season, the best thing these three defenders have going for them is more time under Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. One of Richard's first moves with the Cowboys was moving Jones to cornerback, where he became a first-time Pro Bowler.

Unable to reach his full athletic potential at safety, Jones was the elite corner the Cowboys needed at a position still in need of depth. His length and range should make him a fixture in Richard's secondary for a long time.

Vander Esch becomes the 11th Cowboys rookie to make a Pro Bowl, the third on the defensive side of the ball. Surely the Wolf Hunter will look forward to another week of football, going from eight man HS player to one-year starter at Boise State and finally a Cowboys fixture at linebacker.

The Cowboys did what was thought to be proved impossible this season by fielding a competent defense (mostly) without Sean Lee. Vander Esch and teammate Jaylon Smith deserve the credit here, with Leighton making a larger immediate impact than ever expected as the 19th overall pick.

Last but nowhere near least is DeMarcus Lawrence, much closer to the Cowboys top priority in free agency this offseason than an afterthought at his second Pro Bowl. Putting together consecutive seasons with at least ten sacks, the Cowboys don't have to see anything further from their top pass rusher to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.

The rest of the Cowboys "Hot Boyz" have a lot of potential and promise, but Lawrence is a rare proven commodity at defensive end with 25 sacks in his last 32 games. Rushing the passer in the Pro Bowl is a relatively futile task, but the Cowboys know Lawrence is capable of saving his best plays for the biggest moments. Also a dominant run defender, there simply shouldn't be a reality where the Cowboys are forced to field a defense without Lawrence at left end in 2019 and beyond.

The Cowboys at the Pro Bowl will tell you they'd prefer to be missing the game in preparation for the Super Bowl. Getting within two games of this feat after a 3-5 start is still impressive enough for the Cowboys to feel great about their future, in large part because of the six players representing America's Team this week.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Handing out Hardware for the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Resilience Earns Prescott's 1st Playoff Win, Trip to Divisional Round

The 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys was literally a roller coaster ride with as many ups and downs as the Texas Giant. Through the first seven games of the season the Cowboys alternated home wins with road losses to get to 3-4. They made as big of a personnel move as they've made in recent years when they traded for Amari Cooper only to all to 3-5 in his debut on Monday Night Football to the Tennessee Titans.

Then the team went on an improbably five game winning streak to put themselves in position to win the NFC East for the third time in five years by mid December. The Cowboys were able to pick up the win in the wild card round over the Seattle Seahawks before being ousted by Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, and the Los Angeles -- battering -- Rams' offensive line.

The season always ends with a little disappointment for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, but this year felt different at the end because of where they were to start the season and after eight games. After the Tennessee game, this team was written off. They were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. They stormed back and made the 2018 season a memorable one, even if it didn't end with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Let's give out some post season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.

MVP

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

Many will scoff at this choice and think it could be Ezekiel Elliott, and I understand, but nobody had a greater impact on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs and winning their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks than Dak Prescott did.

Over the final eight games of the season, Dak averaged 278 passing yards per game, 2 total touchdowns, and threw only three interceptions. His numbers down the stretch over a 16 game pace were phenomenal. On 71.6% passing, he was on pace for 4,450 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions on the season, with a passer rating of 103.4.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Not to make this about Dak, but I'm going to make this about Dak. 2nd in success rate, 3rd in EPA and EPA/play among playoff QBs. #CowboysNation https://t.co/Evyf73uzJ9

His play in the win over the Seattle Seahawks was instrumental in getting the victory to move on to the divisional round. Though they fell short against the Los Angeles Rams, Dak was able to bring them back from 16 down early in the second half to make it a one score game in the end.

Dak Prescott is still a developing player, and in reality, all players are trying to grow their game. Every season. Prescott is a good quarterback, who is on his way to being great and we saw this season the potential that he has.

He threw for a career high 455 yards against the Eagles and three touchdowns and then threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns against the New York Giants. There's evidence now that Dak can throw the ball, and that should scare teams.

In the playoffs, Prescott stepped up and was a big reason why the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and hung in there against the Rams.

Offensive Player of the Year

Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back

Three years, two rushing titles, and it almost seemed like a "meh" season for Ezekiel Elliott. Sure he had some big games, but only a couple times this season did it feel like Elliott took over the game. Some of that is due to the offensive line injuries and inconsistencies, but some of that may be due to Elliott who saw a much bigger workload than he had in his career to date.

He was much more actively involved in the passing game this season as he more than doubled his previous career high with 77 receptions for 567 yards. Though he won the rushing title, this was the lowest rushing yards per game he's had in his short three-year career. Elliott only scored nine touchdowns this season, which tied with his 2017 total that he accrued in only 10 games.

Elliott struggled some in the red zone because the team struggled in the red zone. Some of those issues related to the offensive line and some because of the play calling, but you'd hope that Elliott would be able to overcome some of that where it mattered most.

Defensive Player of the Year

DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End

No player on defense has a bigger impact for the Dallas Cowboys than Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Whether it's in the run game or the passing game, DeMarcus Lawrence is elite in both categories and makes life incredibly difficult on the opposing offense.

On the season he had 10.5 sacks, finishing with double-digit sacks for the second year in a row. While that may not be as impressive as his 2017 total of 14.5, he was doing his thing with much less help along the defensive line. There wasn't another player who flirted with double-digit sacks this season. Though Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford performed well, teams gave all of their attention to Lawrence in both the run and pass game.

And he was still amazingly effective.

Lawrence finished fifth among EDGE players -- 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebackers -- in tackles, fourth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" measure with 44, and 15th in total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranked Lawrence as the seventh best EDGE defender, ninth best pass rusher, and the 12th best run defender. J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack were the only other EDGE defenders who ranked in the top 12 as both a pass rusher and run defender per Pro Football Focus.

DeMarcus Lawrence is heading into the offseason looking to get a long-term deal done.

Rookie of the Year

Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker

While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup had really good starts to their NFL career's no rookie for the Dallas Cowboys was as impressive as 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch. He led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles and "stops" and had the second highest grade of any defender as graded by Pro Football Focus.

In tackles, he was second only to future Hall of Fame inductee Luke Keuchly and fellow rookie Darius Leonard. Vander Esch did all this while playing a limited number of snaps as the Dallas Cowboys eased him in at the start of the season and then attempted to find a way to have Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the field together.

It was an impressive year for the former Boise St. Bronco and the sky is the limit for Vander Esch. He's now played just his second season as a starter in 11-man football. If you remember, he didn't start for Boise St. till the 2017 season and had played 8-man football in high school.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of progression Vander Esch can make to his game in 2019. He's going to be a great player.

Most Improved Player

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

The 2017 season was not kind to Jaylon Smith. It was his first attempt at playing football since January of 2016 when he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. It was amazing that he was even playing, though he didn't play considerably well.

2018, however, was a different story.

Jaylon Smith could make a case for team MVP. He may not have had as many tackles as Vander Esch, or as many sacks, but by playmaking defensive EPA, he was nearly as effective at making big plays on defense as DeMarcus Lawrence.

Cowboys Stats & Graphics on Twitter

Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch

EPA measures the effect a play will have on the score. Not all plays are weighted the same, as some weigh heavier because of down and distance, turnovers, etc. Jaylon Smith had an excellent season for the Dallas Cowboys and looks to be the guy that they thought he would be when they selected him at the top of the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Having Smith and Vander Esch roaming around the middle of the field for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward is huge. They're excellent at moving in space and are excellent definitions of "sideline to sideline" players.

Jaylon Smith is one of the players I'm already looking forward to watching again in the 2019 season.

Comeback Player of the Year

Randy Gregory, Defensive End

After sitting out all but two games of the 2016 season and all of last season, Randy Gregory came back this season and had a good year. With only one sack in his career heading into the 2018 season, Gregory had a nice comeback year with five sacks and finished tied for second on the team with 37 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. According to Pro Football Reference, Gregory was second on the team in tackles for loss.

The Cowboys have Randy Gregory under contract for the 2019 season for just under $1 million.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel optimistic about as they look to roster build this offseason in preparation of the 2019 season. They have several ascending players playing key roles for them. This team looks primed to contend again in 2019.



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Dak Prescott And Amari Cooper Added To 2019 Pro Bowl

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

As is usual now that 30 teams' seasons have concluded, players on playoff teams are beginning to drop out of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Notably, New Orleans Saints quarterback/wide receiver connection Drew Brees and Michael Thomas each decided they will stay home next Sunday, rather than participate in the NFL's All Star game.

As replacements for these two, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

Dallas Cowboys on Twitter

DallasCowboys wide receiver @AmariCooper9 and quarterback @dak have both been added to the NFC #ProBowl roster! → https://t.co/9HYuqBvi7z

For quarterback Dak Prescott this is his second Pro Bowl selection in his first three seasons. While Pro Bowl selections aren't always a great indicator of being a top tier quarterback, especially if added as an alternate, Prescott's selections do show that he has been among the NFC's best for much of his young career.

With Prescott on the NFC roster are Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, making this a very mobile quarterback depth chart.

This will be wide receiver Amari Cooper's third Pro Bowl appearance, and his first as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper had instant chemistry after adding the Pro Bowl wide out via trade midseason, and it's exciting to see them added to this All Star game together. Despite what some fans may think, both Prescott and Cooper do "deserve" to be additions to the game, boasting some of the best performances in the conference during the second half of the season.

Prescott and Cooper join teammates DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, Byron Jones, and Leighton Vander Esch to play in this year's Pro Bowl game.



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