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.
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.
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.
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.
C 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak
The Dallas Cowboys will try to get their second road win of the season against another inconsistent Atlanta Falcons team. As both try to get back to .500, this game will be filled with interesting matchups and implications. After upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 last Sunday, the Cowboys need to get another upset win to keep being relevant in the league this year.
Here's this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! I hope you enjoy and I encourage you to let me know what your wishes are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Stop Julio Jones' 100-Yard Game Streak
With the Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-5, many have overlooked Wide Receiver Julio Jones' hot streak. In each of his last four games, Jones has accounted for more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Totaling 476 yards in his last four games, Jones is ready to face Cowboys' Cornerback Byron Jones.
Byron has certainly been a pleasant surprise in 2018, playing at a great level right now. He has faced Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins this year and made a good job of defending these "Tier 1" pass-catchers. It's worth noting the Cowboys are not making him "travel" with these players but rather keep him on a specific side of the field. That shouldn't change against the Falcons.
Wish #2: Contain WR Calvin Ridley
Back in April, Cowboys Nation eyed Calvin Ridley as a prospect who could end up wearing the Star on Sundays. However, Dallas passed on him and the Alabama product fell right unto the Falcons' lap. He's had a pretty good season and despite sharing the field with Julio Jones, he's done a great job as a rookie averaging 14 yards per reception.
The Cowboys need to contain him. While Dallas should feel comfortable with Byron doing his job, the truth is Chidobe Awuzie has struggled at times. Not that he's suddenly a bad player, but he needs to step up his game. Lining up against Ridley today will be a great test and one I wouldn't expect him to pass easily.
Wish #3: Score 28+ Points
The Cowboys have the huge advantage of going against a defense that ranks 29th in scoring defense. They did a nice job on Philadelphia last week and should continue to build on that success to do something they haven't done much this year: score a lot of points.
Scott Linehan's unit needs to do a better, more consistent, job. They've shown us they're capable of scoring, but they've also shown us their remarkable ability to seemingly forget how to do so. Blame it on play-calling, QB play, poor offensive line or whatever you prefer, it's a flawed unit.
They need to capitalize versus a poor defense like the Falcons' to find a steady rhythm.
Wish #4: Dak Makes This Falcons' Game a Turning Point
Last year, when Dak Prescott was sacked six times in Atlanta (five times by Adrian Clayborn) something changed for the Cowboys' young quarterback. Missing RB Ezekiel Elliott and LT Tyron Smith that day, Prescott had one of the worse days in his career. It was a turning point for him as a QB and the public eye.
Now he has a chance at redemption. A shot at putting the Cowboys at .500 and reviving playoff hopes, as unlikely as it sounds.
I wish that's the case for the Cowboys young passer in Atlanta. As flawed as he is, I'm a fan of his. The kid leaves it all on the field.
Final Thoughts on Cowboys Matchup with the Atlanta Falcons
This week, like every week for the rest of the 2018 NFL season, is a must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys. Getting ready to face an Atlanta Falcons team that took the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense in last year's matchup, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a lot to prove as they attempt to get back to the .500 mark for the fourth time this season.
It feels like the Philadelphia game was forever ago. Now that it's finally game day, here are some final thoughts on the Cowboys matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
Amari Cooper Breaks Century Mark
Amari Cooper has proven his worth in his first two games since coming over to the Dallas Cowboys from the Oakland Raiders. He's had 11 catches in the first two weeks and has made an instant rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott. I believe they take another step forward this week and Amari Cooper goes for 100 yards in just his third game with America's Team.
Cooper had 75 yards against the Eagles and 58 against the Titans. He's trending toward the 100 yard mark. If Prescott and Cooper could have connected on just one of the deep shots they missed on, Cooper goes for 100 last week. This week, Dak and Coop get another weak defense.
The Atlanta Falcons pass defense is one of the worst in the NFL. They have the sixth highest net yards per attempt number in the NFL and the sixth most yards allowed. They've also allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns; 21.
Since the Atlanta Falcons can score and move the ball with their passing attack, the Cowboys will have to throw to win this game.
Can Xavier Su'a Filo Continue to be an X-Factor
The Cowboys offensive line had their best game of the season on the ground on Sunday as they gashed the Philadelphia Eagles -- who were second in rushing heading into the game -- for 171 rushing yards. They did it by going right at the Eagles defense and were most successful when they used Su'a-Filo to get to the next level of the defense.
There's been a lot of talk about whether Su'a-Filo should continue to start when Connor Williams comes back and for me, it depends. Williams has had some problems with the strength that defensive tackles bring on the inside, but he's been getting better too.
If Su'a-Filo and the Cowboys offensive line plays well during this stretch that Williams is healing, then it would be a shock to see the rookie second round pick reinserted into the starting lineup.
Check out this week's film review on Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Dominant Defensive Duo
Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence has been exceptional this season. Jaylon Smith looks to be healthy and progressing to be what the NFL thought he would be coming out of college. A transcendant middle linebacker.
DeMarcus Lawrence sack numbers may not be as high as they were this time last season, but he continues to show that he's a dominant player on both pass and rushing downs.
Cowboys playmaking EPA, now with snap counts! The most efficient playmakers have been Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Daniel Ross and Jourdan Lewis. "Playmaking EPA" = total EPA on failed plays forced through sacks, QB hits, turnovers, passes deflected, tackles, etc.
As you can see from our friend Daniel Houston, who manages Cowboys Stats and Graphics on Twitter points out, Smith and Lee have been the best playmakers on the team on a per snap basis. By just about every measure out there, those two have been worthy of Pro Bowl and perhaps All-Pro selections.
Playing for his Life
Chidobe Awuzie has been struggling this season. And that's stating it kindly to the second-year corner back. He's had decent positioning for much of the year, typically being right where he's supposed to be, but he's not making any plays of the football, which is something he was known for coming out of college.
There's something not quite right with his game this season as he's become the focal point for opposing passing attacks and for good reason. He can't stop anyone.
Well, this is the week to turn all of that around. The Dallas Cowboys need him to have a big week this week.
As humans, we know that when our interior isn't right, it doesn't matter what else we have going on on the outside, we don't function as well. The same is true for defense. If your interior isn't right, your defense isn't right. The Dallas Cowboys defensive interior is struggling with some health issues.
On the final injury report of the week, Defensive Tackles David Irving and Daniel Ross have already been ruled out, Antwaun Woods is doubtful, and Maliek Collins is questionable. If for some reason Maliek Collins isn't able to go, then it's probable that the team will go into the game without a functional one-technique defensive tackle. Even with Collins in the lineup, being down Woods and Ross means the Cowboys have to run Collins at 1T and Tyrone Crawford is your primary 3T defensive tackle.
With Crawford having to play inside this week it means a three-man rotation at defensive end of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Dorance Armstrong. They should be alright on the outside, but Crawford is one of their best run defending defensive ends. He's good on the inside, but you want to save him for your passing situations.
This is one of those games that I'm having a difficult time getting a read on. The Cowboys haven't been good on the road this season until last week at Philadelphia, one of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. In that game, they finally got their offense clicking through the air and on the ground.
This week looks like an opportunity for the Cowboys to continue to prove themselves offensively against an average to below average opponent.
On the defensive side of the ball, they're going to have their hands full with an Atlanta Falcons offense that is averaging more than 30 points a game at home and has one of the best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones.
I think this is going to be a close game where both teams get into 20's in point scored and it comes down to who plays better offensively at the end.
My heart leans Cowboys, but my gut leans Falcons. So it should be a 20-20 tie. Really though, I'm going with the...
Who you got?
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
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