Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, one of the position groups the Dallas Cowboys needed to address was the offensive line. A lot of the focus was at tackle, where it was a fairly deep group because the Cowboys were likely to lose their starting right tackle in 2020 with La’el Collins hitting free agency. As soon as the Dallas Cowboys third-round pick was handed in during the 2019 NFL Draft it seemed La’el Collins’ days with a Star on his helmet were numbered.
The Cowboys had selected Connor McGovern, a guard from Penn State University. The idea was that McGovern would be the starting left guard in 2020 and 2019 starter at left guard, Connor Williams, would kick out to right tackle to replace the departing Collins.
With quite a bit of cap space already tied up in three All-Pro offensive linemen, the prevailing thought was they wouldn’t be able to invest heavily in the offensive line again. Especially with contracts due for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott.
Just as we saw a week ago with Jaylon Smith, there’s a certain allure to being a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Smith, who could have seen a contract for $15 million or more a year in the next offseason or two took a discount to stay with the Dallas Cowboys — a team that took a chance on him in the second round — and has already leveraged that partnership into an apparel deal with the Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop.
The signing of La’el Collins is further evidence of a faction of players who just want to be Dallas Cowboys. Next offseason, when Collins would have hit the free-agent market, he could have been looking at an average annual salary of $3 or $4 million more per year. Taking a discount means he gets to stay with the only team he’s known and remain a part of the best offensive line in football. That mattered to Collins when he signed out of LSU, and it appears that it still matters today.
The signings of Jaylon Smith and La’el Collins signal opportunities for the Dallas Cowboys to continue to find creative ways to retain their own players. While all of the talks continue to focus on Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys have a couple more significant pieces heading for free agency next offseason; Byron Jones and Maliek Collins.
Just like with La’el Collins, there’s been a prevailing assumption that Byron Jones would be the odd man out of the big money extensions being thrown around. However, if Jones is willing to do a contract somewhere around Smith and Collins, the possibility remains that he could return in 2020.
With Maliek Collins, it’s been assumed that he’d be walking out the door as everyone projects him to have a monster contract year in 2019. Similarly to Jones, Collins isn’t gone until he’s gone.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has been very creative with the contracts they’ve handed out in order to maximize their value and minimize their cap hit. La’el Collins’ contract is a discount when it comes to the average annual salary and he carries minimal cap hits the first couple of seasons. On the flip side, Collins’ contract has the most guaranteed money for any right tackle in the NFL. This type of contract structure could signify a bold strategy by the Dallas Cowboys to invest big guarantees in their most durable players in order to get a discount on the cap hit and the average annual salary.
If we’ve learned anything at this point, it’s that the Dallas Cowboys find a way to pay the players they want to pay. If they want Byron Jones and/or Maliek Collins on their roster in 2020 and the future, the Cowboys will find a way to make that happen.
Remember, while the salary cap is a fixed figure, contracts and cap hits can be manipulated in such a way to allow NFL teams to get creative in order to bring back the talent they want to bring back. Whether it’s through contract structures on signings or restructures in the middle of the contract, there’s always a way to manipulate the system to make it work.
And the Dallas Cowboys’ front office has become master manipulators.