The key word buzzing around the Dallas Cowboys right now is contracts. From Dak Prescott to Ezekiel Elliott to Amari Cooper to Byron Jones, and with other young stars on the horizon, the team is looking for ways to hold on to as much of its talent as possible. Today, given the concerns that are out there, I wanted to show you just how possible it really is.
Another key factor is the amount of cap space that should be opened up by the end of the season. Just consider the following players with expiring contracts:
- OT La'el Collins – $9.9 million cap hit
- DE Robert Quinn – $8 million
- LB Sean Lee – $6 million
- WR Randall Cobb – $4.56 million
- TE Jason Witten – $4.25 million
- S Jeff Heath – $2.95 million
- DT Maliek Collins – $2.2 million
- TOTAL: $37.9 million
Another big gain will come from Tyrone Crawford's contract. Dallas could save $7 million this year if he doesn't make the 2019 roster, and $8 million is if he's released in 2020.
So now, between current cap space, expiring contracts and dead money, and cutting Crawford, we now have about $73 million to work with in 2020. That's when the large cap hits of any of these extensions will really take effect.
We have our available funds, so let's take a quick look at what market value is for our young stars.
We've heard about $32 million as the average salary on Dak Prescott's new deal, which would match what Carson Wentz just got from the Eagles. Ezekiel Elliott wants about $15 million in line with Todd Gurley, and Amari Cooper will likely be seeing $18-$19 million based on the contracts of Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham.
For Byron Jones, the top-five CB contracts average about $14-$15 million. So if we add all that up, we come to roughly $80-$81 million in average salary on these four deals.
So, working against the $73 million we discussed already, that does create a deficit. But we have yet to consider a crucial detail that many commonly forget.
Many hear “Ezekiel Elliott seeks over $15 million per year” and don't consider that he already counts $7.9 million against the cap as is. If Zeke gets re-signed, the bump in those first few years is only going to be about $5-$6 million more than the present.
Amari Cooper already counts $13.9 million against the cap. Byron Jones counts $6.3 million and Dak Prescott counts $2.1 million. All together, these four guys have a composite cap hit of $30.2 million.
So, with this taken into consideration, we really only need about $50 million to get these players extended. And considering the first few years of the contracts will generally come in below the average, the actual amounts needed for 2019 and 2020 would be a little below that.
Now we're not talking about a deficit anymore. Dallas would still have well over $20 million from that $73 million we put together earlier, perhaps using some of it to it re-sign players like Randall Cobb or Robert Quinn depending on how they perform in 2019.
Of course, there will be casualties. Dallas will likely have to let OT La'el Collins leave in free agency and hope that either promoting Cam Fleming or moving Connor Williams to right tackle covers them from 2020.
It also means not hanging on to veterans like Jason Witten or Sean Lee beyond this year unless they are willing to take major pay decreases. But that could be a moot point if either retires, which is fairly likely for both.
Now you may be wondering why, if this looks so easy, we're even having the current issue with Ezekiel Elliott's holdout. Why not just pay him if it's so doable?
The issue isn't just the 2019 or 2020 salary cap. The Cowboys have to think about the future for players like Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, and every other young player they're projecting will deserve a second contract in the coming years.
It is by those future years that the cap hits on Zeke, Byron, and others could potentially restrict your activity with other player. But by then, there are all sorts of new realities that could also be at work
How many more years will Tyron Smith be viable at his high cap hit? And what will future increases to the league's salary cap, plus a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020, mean for the financial landscape of the NFL down the road?
Also, in a few years, how comfortable will Dallas be to dip back into the restructuring business with contracts of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, and others? It's a dangerous game, but a way to create salary cap room if necessary.
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The bottom line here is that everything is possible. There is way more cap space out there than many would lead you to believe, and especially if the Cowboys continue filling their team with quality draft picks as they have in recent years.
The issue with Zeke is about a lot of things. It's about the overall value of the RB position, which the NFL seems to be collectively trying to keep from exploding after the recent deals for Gurley, David Johnson, and Le'Veon Bell. It's also about Elliott's personal history and Dallas wanting some assurances if he finds himself in the Commissioner's office anymore.
Money is an issue but only because these mitigating factors. From a purely fiscal standpoint, Dallas CAN pay Elliott. Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, and any other young stud they want to hang on to over the next several years.
Just give it time, and don't let mainstream sports media fool you into overly worrying.