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Ezekiel Elliott, NFL’s Future, and Realities for Modern Fans

Jess Haynie

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Roger Goodell Getting Desperate as Ezekeil Elliott Decision Looms

Last night, many of us waited anxiously for hours as Ezekiel Elliott's injunction hearing took place in New York. You probably know what went down. If you don't, here you go.

There will be a time to talk about Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. But today's not that day. I'm not ready to move on.

I feel violated.

I'm not the one being labeled as a domestic abuser. I'm not the one who stands to lose money and reputation. I'm not the one losing games in my physical prime. I'm not the one who must feel like he's letting his teammates and fans down, no matter how much of it is out of his control.

And yet I, just one of those millions of fans, still feel violated.

In all its efforts to "protect" an alleged victim, the NFL has assuredly victimized Ezekiel Elliott. Less importantly, it's victimized every fan of the Dallas Cowboys. The league's made it clear that its own public relations agendas and concern over its own power are more important than fairness and basic human decency.

5 NFL Rule Changes That Need to Happen

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

While this asshat is the face of the evil, it goes well beyond Goodell.  He has advisers who tell him what's in the best interest of the league. He has owners who prop him up because he's their yes-man and scapegoat. They're all part of the problem.

The curtain has been torn. The wall has been broken. The myth and magic of professional football has died.

They killed it.

As a young sports fan, and even many adult ones, you have the naive belief that you're the most important person in the game. You put Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith in the same category as He-Man and Luke Skywalker; real live action heroes made for your entertainment.

But if you get too much into the game, you start to realize how little you matter. It's not about your cheers but your money.  It's not about your love, but how you help boost TV ratings to mollify advertising partners. You're only as important as the dollars and hours you spend helping fill the coffers.

Of course, this isn't just about the league or the owners. Many of the players are also out there for money. This is why some people love college football and have no time for the NFL; the perception that professional athletes aren't doing it for the love of the game and the fans. This is often exaggerated, but hardly untrue. Many players wouldn't play if the money wasn't so good.

Most have come to this realization and get over it, though. Maybe it's not as mystical as when you were a kid, but that's okay. You still love the game and seeing it played at the highest level. You love getting into free agency, the draft, and perhaps a few fantasy teams. It's still highly entertaining, even once you realize your true place in the universe.

Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 1

I can only speak for myself, of course. You may not feel the same way.

For me, what's happened over these many months with Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL's disciplinary process has shattered what was left of my naivety. Despite everything I understood about the cold, hard realities of professional football, I still believed that the league wasn't out to completely screw its players. Even if it was politically or otherwise advantageous for the NFL, I never thought they'd go this far.

The NFL never cared about Tiffany Thompson, just like they don't care about you or me. They saw an opportunity to try to regain some ground on the domestic violence landscape. They thought they could use another star running back to make up for all the mistakes they made with Ray Rice.

This was never about whether or not Zeke actually committed domestic violence. That was made clear by how little the league seemed concerned with Thompson's testimony or the full facts of the case. It's been painfully obvious for some time that everything the NFL's done was to put the teeth back into its own botched domestic violence policy.

The NFL screwed up with Rice and Josh Brown. They decided on lenience in cases far more clear-cut than Elliott's, undermining their own policy. They created their own problem and tried to use Zeke's fame to fix it.

But Zeke's case isn't just flimsy. There is documented proof that Thompson prompted friends to lie in her favor. At times it reads like the case from To Kill a Mockingbird, a white woman lashing out with a false accusation to spite her former romantic partner. She even told Elliott that nobody would believe him, a black man, over her.

This is ugliness. This is dark, nasty human reality; personal and painful.

And the NFL is trying to turn it into a billboard.

Ezekiel Elliott Suspension: How The Josh Brown Case Helps Cowboys 2

We aren't talking about a blown call on a Dez Bryant catch anymore. This isn't incompetence or a bad rule. This is a man's name and life being severely harmed over corporate agendas.

It's astounding that the NFL could take the stance it has against Elliott. While it is the union's job to protect players, the NFL is supposed to protect the game as a whole. The players are part of that game, and the most important part when it comes to public reception. They are the conduit to the fans.

The league didn't even have to be on Elliott's side here. They just had to be neutral! They just had to be fair. But no, they went all in on an accusation and tried to turn one of their brightest young stars into an advertisement for how much the NFL cares about domestic violence.

Injustice is hardly new in society, but sports are supposed to be our escape from the negativity in the world. They're supposed to be entertainment, not another battlefield for the same social and political warfare that's going on all around us.

Roger Goodell and his camp have destroyed the NFL's role in American society. Football Sunday is no longer a time to get away from life's problems. For some, it may now be your greatest source of frustration.

Owners seem to finally be waking up to how poorly Goodell's reign has gone. The financial increases were organic and would've happened under any commissioner. What he's had a truly personal role in has almost all gone poorly. The NFL's public image is far worse now than when Roger Goodell took office.

Jerry Jones appears to be at the forefront of a movement to at least limit Goodell's power, if not remove him completely. There is talk of conference calls and meetings between a group of owners concerned about moving forward with the current power structure. Perhaps Roger's role as the league's scapegoat will ultimately lead to his dismissal now that he's the face of the incompetence and corruption.

We have to hope the owners can do something, because we certainly can't. As much we like to think fans matter, the NFL will keep on rolling along even as ratings decline. It will still be the most-watched product on TV for some time; it has a wide cushion before true financial trouble comes.

Cowboys Nation... I don't know what to tell you anymore.

The NFL is what it is now. It's the Roman Empire, already peaked and now starting to decline. New challenges with social and political issues and the CTE crisis will continue its erosion.

Desperate moves like what we've seen with Ezekiel Elliott are going to continue. Like an aging actress trying to stay beautiful, the NFL is going to keep looking for ways to cosmetically improve itself without being able to stop the inevitable. Some efforts will work and others, like its handling of Zeke's case, will leave it looking like Renee Zellweger.

We each have to decide, as fans, how much we can deal with the botched jobs. When does our love of football finally get overwhelmed by our frustration with the league's practices? When does the infiltration of the ugly realities of life finally take away too much of what makes football an escape?

For me, it's closer than it's ever been. Even though I know Ezekiel Elliott's situation isn't over, that he can still appeal and potentially win in the end, last night really knocked me back a few steps.

Of course, six games from now, he'll be back. Maybe Dallas still makes the playoffs. Maybe 2017 ends on an amazing note. Maybe we'll all forget about how awful we feel today.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't. I will never forget the line from "Boondock Saints:"

"Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men."

If we just put all this behind us and keep on cheering, who are we? What are we? If we just shake our heads and move on, aren't we giving the NFL exactly what it wants?

I don't know what the alternative is, or if there is one. Stop watching football? Boycotting? I'm not here to tell you that's something to do. I doubt I'd do it myself.

But it's the fact that I'm actually now using those words, considering those options, that tells you exactly how perilous the NFL's situation is. I'm a fan in southwest Virginia with no real local ties to an NFL team, yet still doggedly loyal to one of its franchises. I promote its product through online activity out of passion for the game, not any significant financial incentive.

Now I'm starting feel like part of the problem, too.

The NFL is clearly going to keep making decisions based on its own agendas, players, fans, and even fairness be damned. It doesn't love me. Why should I love it?

Emotions can turn quickly. Our deepest loves can become our strongest hates. Football has been one of my greatest loves since I was old enough to understand it.

Now I'm older and I understand way more than I ever wanted to. And I'm starting to hate what I know.

And I hate Roger Goodell and the league for making me feel this way.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. John Williams

    John Williams

    October 31, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Goodness, Jess. This was awesome. Well said and I can feel the emotion coming off the page. Your words reflect a lot of what Cowboys fans are feeling. Great job.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      October 31, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks John. I hope it helped give a voice to what others were feeling.

  2. tom

    October 31, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I will say that the biggest long term issue is CTE. This “hiccup” of Zek and Commissioner’s powers will be solved by next CBA. Goodell will unlikely be part of next CBA discussion if owners read the tea leaves NFLPA have been trumpeting as well as Jerry Jones. Look for a milk toast commish as successor to Goodell.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      October 31, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      It is starting to feel like Goodell will take the fall for the NFL’s PR nightmares. The next guy may not be any better, but he can’t be any worse.

  3. Corey

    October 31, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with you 100%. It may be just me, but to me this whole mess seems like Goodell has been out to make an example of Elliott. As long as Goodell and his minions are running things the NFL will suffer. I find it amazing that the NFL investigators found evidence of domestic violence when the Police couldn’t find any. Why these guys should quit working for the NFL and become detectives if they are that good

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      October 31, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      The NFL is going to keep running into problems as it ignores the legal system and enforces its own brand of “justice.”

  4. Bryson Treece

    October 31, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    tbh I think that regardless of any effect Jones and other owners may manage to have with Goodell, the expiration of the current CBA is going to be a very harsh wakeup call for the NFL. The Players are the league, and these continued abuses by the league have already shown the NFLPA that things need to change. They’re outside the power structure corrupting the league and have different agendas. They got screwed on the PCP and know it. How bad the cracks get before the CBA is renewed, no one knows. Just hope it’s not too bad. Great read, Jess.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      November 2, 2017 at 9:54 am

      I think you’re 100% right about the new CBA. Assuming that DeMaurice Smith is still the head, he’d had years of hearing how badly he screwed the last one. He will need a win to keep the players’ faith and his job. And with Goodell fearing the bad press from any kind of work stoppage and another sign that he can’t avoid catastrophes in any league mater, it could mean the players gain some real ground in the negotiations.

  5. XaqFields

    October 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Great article, and something I wish the NFL would read and understand.

    My NFL fanship began being tested when they handed down this 6-game suspension to start with. Then, the NFL set up their sham of an appeals process which brought to light even more corruption in this “investigation,” including a deliberate attempt to silence their lead investigator who found Zeke’s accuser to not be credible, along with the “independent arbitrator” having no interest in speaking to Zeke’s accuser before making his decision. I felt like the NFL jabbed another knife in my back with that one.

    Then to see the NFL stumbling over itself desperately trying to make sure Zeke serves a suspension that may later be determined in the court of law to be unjust… I don’t know how to defend the NFL in my mind anymore. I find their behavior to be incorrigible. The fact that this can be fixed in the next CBA is no solution to me because we as fans shouldn’t require a written contract to prevent the NFL from behaving like creeps. We deserve better than that, and so do the players. We deserve a league that *organically* wants discipline to be fair and just for the players and for the fans it impacts.

    There’s a good chance I don’t watch much/any NFL football for the next six weeks. I wouldn’t call it a boycott but rather a legitimate reduction in my general interest in the NFL. I have sat through countless suspensions as a Cowboys fan and I always rightfully blame the player who earned the suspension. This is different. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes researching this whole ordeal knows this is nothing more than an example of tremendous overstep by the league office and frankly it has squashed the majority of my enthusiasm for the game.

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      November 2, 2017 at 10:02 am

      I think you’ve illustrated one of the NFL’s greatest flaws in its strategies. It assumes that fans will just roll with the punches because our loyalty is more about teams than players. This may be true on the whole, but we do take things that happen to our favorite players personally. The league thought it would win points by going after one of its biggest stars, but instead it only antagonized its largest and most visible groups of fans.

      • XaqFields

        November 2, 2017 at 11:21 am

        That’s a great point. I think the NFL is “behind,” here in the Twitter age in this regard. I mean, fans have always had an affinity for certain players (Zeke is my favorite player currently in the league) but with the advent of Twitter it is easier now than ever for a single player to have hordes of adoring fans that are easily influenced. Indeed, Zeke has about 2 million followers on his Twitter account. The majority of which –without a doubt– are every bit as outraged as we are about his treatment by the NFL. Players have a voice now, so it’s much more difficult to sweet poor decisions under the rug.

  6. ArmyVet78

    October 31, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    The NFL AND COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL have Royally Screwed this one up. Tiffany Thompson could never proof that Domestic Violence ever took place. There is plenty of proof that she’s the World’s Most Caniving Bitch and she is only Money Hungry. She can’t even get a good paying job as a normal human being. She probably couldn’t even make it as as sorry hooker on the street. The NFL is already loosing face with the Fans on the National Anthem and will continue to lose Fans if they continue with Domestic Violence against Ezekiel Elliott. Commissioner Roger Goodell might not even get an Extension Contract. Goodell has failed to Stand Firm on the Fan Side for the National Anthem and now is against Ezekiel Elliott for Domestic Violence. One owner that will definitely be against Goodell is Jerry Jones. Jones can convince other owners to lay the hammer on Goodell and cut the contract and let him go. That would be the best solution to safe face with the Fans. A New Commissioner is needed for the NFL. It doesn’t take a trained monkey to do the job of being the NFL Commissioner. I could do that job if given the opportunity and it would be a whole much better than Goodell has done.

  7. Martin Downing III

    November 2, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Excellent article. I find myself feeling just like yourself. I have decided that I’m not giving the NFL anymore of my money. I will not renew my Sunday Ticket Package with DirecTv. I have subscribed since it’s inception in 1994. I won’t pay for anymore NFL Merchandise nor will I be purchasing any game tickets. I’m going to cancel my Sirius Radio subscription. The Cowboys are on local (Vermont) TV for free about 14 times a year and I will have to live with missing the 2-4 games a year that aren’t broadcast locally for free

    • Jess Haynie

      Jess Haynie

      November 2, 2017 at 10:13 am

      So many feel the same way, Martin. It’s definitely one of the worst times for fan morale, arguably worse than than during strikes.

  8. Bruce W. Cobb

    November 7, 2017 at 9:25 am

    Definitely Well Said! But, the point some are overlooking is that in my opinion, the NFL broke the CBA by not ensuring the player a fair hearing. The alleged “arbitrator” is not a neutral third-party; but, is an agent of the NFL. This is like trying a dog for the murder of a cat with a jury composed of cats!!

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Cowboys Offseason: Landon Collins Cleaned Out Locker, Set to be FA

John Williams

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Cowboys Headlines - #DALvsNYG: Dealing With Giants Safety Landon Collins

It's no secret that the Dallas Cowboys are heading into the 2019 offseason looking to upgrade at the safety position on a defense that finished inside the top 10 in 2018. With much of the focus on Earl Thomas, New York Giants Safety Landon Collins has become the center of attention in the last couple of days.

Per a report by Josina Anderson, Collins cleaned out his locker on Wednesday as he gets ready to go into free agency for the first time.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

I'm told that Giants S Landon Collins cleaned out his locker today at the team facility and said his goodbyes to teammates, coaches and trainers. It doesn't seem like Collins expects to be a Giant for much longer, per sources.

After Paul Schwartz attempted to assert that there was no claim to the report...

Paul Schwartz on Twitter

Attention those who care about the New York Giants: Landon Collins HAS NOT cleaned out his locker at the team facility. Repeat: Landon Collins HAS NOT cleaned out his locker at the team facility. Go about your business and have a nice day.

And Landon Collins had this to say...

LANDON COLLINS on Twitter

@NYPost_Schwartz The stuff in that locker that I have left I do not need💯

If cleaning out a locker is any kind of evidence, then Collins is prepared to hit the market when free agency opens on March 13th. He joins a loaded safety group that includes Thomas, Houston Texans Safety Tyrann Mathieu, Los Angeles Rams Safety LaMarcus Joyner, Glover Quin of the Detroit Lions, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix formerly of the Green Bay Packers, but most recently of the Washington Redskins, and several others who could find new homes this offseason.

The Cowboys are very familiar with Landon Collins, as they've seen him nearly twice a year over the last four years. The three time Pro Bowler was one of the best players on the Giants defense. They would line him up in the box and at time use him to cover Cole Beasley.

Collins ranked first in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus in run stop percentage at 7.2%. Meaning on running snaps, he made a tackle that rendered the running play ineffective 7.2% of the time.For further reference, Jeff Heath made a run stop on 4.2% of his run plays, which was 15th in the NFL among safeties.

The only positions to have more of an impact on the running game were linebackers and the defensive line. Even if you include linebackers, his run stop percentage was 31st in the NFL. Leighton Vander Esch led the Dallas Cowboys with a run stop percentage of 11.3%, which was third among linebackers. Collins number nearly matched the run stop percentage of Jaylon Smith at 7.6%.

Add Collins to a defense that stops the run as well as the Dallas Cowboys did last season and you take your team to another level against the run.

Landon Collins will probably get the most money this offseason. He's only 25 and has had success in the NFL. Many teams will be reaching out to Collins when free agency opens and the Dallas Cowboys should certainly be one of those teams. Collins would be an excellent addition to the Dallas Cowboys defense and would allow Xavier Woods to stay in his role as the free safety.

We're just under three weeks away from the start of NFL free agency and the drama will only get bigger as the Cowboys look to add to their team.



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Terrance Williams Was OK, But Cowboys Need More From Michael Gallup

Jess Haynie

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Can WR Michael Gallup Eclipse 1,000 Receiving Yards as a Rookie?

Just yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys declined an option on Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' contract and ended his six-year tenure with the team. One reason the veteran was no longer in their plans was the presence of Michael Gallup, who the team has high hopes for entering just his second NFL season.

It's interesting to compare Gallup and Williams on several levels. Just as Terrance's time ends, having only made a few appearance last year in just three games, Michael was a fast learner as a rookie and emerged as the team's number-two receiver by the playoffs.

Both were third-round picks, with Williams (74th) being selected just seven spots higher overall in 2013 than Gallup (81st) was in 2018.

Terrance came to Dallas when Dez Bryant was firmly entrenched as the team's primary receiver. Michael was drafted less than a month after Dez was released, but Amari Cooper soon established himself as the number-one WR midway through the year.

In both cases, the Cowboys hoped that their third-round selection would yield a player who could at least play a complimentary role as a solid roleplayer, if not regular starter.

For all his warts Terrance Williams was ultimately a solid draft pick. He started in about 75% of the games he played in and was a proficient run blocker, helping both DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott have big years. He also made some highlight reel catches in his time.

Did Terrance Williams' Big Game Quiet His Doubters?

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

But with those big plays came some big blunders. Terrance often had a bad drop for every good catch he made. A huge mental error may have cost Dallas the 2016 season opener against the Giants. And if the team wasn't already starting to turn on him, his 2018 arrest for public intoxication seemed to push them over the edge.

That said, the biggest issue with Williams was his inability to produce without other plays drawing attention. He didn't rise to the occasion when Dez Bryant was injured. He rarely even made defenses pay for giving Dez too much attention.

At his best, Terrance was a solid number-two receiver. Plenty of teams who've spent first-round picks on receivers wish they could they'd gotten as much in return. Nobody should be disappointed with how that 2013 third-round pick turned out.

But when it comes to Michael Gallup, Dallas should hope that Williams' career is the floor for Gallup's potential. As teams key on Amari Cooper going forward, can Gallup do damage in ways that Terrance rarely could?

Even more importantly, if Cooper were to ever get injured, could Michael step up and take on a larger role? Can Dallas finally have a number-two receiver with the capacity for occasionally taking the lead?

#DALvsWAS: Michael Gallup Will Play, Value Extends Beyond Passing Game 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

That may be putting too much pressure on young Mr. Gallup but it's really not an unfair expectation. Recent drafts have produced highly productive third-round receivers such as Keenan Allen, Cooper Kupp, Kenny Golladay, and Tyler Lockett.

Even more pressure comes if Cole Beasley leaves the team in free agency. While his role lessened toward the end of 2018, Cole remained one of Dak Prescott's favorite options in clutch situations. He was almost impossible to stop with just one man covering him, and that gave defenses a real dilemma once Amari Cooper arrived.

Can Gallup fill those shoes? Can he become a reliable target when the game is on the line?

In the end, all Michael has to do is be a solid starter to provide a great value for his draft selection. The Williams standard isn't a bad measure.

But if the Cowboys ever want to win more than just the occasional playoff game then they need another receiving threat who truly punishes opposing defenses. They need the next Alvin Harper, not the next Terrance Williams.

We can only hope, as the team does, that Michael Gallup is up to the task.



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Deep Dive into the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Salary Cap

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

The Dallas Cowboys are heading into free agency, which opens March 13th, in really good shape. The Cowboys will be able to be aggressive in the free agent market if they want to. They have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. It could make for a fun free agency period for the front office and Cowboys Nation, however, we know how this team has felt about spending on outside free agents since being burned by the Brandon Carr signing.

In years past, they’ve opted to bargain shop. Last year was a departure from the norm though, as they chased the mythical unicorn that is Sammy Watkins last offseason.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. 

They haven’t generally been a team that chased big-time free agents, though this could be the season that all changes with several free agent safeties that could be immediate upgrades.

We know they’re going to spend a lot of money on their own with Demarcus Lawrence coming free and Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott looking for contract extensions, but they’re could Ben opportunities to bring in a star from another player to come where The Star.

I hope Jerry Jones has his signing hand ready, it’s going to be putting in a lot of work over the next couple of months.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had people on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+, MySpace, AOL Chatrooms, and via USPS correspondence express concern about whether the Dallas Cowboys will be able to afford all their guys and chase free agents.

Not to worry Cowboys fan, with a little salary cap and contract gymnastics, the sky’s the limit.

Let’s take a look.

Current Cap Space

According to OverTheCap.com, the 2019 Salary Cap is estimated to be around $190 million. After the release of Terrance Williams, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to have nearly $48 million in cap space available to them when free agency opens on March 13th.

When you look at that number by itself, it doesn’t look like a lot with big money contracts coming to DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones. Remember, though, the salary cap may be a fixed number, but contracts are pliable, meaning the team can do several things to create cap space through releases, how they structure new contracts, and restructures.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the Dallas Cowboys will have the money they need to sign the players they want to sign.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Likely Releases

Sean Lee, Linebacker

Age and injury catch up to everyone and this is where we are with All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee who will be turning 33 in July. Lee’s career has just been unlucky from the time he set foot in Dallas.

Since coming to the Cowboys in the 2010 draft, Lee has only played in 64% of the possible 149 games that the Dallas Cowboys have played in that time frame. Contrast that with a player like Zack Martin who has played in all but two games in his five-year career. That’s a 92% availability rate for his career.

The Dallas Cowboys don’t typically pay age. The difficult choice with Lee is that he’s long been a leader for the Dallas Cowboys. However, with the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, it’s extremely difficult to justify a $7 million cap hit to a part-time player.

Allen Hurns, Wide Receiver

Allen Hurns was a roller coaster ride in 2018.

First, it appeared he was brought in to be an upgrade at the number two spot. Then when the Cowboys shocked the world and released Dez Bryant, he immediately moved up the wide receiver pecking order, but was generally ineffective. After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, Hurns became somewhat of an afterthought in the wide receiver snap distribution. Then he was lost in the win over the Seattle Seahawks with a gruesome ankle injury.

Allen Hurns is a fine player, but the Cowboys could get $5 million in cap relief by parting ways with the former 1,000 yard receiver.

A couple weeks ago, I outlined why I think Hurns could be a solution to the problem facing the Cowboys if Cole Beasley walked away. Hurns best attributes shine when deployed in the slot and asked to run over the middle of the field.

Coming off of the ankle injury, the Cowboys could easily move on and use that $5 million to extend one of their own or go after a big name in free agency.

Unlikely, but not Impossible Releases

The next few players are players that will most likely be on the squad in 2019. But as we saw with Dez Bryant, there can always be surprises.

Joe Looney, Center

The 2018 season seemed almost sunk when news came down that Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during training camp. One of the stories of the 2018 season, was the play of Frederick’s backup Joe Looney. Looney may not have been the most valuable player, but you can’t understate how important he wasn’t to the success the Dallas Cowboys had in 2018.

We’ve seen what happens when backups who are incredibly inferior to the starter they play behind see action. Think back to Atlanta in 2017. If the Cowboys get better play from Chaz Green and Byron Bell, that game and perhaps the season turns out differently. Kind of like when Cameron Fleming filled in for Tyron Smith this season. It was a completely different result. Was Fleming perfect? No, but he wasn’t a disaster and the Cowboys were able to win games without their All-Pro left tackle.

Joe Looney is going to be with this team unless someone loses their center and wants to trade for him. In the event the Cowboys wanted to get some cap relief, they could save $1.5 million in 2019, with only $125 thousand in dead money on the cap.

I don’t see them making this move, but for those of you curious, there are the numbers.

Joe Thomas, Linebacker

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch got all the glory at the linebacker position in 2018, and for good reason, but Joe Thomas was an important piece to the puzzle as well. He provided excellent depth and a lot of good snaps for the Cowboys in 2018, which is why I think he’s back next year.

He only saves you about $2 million on the cap, but if you didn’t want to pay a  backup linebacker $2 million, then you could part ways with him.

Jeff Heath, Safety

Jeff Heath is a solid player, but gets relied upon for a little more than he should. He’d probably be best served with being a rotational safety in the NFL. He has a penchant for making plays, but also has some maddening snaps as well, like the final play against the Rams where Jared Goff was able to scramble for a first down. Heath never saw the bootleg and was late getting to Goff to keep him from picking up the first down.

The Dallas Cowboys like him as a player and he’s likely to stay with the team. He helps on special teams and provides valuable depth.

If they were to move on, they could save $2.5 million.

La’el Collins, Tackle

It’s not often you hear people talk about releasing a starting tackle, and I’m certainly not here to advocate for that.

Collins has had some up and down games, but in his short two-year stint at right tackle he’s been pretty good. He’s stood tall against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

His contract will carry him through the 2019 season, but if the Dallas Cowboys wanted to part ways, again, not saying they should, they could save a whopping $8.5 million in the salary cap.

$8.5 million could be the cost of Earl a Thomas or a Tre Boston. That’s  pretty big chunk of change.

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick

Potential Restructures

When it comes to restructures, the Dallas Cowboys have been selective over recent years with who they choose to flip the switch on.

A restructure doesn’t change the money owed to the player, just changes when the pay out happens. When a team and a player agree to a restructure, the cap hit or base salary is lowered to a more manageable amount and the difference is paid out as a bonus. The bonus is then spread out evenly over the remaining years of the contract.

For example.

Player A has four years remaining on their deal with a cap hit of $16 million per year for the rest of the contract. The team and player A agree to restructure the contract to decrease this season’s base salary to $1 million dollars. The $15 million difference is then paid out as a bonus and then the cap hit is added to the final three years. So instead of the cap hit being $16 million per year for the remainder of the contract, it is now $21 million per year.

The problem with restructuring contracts is that you better hope that the players you restructure make it to the end of their contract otherwise you could end up with big dead money holds on your cap.

The Dallas Cowboys could restructure the following players:

Tyron Smith, Tackle

The Dallas Cowboys All-Pro Left Tackle may be the best draft pick they’ve made in the last 10 years. He’s been one of the best in the game at his position for nearly his entire NFL career and until recent seasons, had been incredibly reliable.

According to Over The Cap, if the Cowboys decided to restructure Smith’s contract, they could get $7.26 million added to the salary cap this season.

That’s a big number, which would help you get your hands on a top safety or defensive lineman in free agency. The reasons why you wouldn’t do it surround Tyron’s health.

He’s missed games each of the last three seasons because of back issues. He’s signed through the 2023 season, which is his age 33 season. It’s entirely possible that he continues to play at a high level through the end of the contract, but you’ll always be a bit concerned about his back.

Zack Martin, Guard

If Tyron was the best draft pick, Zack Martin is a close second. He’s been the definition of reliability as he’s provided elite guard play through the first five years of his career making the All-Pro team each of his first five seasons.

If I were managing the cap for the Dallas Cowboys, it would be a no brainer to restructure Martin who is signed through the 2024 season; his age 34 season. Offensive lineman can play at a high level well into their 30’s barring injury and Zack has the ability to be one of those guys. At his current pace, he could one day end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By restructuring Martin, the Dallas Cowboys could save $7.36 million on the 2019 salary cap.

Travis Frederick, Center

Last summer was a scary situation for Travis Frederick and by all accounts his recovery is going well. It sounds like he should be ready to go by training camp, and if that’s the case, there’s no reason to believe that Frederick won’t be the player we’ve all come to expect and missed during the 2018 season.

He’s a leader on the offensive line. He’s an excellent communicator and really good at blocking other big humans.

Getting Frederick back for the 2019 season is as big of an upgrade as you could have on an offense. He changes everything. He helps set protections and call out stunts. He will make Conor Williams a better guard just by being present. The offense as a whole will be better by having Frederick available.

Like Smith and Martin, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t play out his current contract at a high level. Even if he’s only 75% of his previous self because of the illness, that’s still a really good football player who is worth every bit of the $10 million a year he’s getting paid.

Travis Frederick has five more years left on his contract. If the Cowboys were to restructure his deal, they could gain another $4.1 million in cap relief this offseason.

Tyrone Crawford, Defensive Line

If ever there was a player that was a victim of his contract it’s Tyrone Crawford. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to an extension thinking he would be the answer at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. He was good on his rookie deal but his contract was more of a projection than a deal based on prior production.

Unfortunately, Crawford hasn’t lived up to his deal, but he’s been a reliable and versatile player for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle has been huge over the years and he’s come up with some timely defensive plays.

Crawford has two years remaining on his contract that runs through the 2020 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cowboys keep him around. He’s a leader on the defense and he gives you good quality snaps. As they continue to wait for Randy Gregory and/or Taco Charlton to take steps forward, Crawford is a guy that they like and will continue to find snaps for.

If the Cowboys restructured Crawford’s contract, they could get a little over $3 million in cap savings this year. $3 million may not sound like a lot, but in combination with the other moves they could make with the cap, it can help. Every bit helps when constructing a roster. That money could go to paying for the 2019 draft class.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Dak Prescott #4 and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys celebrate after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Grand Total

The Dallas Cowboys front office has a lot of decisions to make this offseason and several of them will be in the form of extensions for their own players. They’ll have to figure out a way to use the contracts to their advantage.

If they did everything that could be an option to them, they could create another $48.22 million in space in the salary cap. If they didn’t release any of the “unlikely releases,” they could still free up another $33.72 million by releasing Lee and Hurns and restructuring Smith, Martin, Frederick, and Crawford.

So, they’ll be going into the offseason with at least $48 million in cap space, but through a few moves could have as much as $81-$96.22 million in cap space when it’s all said and done.

None of this even accounts for the way the Cowboys could structure the contracts of Elliott, Dak, Cooper, Lawrence, and Byron Jones. With some smart salary structuring, they won’t necessarily have to eat much of their cap hits in year one of their new contracts.

Don’t worry Cowboys fans. The Cowboys will be able to create enough money to get the things done that they want to get done. If they don’t sign anyone of note in free agency or extend your favorite player, it won’t be because they couldn’t afford to.

It’ll be because they didn’t want to.



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