Friday's highly anticipated meeting between Jerry Jones and Dez Bryant could mean the end of the receiver's eight-year relationship with the Dallas Cowboys. If Bryant is released, some will likely refer to him as a salary cap casualty.
The Cowboys salary cap, and the timing of the move, suggest otherwise.
While releasing Dez now would create an immediate $8.5 million in cap space, that money isn't really needed in mid-April. Top free agents, and the lucrative contracts they require, are no longer on the market.
Furthermore, Dallas already has nearly all the cap room needed to fund their 2018 rookie class. Depending on who gets drafted, they can easily release a player like tight end James Hanna ($2.75M relief) to secure their rookies.
Right now, Zack Martin counts $9.3 million against the cap. He received the fifth-year option on his rookie deal which pays him like a lesser version of the franchise tag.
As soon as Martin signs a long-term contract, that cap figure will drop. Dallas will almost certainly do an immediate restructure which could bring the 2018 hit down to as low as $3-$4 million. That's $5-6 million in relief; all you need to handle the rest of your 2018 business.
Assuming DeMarcus Lawrence also gets a new deal, more savings are coming. The first year salary will drop him from the $17 million franchise tag number to something at least a few million lower. A restructure would drop it even more.
Those deals should be done well before the Cowboys head to training camp in July, which is when they need to have their rookie contracts finalized. Ideally, they would have them done by June 1st to take advantage of any new free agents that may emerge after a new round of cuts.
But don't let anyone tell you that the Cowboys need Dez Bryant's money to facilitate the deals with Lawrence and Martin.
The cap hits that DeMarcus and Zack have right now are the highest they will have for 2018. Any new deals will bring those numbers down, so you don't need another penny of cap relief to get them done.
There is really only one cap-related reason that Dallas might want to cut Dez Bryant, and it's the potential trade for Seattle safety Earl Thomas.
This notion, discussed heavily for months, may still be on the table. If the Cowboys ultimately decide they want Thomas, his contract demands will be close to $10-11 million per year.
But the increasingly conservative Dallas front office seems unlikely to make this move. Not only does paying top dollar for a 29-year-old safety create concern, but the draft picks that would have to go to Seattle are precious.
What's more, Dallas could find other ways to clear the space. We've already outlined how they could free up over $10 million with the Lawrence and Martin deals, plus cutting Hanna. They could also make Tyrone Crawford a cap casualty if needed.
Dallas could also save $3.25M by cutting receiver Cole Beasley, if they're okay with losing receivers. That would seem a less painful move now after the signings of Deonte Thompson and with Ryan Switzer entering his second year.
So no, friends, don't call it a cap casualty.
If Dallas moves on from Dez Bryant, it has more to do with the relationship between team and player. It may be the lack of chemistry Bryant has with quarterback Dak Prescott, or his decreasing production over the last three years.
It may be the wearing down by coaches and teammates with Bryant's sideline and locker room personality, which becomes far less tolerable if the player isn't backing it up on the field.
It could be how Dez seems unable to stay healthy. Even though he played all 16 games last year, he missed 10 games from 2015-2016. What's more, Bryant always seems to be nursing some sort of play-hindering injury.
It also may be the belief that Dez isn't going to get any better from here. His physical style may have finally caught up to him, leading to an early degradation of physical ability.
Along those lines, it may be frustration that Bryant hasn't done more to improve the technical side of his game. Now that he's slipping a little athletically, his deficiencies in route running and other skills are becoming more exposed.
When Jerry and Dez meet, the conversation will involve finances. The Cowboys may want Bryant to accept a pay cut, which could spare them having to cut a guy like James Hanna or make some other move.
But at this point, given all of the other options the teams has to clear cap space, it's really more about wanting to reset their relationship with the player. The pay cut may be a symbolic gesture; an admission that Dez hasn't delivered as a franchise WR since getting his new contract.
For all we know, nothing will change after this meeting. Bryant may call the team's bluff and win, keeping his money and his job for one more season.
After all, Dallas may ultimately decide that losing Dez costs more than whatever the cap space could bring in. They still get a solid starting WR for 2018 and can then cut him next offseason with only $4 million in dead money, as opposed to $8 million now.
But the Cowboys may not be bluffing. Moving on from Dez Bryant may very much be on the radar, and it could happen as soon as tomorrow.
Just rest assured that, if it does happen, it was about more than money.
Cowboys Interest in Raiders WR Amari Cooper Increases Ahead of Trade Deadline
This week, Stephen Jones discussed the difficulties of making a trade, saying "it just seems like in the NFL trades are hard to make, to make it all come together for two teams".
The two teams that could be lining up to change that are of course Jones' Cowboys as well as John Gruden's Oakland Raiders. Yet another Raiders player has been in the headlines as a trade target, 24-year old Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
WR-needy Cowboys doing their due diligence on Raiders' WR Amari Cooper: https://t.co/pE2wmrzCXu
Playing at the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys will have yet another reshuffled lineup at wide receiver, playing without Tavon Austin. Their biggest offseason addition to this unit was Allen Hurns, and he's been underwhelming with just eight catches.
Thus the Cowboys are reportedly doing their "due diligence" on Cooper, sensing the need for a mid-season acquisition at WR for the right price. The Cowboys ability to potentially find that price in a deal advantageous to them, given how the Raiders handled the departure of Khalil Mack in a trade to this Chicago Bears, is what makes this story relevant.
A lot has been said about Cooper since his name emerged as the latest player potentially out of the Bay Area. Whether you believe he's still an impact receiver with the potential to regain his Pro Bowl form of 2015 and 2016 or one that "doesn't love football," as some have been inclined to say, the former fourth overall pick represents an investment into the WR position that the Cowboys have not made in some time.
In those Pro Bowl seasons, Cooper averaged over 77 catches a season while putting up over 1,000 yards in both. The Raiders have used this to justify their reported asking price of a first-round pick for Cooper, something the Cowboys are not alone in their reluctance to give.
With Cooper, the Raiders are holding onto their last bit of relevancy. A reeling 1-5 football team that needs to maximize their return on trading Cooper, the Colts and Redskins are also following in the Cowboys footsteps by preparing as much as they can on the player.
Cooper has caught 22 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown through six games this season.
For as desperate as the Raiders are to jump-start their organization, the Cowboys should be just as desperate to add a threat like Cooper to their passing attack. Unlike the Raiders, they're in the hunt for a division title, something much harder to put a price on when it comes to the Jones' finalizing any deal for Cooper in the coming days.
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th, at 3 PM Central Time. The Cowboys will be two days into their bye week, not in action again after Sunday until November 5th.
How Will Cowboys Handle Sean Lee’s Return?
For the first time in what feels like forever, the Dallas Cowboys' defense is still dominant without Sean Lee on the field. For many years, Lee's injuries have shown us the worst of this defense but finally that's not the case. Thanks to Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys should feel just fine without #50 wearing pads on gameday.
As the Cowboys get ready to play the Washington Redskins on the road in their quest for a winning record, Sean Lee is expected to return to the field. He was a full participant on practice on both Thursday and Friday and should make his way back to the field today.
But how much will he play?
Usually, we would be talking about this defense being desperate for his help. He's been rushed back to the field on many occasions simply because the team's linebackers weren't doing enough without him. This year though, the narrative is different.
Even before he got injured in week 3 playing against the Seattle Seahawks, Lee had been struggling. Now granted, he wasn't looking bad, but we were watching him miss a few tackles here and there which simply isn't something you'd expect from a player such as himself.
The rookie out of Boise State has made a really good job justifying why the front office decided to invest a first round pick on him. So far, Leighton Vander Esch has accounted for 49 tackles, 40 of which have been solo. The kid can play, period. He's done nothing but get better and better by the week and the snaps he's gotten replacing Lee have helped him a ton.
With the veteran returning, what's in store for this linebacker rotation?
Honestly, with the bye week so close, I think this will depend a lot on how this game starts off. If it comes to a point in which the Cowboys are comfortably leading and have no concerns of losing the match, why not rest Lee as much as possible?
It's clear that the defense is far from desperate for having #50 back on the field and it's also clear that Lee is a player who could get injured at any given time.
Thanks to Smith's and Vander Esch's play, the Cowboys can afford to limit Lee's snaps versus the Redskins today. Rest him as much as possible and throw him on just a few plays out there. Lee has suffered injuries on both hamstrings, which is another reason to take it slow with his return.
If they're able to limit him today and then take advantage of the upcoming bye week it could pay Lee big dividends down the road. Dallas needs to realize they're in a very comfortable position regarding Sean Lee. They have the option to take things slow.
Not only that but once he's healthy, he doesn't have to be on the field every single snap. It might be hard getting used to watching Lee slowly become a "situational" player because he's so good to be only played on specific situations but that might be the way to make his availability improve.
It will be interesting to see how they handle the situation starting today as Lee is slated to play football against an NFC East rival.
Cowboys Wishlist: Big Return on Special Teams?
The last time the Dallas Cowboys played a football game, they made many of their fans' dreams come true. This happened by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7 in a dominant performance against a top NFL defense. Can they make our wishes come true in back-to-back weeks? I don't know about walking away with another 33-point win, but we're obviously putting up a Cowboys Wishlist as every gameday.
Let's hope they come true. As always, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist!
Wish #1: First Road Win of the Season
I mean, we obviously are wishing for a win. But this one right here would be a very important one, so I'm including it as a wish. The Cowboys haven't won any game on the road this year and doing so in Washington against a hated NFC East rival like the Redskins will be huge for this 3-3 Dallas Cowboys team.
Last Sunday's victory over the Jaguars might have been the moment when the Cowboys "turned the corner" to become a winning team in 2018. It's time to go on the road and beat a 3-2 divisional foe to prove that is the case.
Wish #2: Beasley Keeps It Up
The Cowboys' MVP last weekend was Cole Beasley. He was the only wide receiver on the team with more than one catch, ending his day with nine receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of the best performances in his career yet.
The Cowboys need a WR to step up. Other than Cole, no one else is stepping up in the passing game. Beasley did so last Sunday but, can he consistently perform well enough to keep the offense going throughout the year? It remains to be seen.
For the long term, it might be better to have an outside, taller receiver be your #1 guy, but in the meantime, Beasley is the guy Dak Prescott should be targeting the most.
Wish #3: The Sack Hat Trick
Ok, I might be asking for too much here. But hear me out. The Dallas Cowboys defensive line is getting stronger and stronger. Just last week, David Irving returned to the field and got limited playing time. Although he didn't get a sack, his impact was felt since his first snap on the field.
Randy Gregory also saw limited playing time but was able to sack Blake Bortles once. And well, DeMarcus Lawrence is still playing at an elite level this year. How epic would it be for each of these three great pass rushers walk away with a sack?
Three headhunters, three sacks. Let's go!
Wish #4: Keep Redskins Under 10 Points
The Cowboys' defense is no joke. They're allowing 17.2 points per game, which is second best in the entire NFL right now. They're ready to face a Redskins' team that is ranked as the 25th offense in scoring. On top of that, the Redskins' receivers are pretty banged up.
3 of Washington's top 4 receivers (Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson, Jamison Crowder) not expected to play vs. Cowboys https://t.co/9uOkA7Pzhv
This could end up being the second consecutive big win for the Cowboys, specially because the defense should have a very good day.
Wish #5: Big Return on Special Teams
The last time the Dallas Cowboys played the Washington Redskins, Ryan Switzer returned a punt 83 yards into the end zone in what will remain his biggest highlight from his short career with the Dallas Cowboys.
We haven't seen much excitement on special teams this year. Switzer is now a Pittsburgh Steeler, so Tavon Austin has gotten most of the punt returns. However, that's bound to change after he sustained an unfortunate injury. Deonte Thompson has taken care of the kick returns but nothing special has happened either.
I wish that changes today. With Austin out, I wonder if it'll be Cole Beasley or someone else fielding punts for Dallas but whoever it is, things will be spiced up. Through 6 weeks, the Cowboys longest punt return has been for 22 yards and the longest kick return for 35.
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