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.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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