We're getting close to the time that teams start releasing players for performance and/or salary cap reasons. The business usually doesn't pick up until mid-late February but there is precedent for transactions happening almost immediately after the Super Bowl. I thought it was a good time to look over the Cowboys roster and see just who might be in the crosshairs.
Today we're going to organize the team into job security tiers. There will be a variety of factors; age, legacy, contract, performance, positional need, off-field issues, and others that will impact each player in different ways. Some will be obvious and others may be a little controversial. I hope you'll share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
So. without further ado...
TIER 1 - The Untouchables
Players: Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La'el Collins, DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick, Byron Jones, Dan Bailey, Chris Jones
Analysis: Like I said, some things will be obvious. Witten will only stop being a Cowboy when he retires. The top three offensive linemen are all fixtures. Collins, Lawrence, Gregory, and Byron Jones are the top young prospects expected to part of the team's future. Sean Lee finally had a healthy season, was Pro Bowl alternate, and is back as your premiere defensive player. Bailey is a god among men and Chris Jones emerged as one of the top punters in the league last year.
Dez and Tyrone Crawford are in the same boat; players coming off down years but with too much financial investment to even consider releasing them. Beasley doesn't have the status of those two but is in a similar situation. He just got a new deal last offseason and wouldn't provide any cap relief if released. His value will likely increase with Romo's return and he's still useful as a backup punt returner.
Speaking of Tony, you probably knew this already but there's just no way you can cut him right now due to the salary cap. Releasing Romo now would increase his cap hit, already at $20 million, up to $31 million. Next year is the first point when you can even consider it as the dead money would finally result in about $5 million in cap relief and more if split over two years (as a post-June cut).
This may seem like a reach for Escobar but he's a former second-round pick entering the final year of his rookie deal. Given that James Hanna is a free agent it's hard to see a way that Dallas would part ways now. If anything, maybe they'd try to trade him to a team that needs more of a receiving option and potential starter. He's still young and could have value to a team that scouted him highly in 2013. That said, I just don't see how he's not back next year.
Finally, let's look at Scandrick. Dallas would only save about $2 million by releasing the 29-year-old (as of February 10th). Even though he's coming off a major knee injury, Scandrick is still your top corner and that $2 million is a pittance compared to what he's worth with a successful rehab and return. When you consider the uncertainty throughout the secondary with Morris Claiborne's free agency, Brandon Carr's potential release, and Byron Jones perhaps moving to safety, there is just far potential for disaster without Scandrick than that $2 million is worth.
Tier 2 - The Slightly Touchables
Players: Jameil Showers, Darren McFadden, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Devin Street, Lucky Whitehead, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim, Doug Free, Chaz Green, Ryan Russell, David Irving, Anthony Hitchens, Andrew Gachkar, Damien Wilson, Terrance Mitchell, Deji Olatoye, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox
Analysis: This list probably seems like a bit of a hodgepodge, but remember that these rankings are about players' likelihood to be released and/or not re-signed. Also, remember that we're only talking who will makes it to the start of training camp and not who will be on the 2016 Week One roster. That's how you can have a guy like Showers on the same list as McFadden. I've got Showers here because he's under contract and makes for a nice camp body and scout team player when preparing for mobile quarterbacks.
If anything changes for McFadden it will likely be getting a raise after his big year. The only reason he's not an "Untouchable" is the potential that Dallas brings in a future stud through the draft or a big free agent signing such as Lamar Miller. McFadden has almost no guaranteed money on his deal and would provide $2 million in cap relief if released. It's highly unlikely given his value but can't be completely dismissed in the cold business of NFL cap management.
I know it seems like I listed every wide receiver we have but there's a reason for that. All of these guys are under contract and cheap, and you could really extend this logic to Swaim at tight end. There's really no reason to cut them now as all will make the training camp competition even stronger. Even Street, who struggled a lot last year, is still just a third-year player. Whitehead's value is increased by being incumbent return specialist and that he started to find a niche role in the offense toward to the end of the year.
It may seem unfair to even put Terrance Williams on this list, and not up there with Escobar in Tier 1, but that's all about what else is going on at the position. If Dallas drafts a receiver in the early rounds, perhaps even at fourth overall, then they may decide to cut Williams and let him try and find work elsewhere. Butler's emergence late last season puts that on the table.
At offensive tackle, Doug Free could be released for $2.5 million cap relief but then you get into the same question as we discussed with Orlando Scandrick; is replacing him really worth the money? Chaz Green's injury last year did not give Dallas a chance to really look at him and feel confident that he could start in 2016. In fact, there's talk he may wind up at guard. Also, it's hard to see Dallas spending another high pick at offensive line given all they've invested there already and other needs. I think Dallas will ride with Free for one more year and hope Green sticks as the swing tackle.
The defensive linemen, linebackers, and cornerbacks listed are all in the same situation; young backups with cap-friendly deals who have no real reason for release. Some have proposed that Dallas might draft a linebacker high this year but that really doesn't hurt Hitchens, Gachkar, or Wilson. They would still be key backups and then there's the possibility that Rolando McClain won't return. Even if Dallas adds a new starter in the draft, another opening may still be there in the starting lineup. Gachkar is a little rich at $1.9 million this year and $1.3 saved if released, but he may be the best of the bunch and is a special teams leader.
Lastly we get to the much-maligned starting safeties. Let's set the stage; both are entering the final years of their contracts. Church is due to make $3.25 million and would save $2.75 million if released. Wilcox is only due about $850k on the final year of his rookie deal. Both have been highly criticized after last season, for good reason, and many would like to wish them well in their future endeavors.
Byron Jones plays a huge part in what Dallas chooses to do at safety. Do they make him a full-time safety, where his athleticism makes him an ideal "center field" coverage man and allow the other safety to play more down in the box? If so, that really increases Church's value and potential. Dallas could not only hope for improved safety play by having guys in more ideal roles but then utilize Wilcox as a versatile backup and special teams ace, upgrading their depth over restricted free agent Jeff Heath. This is seems a likely outcome.
However, there's also the potential that Dallas elects to use Jones at cornerback in light of the holes there. His size and athleticism are suited to covering the bigger wide receivers of the modern era. If they go this route than Dallas may have to consider releasing Church so they can spend some of that money on the upgrades. Keep in mind, however, that 37 safeties in the NFL make more money per year than Church. He makes just a third of what guys like Eric Berry and Earl Thomas are bringing in. That's attractive value for any team.
The symbiotic nature of corners and safeties, which is greatly increased by Jones' potential to land at either spot, also means ripples at corner could still affect Church's security. If Dallas figures out a way to negotiate a lower salary with Brandon Carr, for example, does that mean Church gets cut for cap money? There are just so many ways it could go. In the end, though, I have a feeling that Dallas will look to retain as much talent as possible so that they can add to the base rather than create new holes to fill.
~ ~ ~
That's it for today. Tomorrow we'll hit the rest of the roster and dive deep into some of the biggest hot-button topics such as Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain, Lance Dunbar, and Carr and Claiborne's futures. Stay tuned!
(Part 2 is now published. Click HERE to read!)
Report: Dallas Cowboys to Sign Free Agent Wide Receiver Brice Butler
The Dallas Cowboys look to be making a move at the wide receiver position as they attempt to bring some life to the position. No they aren't trading for Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Josh Gordon, but bringing back former Wide Receiver Brice Butler.
According to a report from Saad Yousuf from The Athletic, the Dallas Cowboys are set to resign the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver but first have to release someone from the 53-man roster.
Cowboys officials are in the process of signing wide receiver Brice Butler, multiple sources tell @TheAthleticDFW. The team has to make a roster move to bring Butler onto the 53 and is trying to decide whom to release to make room for Butler before a final decision is made.
Brice Butler was signed in the offseason by the Arizona Cardinals but was released after training camp. It was a surprising move for the Cardinals. They don't have a ton of wide receiver depth aside from future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald.
Butler's caught 73 passes on 133 targets for 1,177 yards and eight touchdowns in his five career. In 36 games with the Dallas Cowboys Brice Butler caught 43 passes on 81 targets for 794 yards and six touchdowns. In his time in Dallas, he averaged 18.5 yards per reception.
He never really got a lot of playing time with the Dallas Cowboys who had Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten on the team for the duration of his time in Dallas. The Cowboys coaching staff placed a higher premium on Terrance Williams' run blocking than Butler's big play ability.
To the coaching staff's credit, Butler was never a consistent enough player to be relied upon week in and week out. In 2017, his last season in Dallas, Brice Butler was never targeted more than three times a game and he never caught more than two passes a game. Butler, however, only played 24.51% of the Dallas Cowboys' offensive snaps in 2017.
If the Dallas Cowboys do make this move it's at a curious time. Sources tell 247 Sports' Mike Fisher that the Dallas Cowboys have zero interest at the moment in Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Josh Gordon. You'd think their lack of interest would be because they still like the wide receiver room as it is.
If they do complete the signing of Brice Butler, you'd have to expect that Deonte Thompson would be the wide receiver on the chopping block. They cut him at the end of the preseason and then brought him back during week one.
This signing is unlikely to have an impact on the Dallas Cowboys week two matchup with the New York Giants, but will probably be completed early Monday to get Butler to Frisco to begin preparing for their week three matchup.
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I don't think this is a move that makes a lot of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. They've been down that road before and haven't received the results they wanted. Brice Butler does offer some big play ability, but it was thought that is why they brought in Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin. Is it possible the Dallas Cowboys are already down on those two players after one game? They wouldn't be bringing Butler back if they didn't have plans for him.
Good or bad, do you think bringing Brice Butler back is the right move for the Dallas Cowboys?
Cowboys, 49ers Are WR Josh Gordon’s Preferred Teams in Trade/Free Agency
It's Sunday morning and the Cleveland Browns are expected to make a questionable decision by tomorrow, which is far from news for a Dallas Cowboys team waiting around for a crucial Sunday Night Football home game tonight. With Cleveland expected to part ways with troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon though, the Cowboys have understandably been linked to Gordon, even more so now with the talented pass catcher stating his own interest in America's Team.
As teams discuss potentially trading for outgoing #Browns WR Josh Gordon, I'm told he's got his eye on two in particular: The #Cowboys and the #49ers.
Before looking into this any further, it's necessary to point out an all-important missing detail. Without any reports of the Cowboys own interest in Gordon, the soon-to-be free agent is simply the latest player to say he'd like to play for the Cowboys - hardly anything new for the Jones.
The Cowboys need for a player like Gordon has never been more evident though. Heavily criticized throughout the offseason for how they handled their wide receivers, the Cowboys passing game was a non-factor in the team's 16-8 week one loss.
Signing or trading for Gordon could do little to fix this, but the risk may also prove worthwhile for Dallas. The Baylor Bears product did put up 1,646 yards in 2013 with minimal talent around him, and has a career 17.3 yards per reception.
His ability to take the top off a defense is something the Cowboys are sorely missing. What they won't miss from not acquiring Gordon is the off-field trouble, taking on a player that missed all of 2015 and 2016 due to suspension.
Last season, Gordon was reinstated for the Browns final five games.
The NFL is, at least cautiously, easing their policy on players suspended for marijuana usage. Look no further than the Cowboys own Randy Gregory to prove this, as Gregory has already become a success story for the league by being with the Cowboys this season.
Whether or not Gregory plays on Sunday night (officially listed as DOUBTFUL) after suffering a concussion in his long-awaited return last week is yet to be determined. So too is Josh Gordon's future as the latest player on his way out of Cleveland.
From @gmfb Weekend: The #Browns plan to release Josh Gordon after he showed up late, injured his hamstring during a photo shoot, and in general completely lost their trust. https://t.co/cX2HGZPBXi
I'm of the belief that Gordon won't last long on the open market, meaning this won't be the latest Cowboys story/non-story to drag through the presses. Any fan looking to pass time between now and kickoff against the Giants could probably find me saying the same about free agent WR Dez Bryant however.
Thanks to Bryant still being a free agent along with former Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey, the team has looked smarter than expected in the long-term on moves like these.
If there's a smart way to bring on Josh Gordon, Dallas should be considering that too.
Is Dak Prescott’s Relationship with Scott Linehan Broken?
As the final whistle sounded last Sunday with the Carolina Panthers coming away victorious over your Dallas Cowboys, it was pretty clear there were a lot of things wrong with the offense. Many pointed to Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and the play calling. Others to the offensive line. Others to Quarterback Dak Prescott. And others to the wide receivers.
There was plenty of blame to go around in an offensive performance that left Cowboys Nation struggling for answers. Simply put, there wasn't much good from that side of the football in their 16-8 loss.
Well, as this week has gone on in preparation for the New York Giants Sunday night, there have been answers to questions from within the organization that make me, an outsider, feel really awkward about the relationships inside the organization. Particularly on the offensive side of the football.
There was this from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan responding to Troy Aikman's critique of a lack of creativity in the play calling of Linehan.
"People have their own opinions. It's hard to be super creative when you're having loss-yardage plays, to be honest with you. But I thought we had some really good stuff for the game that we couldn't use. But he's entitled to whatever opinion he has about that. It's our job to go out and show him that we have some stuff that maybe he'll be impressed with."
Scott Linehan - via Jon Machota, Sports Day DFW
Then this from Wide Receiver Allen Hurns.
Cowboys WR Allen Hurns on loss to Carolina: "Statistically people are going to say we didn't play well. If you really break down the game, we created separation. That's what you want to do as a wideout.
With Dak Prescott speaking to the media on Thursday, some interesting nuggets of information came out about the communication that takes place on game day between Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, and Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Namely Dak described Kellen Moore as a "mediator" between the quarterback and the offensive coordinator.
“Kellen, I guess you call him the mediator at that point, when I come to the sideline. Me and him talk about what we saw and then he gets on the headset and he’s talking with Linehan. Then he’ll get back to me with what Linehan’s thinking with the plays and stuff that we’re working towards, so it’s been great.”
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys Quarterback
Count 1310 The Ticket's Bob Sturm as one of many confused by Dak's statement about Moore as the go between.
Thought it was really interesting to day that Dak said he talks to Kellen Moore and QB coach Kellen Moore talks to Linehan. Linehan doesn't talk directly to his QB during the game. I think that is weird.
It's becoming clear that there is a huge disconnect between the play caller and his quarterback and this disconnect is affecting everyone on the offensive side of the ball.
Everyone, after one week, appears to be placing blame on someone else, which is really odd to me. Normally, when a unified group of players is asked a question that may lead to finger-pointing, they don't really answer the question.
Above, you can see that Hurns basically said, it wasn't the wide receivers' fault. Linehan, reacting to Troy Aikman's comments about the lack of creativity in the offense, placed the reason for the lack of creativity on the players. And Dak Prescott appears to allude to a really odd communication structure.
It has me wondering, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, if there is a trust issue with the Dallas Cowboys offensive staff and players.
Trust is a very important aspect of any group of people who work together to meet a common goal. Football is no different. As far as team sports go, the NFL requires a strong sense of trust and commitment to one another to make the intricacies of an NFL offense work.
The coach has to trust that the player he's calling the plays for. If the play caller doesn't trust the players to execute, he's going to be much more conservative than he should be. A play caller who trusts his players will allow them to play and will be aggressive in his game planning and play calling.
The player has to trust that the play caller is putting the player(s) in the best position possible to succeed. If the players don't trust the play caller, they aren't going to buy in to the offensive scheme. If they don't buy in to the offensive scheme then there may not be the necessary effort put in to see the scheme succeed.
From the outside looking in, the relationship between quarterback and play caller seems fractured. It's not a good sign for the relationship of the two men tasked with guiding this offense that there is a mediator involved in their communication. If there is an issue in the relationship that is leading to poor communication, then the Dallas Cowboys leadership structure -- Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett -- need to make a change to better enhance offensive communication.
They aren't going to change quarterbacks at this point in the season. The move they can make that Head Coach Jason Garrett appears unwilling to make, is changing who calls the plays. If the relationship between Linehan and Prescott is such that Kellen Moore needs to act as "mediator," then the time has come to change the play caller. Whether it's Moore who takes the reigns or Garrett who returns to calling plays, the change may need to be made soon to salvage this season.
Trust is a very valuable resource in any organization. It's the reason that Jason Garrett has remained head coach for as long as he has. The ownership trusts him.
The lack of trust that appears to exist between Dak Prescott and Scott Linehan is something that not only hurts their relationship, but the chemistry with the entire offense.
Football may be the greatest team sport in the world. And as such it requires a high level of chemistry . It requires everyone on offense and defense buying into their respective schemes and trusting each other to execute those schemes.
Obviously a win against the Giants would go a long way toward healing whatever wounds exist between Prescott and Linehan. A loss however could potentially deepen a divide between the quarterback and his coordinator.
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